Saint John filmmaker Greg Hemmings wants people across the country to know that there is more to the music scene in Atlantic Canada than jigs, reels, and Great Big Sea.
His solution: Revolve, an eighty minute documentary of the 2001 Evolve Festival. The national jam band and DJ festival drew 3000 people to the remote Antigonish, Nova Scotia, this past August.
“The only thing that I wanted to do was to document where our scene is right now," says Hemmings matter-of-factly. “People have the idea that the Maritime music scene is all about fiddling. There is so much more that Canada does not know about the East Coast music scene.”
If there is one thing Hemmings knows, it’s music. A longtime drummer and music aficionado, Hemmings’ documentary focuses primarily on the jam band element of the festival. He believes the long-time subculture is about to break through in a big way.
“I’ve been seeing the jam band scene grow from the time I started following it, and since last year I wanted to document it. If 3000 people come out for a festival no one really knows about, there has got to be something there.”
Hemmings is no stranger to film either. A graduate of Niagara College’s Film and Broadcast program, Hemmings has worked as a camera assistant on various film and television projects for the past three years. Hemmings honed his editing skills working as a videographer on a cruise ship before he approached festival producer Jimmy Dorey. “I started talking with Jimmy about the ides a couple of months before the event,” says Hemmings. “He liked the idea and really likes how it turned out. Most of the bands included in Revolve are from Atlantic Canada. Tala moves fluidly from an improvised guitar solo to a tightly polished finale. The Great Balancing Act sing longingly for their lost sunflower. Dr. Yellowfever serve a delightful dish of 70’s disco/funk, dated humorously by Hemmings’ editing work. Fredericton’s Hot Toddy offers a change of pace with a bluegrass oriented segment.
Revolve also features bands from across Canada and beyond. Highlights include a melodic bass solo by The The Slip's bassist Marc Friedman, who tiptoes his way around the rest of the Boston band’s jazzy arrangement, and Kojo, a six piece traditional band from the Sudan. The clips from these bands highlight Atlantic Canada’s ability to draw top notch talent from outside the region, and properly utilized could attract more touring bands to the Maritimes.
Hemmings admits that most of the great footage happened by accident rather than by design. "I only shot 2 or 3 tracks of each band so it was fixture of audio and visual that decided what went on the film. I pretty much freestyled it the whole way through.”
Also included in the documentary is footage of the concert goers in action. It’s a laid back party atmosphere- people dance, learn about civil disobedience, purchase merchandise during the day, and get intoxicated at night. One moment there’s an interviewee explaining how drugs expand his mind, the next highlights many obviously stoned people making barnyard noises.
Hemmings observes the action but refrains from commenting on it, letting the audience glorify or ridicule the individuals at the concert. Skeptics can point out the contradictions between the left wing, grassroots element of the festival and the petty capitalist ventures that abound inside while supporters of the scene will embrace it as a serious of precious Kodak moments.
A fan of the jam band scene himself, Hemmings explains why he believes the scene is starting to explode in Atlantic Canada.
“The bands are putting time and effort into their music, so people are going to check them out. Plus, the demise of the touring Phish opened people up to seek within and support their local bands. Grand Theft Bus‚ New Year‚s Eve show was huge, partly because people did not have New Years tour to go on.”
Hemmings is currently planning to release the film in Saint John and Halifax, and hopes to show it around Atlantic Canada as well. He would also like to sell the film commercially and for broadcast, but is refraining from doing so thus far.
“I still need to get signatures on paper,” says Hemmings, “but the bands have been pretty cool about it. I just want to expose the scene and cover costs,” says Hemmings, laughing. “With the amount of time and money I put into this, I’m pretty broke".
Check out REVOLVE for more info.