AUGUST IN ANTIGONISH: EVOLVE FESTIVAL 2002

New Years or your birthday may mark that a year has past but up here in the Great White North we put a notch in our collective belt every August in the heady little town of Antigonish, Nova Scotia. Another year goes by and the Evolve Festival has come to pass. This year amongst those in recent memory has shown remarkable transition for our scene. The loss of our seminal unit the Burt Neilson Band to what is looking like a semi-permanent hiatus has hit many hard. In response, the kids have been looking to the cast of characters making up our still vibrant scene. Most all of these bands (barring notably the newly reunited Fat Cats) will be playing this the third annual festival. They include: The Jimmy Swift Band, Nero, Chris Brown and Kate Fenner, Grand Theft Bus, Downtime, Caution Jam, Hunoo, Blue Quarter, Juke Joint, Aaron Macdonald Band, Sense Amelia Project, Heavy Meadows and Bullfrog as well as a host of others.

The Slip again joins us for what may be two nights of playing at the festival as well as a Sunday night gig, August 25, in Halifax’s tiny heady venue The Planet. The Slip is joined on Sunday night by Grand Theft Bus and possibly Nero. Of note is the fact that Charlie Hunter and his percussionist recently sat in with the Bus boys at the same venue during the jazz fest. Other American bands taking in the festival include Drive By Leslie, Raisinhill and Yaqui Mystic. In the spirit of free trade hopefully we will have some converts both ways.

Evolve 3 is billed as a “celebration of life & music under the sun and stars of Canada’s ocean playground.” This festival takes the same tripartite approach as the two previous festivals: Jambands, Electronic Music, and Awareness. It’s safe to say that while all three elements have been present in the past they have never entirely synchronized. The festival which attracts heads from Central and Eastern Canada, as well as local ravers, can tend to feel like two tribes gathering albeit gregariously. These two trains running tend to pass each other on the path between the campground and main stage. Adding to this frustration is the totally arbitrary decision to knock the bands off the stage by at best 1:00 to make way for the barrage of DJ’s. While Halifax is known for it’s prolific DJ and rave culture, this particular scene saw many of it’s finer moments years ago. The decision to book Bullfrog featuring Kid Koala as one of the festivals headliners may reflect an effort to unite the two camps. If anyone can get the heads teaching ravers about better drugs and the ravers teaching heads about better dancing it’s Bullfrog.

With the addition of a second stage festivalgoers will be offered a greater diversity of choices - a sign of definite positive growth for the festival. Of course with the extra stage at the idyllic new site comes the inevitable picking and choosing of what to hit and miss. News has bubbled up that Downtime may be pulling against the Jimmy Swift Band, a crippling choice to say the least. Coming off a recent win at the East Coast Music Awards for Best Alternative Group (a big deal in Canadian terms for an improvisational band), the Jimmy Swift Band has been given an optimal spot in the line-up and is primed for their time in the light. A hard won victory for founding members Craig Mercer and Mike MacDougall, they are certain to hammer home their particular brand of the heavies. Likewise Prince Edward Island natives Downtime have risen quickly in popularity partly due to the addition of Burt Neilson chairman of the boards Jeff Heisholt. Besides the possibility of having to make tough choices between stages there is also the inevitable wrangling for good time slots. Next to perhaps JSB’s acclaim and GTB’s impending studio album, huge excitement has surrounded the stratospheric growth of Nero this year. Their post Phil show in Toronto has become the stuff of urban myth only to find them playing just past twelve on Saturday afternoon (for the third year in a row). Obviously the organizers are balancing a huge number of artists and doing their best to accommodate everyone. Perhaps as a coincidental kick down, a naked dance party (intended to raise Awareness) has been scheduled at the main stage at the exact same time as their set.

There is no doubt that the jam will be well in hand, this year in particular though the heart will be well in hand as well. Of course all jams have heart but hearts aren’t always in the right place, a trick that The Slip seems to have down cold. Besides effortless mastery in playing, there is the daunting prospect of writing strong songs as well; clearly this is the focus of The Slip’s new Angel Comes On Time release. This aspect of the Evolve festival is further brought out by the inclusion of songwriting duo Chris Brown and Kate Fenner. The combination of Chris’ wind swept playing on the organ, Kate’s smoky poignant delivery, their collective words and consummate backing are unsurpassed. If any ensemble rivals The Slip for the meat tenderizer to the heart award, it is Chris and Kate. It would truly be a shame if they did not share the same stage at one point. Also very noteworthy is the inclusion again this year of the Heavy Meadows an uncompromising group committed to symbolist beauty through lyric and note. In the same vein Sense Amelia Project imbues the songwriting of Amelia Curran with the rich backdrop of hornscapes.

As always the magic will happen where we expect it and where we expect it least. Last year’s Slip and Friends session went fairly well but didn’t quite gel as a whole. We can only hope that some of the festival’s ‘musician’s musician’ players will share the same stage in particular The Slip, Chris Brown and Eric San (Kid Koala). Hopefully we can also look forward to the DJ’s rinsing it out and surpassing our expectations. God forbid maybe we’ll hear a little live music on one of the stages past the witching hour.

Luke Bowden
JamBase Northern Head
Go See Live Music!

See the Movie! Evolve Festival 2001 was captured in a documentary type rock story called Revolve. Check it out!

Read Last Year's Review!

[Published on: 8/13/02]

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