For five days this week some of Canada’s best indie music acts will fill downtown venues during the city’s second Lawnya Vawnya music and art festival. Following last year’s success in bringing some of the country’s best known and undiscovered independent musicians to the island, coupled with the requisite enthusiasm of the 20- and 30-somethings that filled spaces like the LSPU Hall, The Ship, a handful of downtown shops and even Cabot Tower, festival organizers opted to step it up a notch this year.
“We started this because we thought it would be really fun to do,” explains Dave Lander, one of Lawnya Vawnya’s principle organizers. “We thought it would be great to bring all these people together and just kind of have a good party with bands we liked.”
The festival showcased 13 visiting acts and a handful of local musicians last year, and this year will feature even more.
Julie Doiron, Cadence Weapon, The Inbreds, BA Johnston and Sheezer are among the headliners, while East of Empire, Other People, Joanna Barker, Local Tough, City on the Coast, Atlantis Music Prize winners All The Wiles and several others will represent the local contingent.
The festival’s downtown music crawl last year saw musicians perform to a transient group of spectators in shops on Duckworth and Water St. over the course of an afternoon.
“During the downtown walk last year it felt like the city kind of latched on to (the festival) in a way, elements of the festival that we didn’t think people were going to care about,” Lander recalls. “When you do something like this you never know who’s going to show up.”
People certainly turned out; all the events were either near capacity or sold out.
Alongside local musicians Mathias Kom and Ariel Sharratt of The Burning Hell, Lander has been working to foster the festival’s sustainability.
“One of the reasons I’m involved is to show people, yeah, it’s a lot of work, but it can be done. It just takes a bunch of minds getting together and working hard to just do it.
“The thing about St. John’s is, relative to the rest of the country, the crowds are amazing,” he continues. “It’s just that it’s so hard to get here.”
But with acts like Stanley Brinks and Freschard visiting from Germany and others from Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Ontario and Alberta, Lander and crew are learning the demand for a festival that gives indie musicians an avenue to perform and celebrate the essence of independent art on the island outweighs the roadblocks that frequently prevent artists from working Newfoundland into their tour schedules.
Incorporated into this year’s festivities are the music crawl (now a two-day event), poetry readings, a small press and record fair, panel discussions on independent music and indie publishing, more shows than you could shake a stick at (not that you would), and a few surprise gigs.
In conjunction with Riddle Fence, Lawnya Vawnya is bringing together Montreal poets Leigh Kotsilidis, Jeramy Dodds, Josh Trotter and Gabe Foreman of littlefishcart press, local poets Mark Callanan and Kerri Cull, and poet-songwriters Rollie Pemberton (Cadence Weapon—Edmonton’s poet laureate from 2009-2011) and Tamara Lindeman (The Weather Station) for readings at Eastern Edge Gallery Friday and Saturday.
Over the weekend the small press and record fair will put the spotlight on indie publishers and record labels from across Canada and the panels will explore the intricacies and states of indie music and publishing.
The music crawl, a free family-friendly event which visits several downtown businesses Saturday and Sunday afternoon, will feature intimate performances by Laura Barrett, Marine Dreams, Wax Mannequin, Olympic Symphonium, Snailhouse, Richard Laviolette and others.
Following the opening party at the Inn of Olde in Quidi Vidi Wednesday evening the remaining concerts will be split between The Rocket Room, The Ship, The Rock House, Distortion and The Rose and Thistle.
“One of the things we really wanted when we started was to make the festival accessible,” says Lander, explaining how The Rocket Room shows are all-ages events.
“And with the music crawl we’re trying to bring music to people downtown in the afternoon who just can’t go out (at night),” he adds.
Among the more anticipated gigs are indie queen Julie Doiron’s return to St. John’s; she shares a bill with Snailhouse and All The Wiles Sunday evening at The Ship.
Lawnya Vawnya will also mark The Inbreds’ first ever Newfoundland performance and only their third show since the popular duo disbanded in 1998.
And Cadence Weapon’s Saturday night Rock House show with BA Johnston and local hip hop act Hear/Say is likely to draw the biggest crowd of the festival.
The Weather Station and Richard Laviolette’s performances, Thursday and Friday respectively, may be the festival’s pleasant surprises for many, says Lander.
“I think people have heard about them a little bit in this city,” he says, “but I think in The Rocket Room they’re just going to make people weep.”
Lawnya Vawnya runs April 18-22. Only 100 festival passes which guaranteed access to all events were sold, and admission for non-pass holders ranges from $5 to $15 at the door.
For a full festival schedule, artist bios and other event info, visit www.lawnyavawnya.com.