On Friday night, the Marquee/Seahorse complex played host to a large contingent of the evening’s Halifax Urban Folk Festival slate. Both stages were loaded with talent, as the Marquee was playing host to Canadian stalwarts The Skydiggers, who had Devin Cuddy (yes, son of Blue Rodeo’s Jim Cuddy) and local favourites Hillsburn in the supporting slots. Downstairs at the Seahorse was Floodland’s record release party for their album Static Walls. That show featured No, It’s Fine and The Beauts as the supporting acts. The night had a little bit of something for everyone.
The evening kicked off when the taller, lankier Cuddy (and his curly mane) strode on stage, and settled in behind his keyboard at the front edge. For the roughly 30 minutes that followed, Devin Cuddy treated those in attendance to a set that incorporated bits of folk, rock, blues, and jazz. While the set largely consisted of Cuddy’s own material, he wove in a couple of covers (one of which was a stellar take on Barney Bentall’s “Come Back to Me”). All in All, Cuddy’s tunes had a cool lounge-y vibe to them, but on tunes such as “Bleeding Kansas” you could hear the signature Cuddy warmth and smooth tone seep through Devin’s work, albeit with a much bluesier vibe.
It was then time for Hillsburn to take the stage. After my first encounter with the band a couple of months ago in The Seahorse, it’s safe to say I walked away rather enamored with this local five-piece pop laden folk-rock act. This set was as fun and infectious as the one I saw earlier in the year, and it immediately stuck a grin on my mug, and I found myself instinctively singing along. The room had started to fill up, but not nearly as full as the Seahorse was. Even as I listen to the band’s recent single “Low Light” as I write this, I still can’t get over how great Roseanna, Paul, Clare, Clayton and Jackson sound live. The harmonies, the musicianship and the way in which they incorporate Rosanna’s fiddle playing, it is not your typical Maritime sound. I don’t know how long the set ran, but all I know is that it wasn’t long enough. The band let the crowd know that they are going to step away for a bit while they finish prepping their forthcoming record, and the tour cycle that needs to follow. The band’s music will get into your veins, and while the first hit may be free, you’ll come running back for more, time and time again. I look forward to catching these talented folks again in the future, and can’t wait for the new album.
Then it was time for Canadian stalwarts The Skydiggers to hit the stage. This is a band that was founded in the late eighties, dropped their eponymous debut album in 1990, and never quite found the same success as fellow Canadian comrades Blue Rodeo, The Tragically Hip, or The Northern Pikes. This is all part and parcel of a fickle Canadian music scene, and a lack of push or follow through by a handful of record labels who failed to propel the band forward as they deserved to be. It hasn’t dampened the spirits of Andy Maize, Josh Finlayson and their bandmates, who graced the Marquee stage as the evening’s headlining act. From what I saw on this evening, The Skydiggers’ energy and fun-loving spirit, coupled with great folky harmonies and tunes, has grown the band a loyal following. While there is a positive vibe about them, they aren’t the highest energy band you’re going to see, but that all added to the chill vibe of the evening where folks just wanted to sit up on the patio and take in the action in a relaxed environment.
While the crowd upstairs was somewhat staid and polite, downstairs was no less polite, but there was a certain buzz in the air as No, It’s Fine wrapped up the opening slot. The growing crowd in the Seahorse Tavern were buzzing as Beauts were set to take the stage. I honestly went in blind to this set, as I was uneducated on this local band I have continually heard about from folks, so I was excited to see what they were all about. I can tell you this, the moment that Jeff Lawton stepped to the mic and released this subdued atmospheric voice that reminded me a great deal of Harry McVeigh of the UK’s White Lies – from there, I was sold on this post-punk/new wave sound that Beauts was putting down, and I’ve been seriously addicted to the band’s 2016 EP Waves/Wash since Friday’s show. From the band’s presence on stage, you would almost have thought that they were the Seahorse headliners for the evening. Between performing their own material, the fellas in Beauts welcomed Tara Thorne (Dance Movie) and Kim Harris to the stage at points during the band’s set. It was a set that was tightly polished, and sounded fantastic live. Beauts floored me in the best possible way, and they have quickly become one of my favourite local acts.
Then to close out the night, Floodland hit the stage to showcase material off of their new LP Static Walls. If you’ve spent any time in and around the local Halifax music scene, you would be more than familiar with 50% of Floodland, as lead vocalist / guitarist Aaron Green and bassist Tori Cameron perform as half of the recently retooled Town Heroes, and they also comprise half of Hello Delaware, not to mention a handful of other projects. Then we have Luke Levy (Guitar), who also plays with Regal Beagle, and drummer extraordinaire Eamon Slattery. Together, this quartet work together effortlessly to create intricate pop-infused rock music. While there was a ton of crunchy guitar work and funky bass lines, what really stood out to me were Aaron and Luke’s vocal harmonies, as they are incredibly pretty and infectious to boot.
This is far from a show where the band wanted to sit back and take it easy, instead they performed the lion’s share of the album, and these songs translated beautifully to the live environment. While the studio work was a little more polished, the band still managed to capture that magic, and amped up the energy on Friday night. As a great deal of the band is pro-Beatles, they worked in a cover of the Fab Four which was flawless, and rightfully so, as the band has staged a couple of Floodland plays the Beatles shows in the past. It was a fantastic show that was well attended, and in looking around, it was a veritable who’s who of the local scene, as there were members of Like a Motorcycle in attendance, as well as Mo Kenny, Dana Beeler, Daniel Walker (of Owen Meany’s Batting Stance), and Tori’s sister Barbara Cameron. In addition to those local musicians, the room was largely packed and were ready to rock out with Floodland’s new tunes. If you missed out on seeing Floodland, do yourself a favor and pick up their album Static Walls, as it’s one of the best albums released this year.