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George Street Festival still alive at 35

Shanneyganock and Dud Davidge were one of the highlights of this year’s George Street Festival, says reviewer Wendy Rose.
Shanneyganock and Bud Davidge were one of the highlights of this year’s George Street Festival, says reviewer Wendy Rose. - Alick Tsui photo/Contributed
ST. JOHN'S, N.L. —

The 35th annual George Street Festival drew huge crowds to the tiny street from August 1-7, with 28 bands playing for seven consecutive days.

Having refused to apply for a festival pass last year in protest of yet another lineup comprised entirely of white males, I succumbed this year – not because the lineup was diverse or even particularly interesting in 2019, but because I love big crowds and big parties, and my FOMO (fear of missing out) was in full effect.

Making up for my lack of attendance last year, I attended over half of this year’s festival, opting to listen to other nights of entertainment from the comfort of a nearby rooftop bar, with ample space and seating – and also where drink prices weren’t set at a minimum of $6.25.

This year’s George Street Festival started with a night of indie rock, opening with Manitoba rockers The Watchmen and Nova Scotia’s The Trews, who may be considered official Newfoundlanders and Labradorians by this point. The same could be said of headliner Sam Roberts Band, who seems to play some sort of festival in this province every second year.

City and Colour performing at the George Street Festival. - Sean Jessome photo
City and Colour performing at the George Street Festival. - Sean Jessome photo

Despite my having seen two of those three acts multiple times, the bands still impressed, bringing great energy to the street.

For Classic Rock Night on Friday, Aug. 2, I listened to Billy & The Bruisers, Bic & The Ballpoints, Women of Rock, and Randy Bachman from atop the previously mentioned rooftop deck. Women of Rock, a cover band stacked with women-identifying vocalists, absolutely killed it with choice pop/rock selections from artists like Blondie, The Cranberries and more.

Bachman’s setlist selections were predictable yet understandable, with The Guess Who founder playing hits from their vast catalogue, and cuts from the Bachman Turner Overdrive days.
Hindsight being 20/20, I regret not ditching my post and venturing down to the street for that set, as a The Guess Who fan who is still kicking herself over missing Burton Cummings at Iceberg Alley in 2017.

Saturday’s George Street Kitchen Party kicked off early with a free, all-ages afternoon show with Luke Mercer, The Antle Sisters, St. Pat's Dancers, and The Celtic Fiddlers, with Conway, Derina Harvey Band, The Punters and The Masterless Men on the evening bill.

The street was incredibly packed this particular evening, and lineups of 200+ people waited outside the street to join the chaos at 11 p.m., after the bands had finished and entry prices were reduced to $15.

Rural Alberta Advantage onstage at the George Street Festival. - Sean Jessome photo
Rural Alberta Advantage onstage at the George Street Festival. - Sean Jessome photo

Sunday also got off to an early start, with local legends Bud Davidge and Buddy Wasisname & The Other Fellers onstage in the afternoon.
Later that evening, The Brandon Bowen Band, Straight From The Rock and Practically Hip raised funds and cheers for the Big Wish Bash, in support of the Children's Wish Foundation.

The music continued after the weekend wrapped up, with another rock-focused night of music on Monday night. There were only two acts on the bill – The Rural Alberta Advantage, and City and Colour – but the street was again packed, albeit with a much younger crowd than the weekend shows.

There was no predominant age demographic on Tuesday night – Regatta Roulette is fun for all ages – well, 19+ at least. Referred to as “Kitchen Party 2.0” by a friend, the Regatta Roulette night opened with The Irish Descendants, followed by Celtic Connection, with Shanneyganock headlining for the third consecutive year.

Their set would bring a festival highlight for me – the most magical moment of George Street Festival is when Bud Davidge graces the stage for a rousing cover of Simani’s “Music and Friends,” one of the most quintessential, fun, moving and heartwarming songs in the Island’s history.

That song is the pinnacle of the George Street Festival experience and made me feel that no matter the weather on Wednesday, I had already won Regatta Roulette.

The Royal St. John’s Regatta did go ahead on Wednesday, and it seemed to have majorly expanded this year, with more games, booths, food pop-ups and, of course, a revamped beer tent.

After a couple of tall cans, a feed of Jamaican jerk chicken and then another full meal of Indian food, I opted out of George Street Festival’s Country Night – I had such a large afternoon of fun in the sun, I was ready for bed by 9 p.m.

A few friends – either more energetic or more drunk – headed down to see Carolina East, Jade Eagleson and headliners James Barker Band, this final performance series capping off a long week of late-night fun.

As I straddle post-GSF/Regatta Day recovery with pre-Folk Festival excitement, I remember something I sometimes forget in the long, harsh winter – just how much I love this little city and all the amazing things that happen within a short Newfoundland summer.

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