East of Empire — Photo by Justin Brake
Once you’ve played enough music festivals you might start to get an idea of what it would take to pull one off in your own town.
That’s what happened to Mathias Kom and Ariel Sharratt of popular local musical import The Burning Hell, who, with the help of friends David Lander and Andrea Vincent and a handful of volunteers and and local partners, introduced the Lawnya Vawnya music and art festival to St. John’s last spring.
The five-day event drew crowds to shows, readings, its downtown music crawl and a craft fair, and it gave local independent bands an opportunity to play host to some of their respected mainland counterparts.
Before a Lawnya Vawnya fundraiser show and 2012 festival lineup announcement at The Rocket Room last weekend, Kom and Sharratt sat down with The Telegram to talk about the event’s early success and the direction they’re steering it this year.
From April 18-22 this year acts like Edmonton hip-hop artist Cadence Weapon, indie-folk songstress Julie Doiron, female Weezer cover band Sheezer and Ontario indie favourites The Inbreds will perform throughout downtown St. John’s.
Among the local contingent of musical acts are Colonel Craze & The Hunch, Andrew James O’Brien, All The Wiles, East of Empire, Sherry Ryan, Steve Maloney, Local Tough, The Texmestics, Joanna Barker and City on the Coast.
“We threw everything at the wall last year and it was a process of seeing what stuck,” says Kom, sipping his coffee. “We’re trying to focus a little bit more this year on music and independent publishing and poetry.”
In addition to the 10 downtown concerts the festival will also host a record and small press market, readings by visiting and local poets, panels on independent music and publishing, and a repeat of the free downtown music crawl, which is being expanded into a weekend-long event.
There are a few secret shows that the pair are keeping tight-lipped about. Last year’s surprise performances featured local acts The Idlers and The Dardanelles.
“Everybody loves the shows, but what gets me really excited is thinking about what weird places we can have bands play that would be really special for people,” says Sharratt. “What are the creative and interesting ways that we can present everything?”
Last year Great Lake Swimmers frontman Tony Dekker performed to a crowd of 20 or 30 inside Cabot Tower, overlooking the ocean.
With a refined focus on independent music and independent publishing, Kom and Sharratt say the essence of Lawnya Vawnya is in the spirit with which music, poetry and prose are being created and shared outside the largely impenetrable mainstream and the ailing industry attached to it.
“With both the publishing arm and the musical arm of the festival we’re just trying to promote people who are going about it no matter what,” Sharratt explains.
“Creatively doing it themselves, finding interesting ways to make their art and get their art to the world,” Kom adds. “There’s a lot of that spirit with all the artists we’ve got playing this festival and I think it’s important to celebrate that and get people talking about it.
“It may be true that the established channels of the music industry or the publishing industry are collapsing, but it’s a time of amazing opportunity as well.”
Sharratt says despite the perception that the digitization of music, and increasingly literature, is threatening the extinction of physical forms of media, many artists are still producing work that can be appreciated as tangible things, too.
“There are more and more small presses and small independent record labels, and they might be having a hard go of it a lot of the time, but they’re coming up with creative ways to rethink the way we experience music and literature,” she says.
It seems the artists are excited about celebrating the triumph of creativity over adversity, too.
Visiting poets Leigh Kotsilidis, Jeramy Dodds, Josh Trotter and Gabe Foreman are behind independent publishing house littlefishcart press, and will share their experiences at the independent publishing panel discussion.
They will also be joined at the readings by local poets Mark Callannan and Kerri Cull.
The record and small press market will feature works from a handful of independent publishers from across Canada, including local Lawnya Vawnya partner Riddle Fence.
“There’s been a super enthusiastic response so far,” says Kom. “Some of my favourite indie presses in Canada, pretty high-profile ones too, are sending books.”
Last year it wasn’t evident the organizers would recoup the personal funds they sank into the event until the festival’s last day.
“We were feeling so much of the love at that point, high on the fact that it worked, people enjoyed it, that people had come together to really help us make it all happen,” says Sharratt.
“And after that last show we started thinking about Lawnya Vawnya 2012. We took a couple months off to think about it and then, in August, we started making plans.”
Played for free
Last year most of the participating acts travelled to St. John’s and played for free or for minimal payment, with organizers covering the cost of travel. And most visiting artists billeted with locals.
Kom says he hopes the reciprocity among visiting and local musicians he saw last year continues to grow.
“There’s a lot for local musicians to learn, but there’s also a lot visiting musicians can learn from musicians here, too,” he says. “A lot of the bands that we have this year have the same independent spirit and approach, making their own records, releasing them themselves, booking their own tours. I think there’s a lot that everybody can learn.”
A non-profit event, Lawnya Vawnya will allocate any profits to the artists, who they hope to adequately pay for their participation and work.
Early bird festival passes ($40) are on sale now at Model Citizens, and will get people into all Lawnya Vawnya events subject to capacity, says Kom. After Feb. 12 any remaining passes (of the 100 total) will remain on sale, but not at the discounted price.
Two fundraising events also remain before the festival. The Rock ‘n’ Roll Drag Show featuring Lawnya Vawnya performers Colonel Craze & The Hunch, The Texmestics and Hear/Say happens March 3 at The Ship.
And the second annual Fake Prom featuring local all-star cover band The Wobbly Pops is slated for April 7 at The Rock House.
For more information visit www.lawnyavawnya.com or visit the festival’s Facebook page at facebook.com/lawnyavawnya.