FLOURISH FEST: DAY 4 – TUNES FOR THE TIRED AND TEXTURE THERAPY

Sunday is bright, grey, and cold. After last night’s abrupt end, I feel tired, and ready to let music wash the bad taste out of my mouth. When I arrive at Wilser’s Room just before one, coffee in hand, the bar is deserted except for a few locals chatting about last night’s shows. I take my coffee for a walk around downtown, taking in the changes the river has undergone between the receding flood and yesterday’s downpour.

When I return to the Capital Complex, local radio station CHSR has fired up a barbecue on the patio for their afternoon fundraiser, and are serving food to a trickle of people who have settled on the patio, bundled in layers against the wind. Inside Wilser’s room, local artist DenMother has started an solo set of experimental electronics, looping her voice through a high-reverb pedal to soar over bass-heavy beats. Her music gently injects some energy into the crowd, and the vibe becomes more lively. As people begin to fill the bar, Esme and the Dishrags take the stage, adding a cheery vibe to the bar’s newfound energy. A relatively new band, their sound is poppy and driven, with songs dedicated to beloved pets, and interludes of relaxed, friendly banter.

Next door at the Shiftwork Studio, Terre Wa is running a pop up sound installation, Synthetic Textures. The band has set up a clothesline across the studio and draped it with various garments and textiles, each of which has contact mics embedded into the fabric. Erin Goodine guides passersby to touch, crumple, and waving each item, thereby adding to an airy soundscape established by Indigo Poirier and Emily Kennedy, who are seated below the clothesline, playing synths and cello respectively. For a while, I wander through the studio and try running my hands through the various scarves and garments on the clothesline, experimenting with the sounds they make–though the installation reminds me of running through suspended laundry as a child, it also feels like a relaxing but unusual kind of sound and texture therapy.

Back at Wilser’s room, St.John’s based band Weary sway a hazy Sunday crowd with intimate, down-tempo rock ballads. Singer and guitarist Kate Lahey is backed by Property, an indie trio also from St. John’s who played Flourish on Thursday night. Lahey’s thoughtful, emotional lyrics are well-matched with the tentatively sunny afternoon, offering a warmly introspective rest after a long weekend of festival outings.

While listening, I find myself distracted, thinking about how many bands and performers I’ve missed over the past few days, including Property, but I have to acknowledge how tired I feel after rushing between venues trying to cram myself with as much art as I can in one weekend. I’m a chronic overachiever, but I need more rest than I want to admit. No matter how much fun it is, this weekend has been taxing–I can only admire the stamina required of the festival’s performers and organizers. For a minute, it feels like cheap irony to admit my weariness while listening to Weary, until I realize that this is what Lahey’s songwriting asks you to do: to listen, to admit your flaws, and to let yourself feel.

After Weary’s set, I walk back to Shiftwork, where Terre Wa’s installation has opened up to become Sunday Music Spa. Described as “an ambient electronic music session open to all women, femme, and non-binary people,” the Music Spa has been hosted on more or less monthly basis by Erin Goodine and Indigo Poirier for just over two years. Having attended a few times and loved the experience, I have chosen to make this my last event for this year’s Flourish festival.

To open the session, textile artist Melissa McMichael, of Mermaid Boyfriend, leads a group meditation, guiding everyone present into a tender memory of her late grandmother. McMichael’s soft-spoken storytelling creates a palpable empathy between its listeners, who begin to laugh and breathe together before emerging back into the present. This feeling of being in tune with one another continues as the music spa proceeds, with Indigo and Erin inviting non-musicians to try out the various instruments, including consoles, keys, and contact mics laid out across the studio.

As the dozen or so people moving through the studio relax into the soundscape, most of the men in the room hang back and listen, leaving room for women, femme, and non-binary folks to step forward and play. It feels fitting for this to be the last Flourish event I attend. More than anything, I think, moments like this this are the festival’s most valuable creations: moments when those who feel underrepresented or unwelcome in conventional music scenes are invited to experiment and create together. As the sound swells around me, I am already hopeful that next year’s Flourish Fest will make more of this.

There is, of course, room to grow: in the future, the festival could work with venues to make shows safer and more accessible, and there is much work to do before BIPOC performers and audiences feel fully welcome, let alone invited. Whatever rough moments I experienced attending this year’s festival, I direct no blame or resentment at Flourish’s organizers and artists, whose work has already made this festival into something integral to the arts community in New Brunswick and beyond. If I can get away with a sappy, but earnest pun: flourishing is not about an end product, anyway–it’s an ongoing beginning.


Contribution by Rebecca Salazar (she/her)

Rebecca Salazar is the author of the knife you need to justify the wound (Rahila’s Ghost) and Guzzle (Anstruther Press). Recent publications include poetry and non-fiction in Briarpatch, Minola Review, and The Puritan. Rebecca is currently a poetry editor for The Fiddlehead and Plenitude magazines, and a PhD candidate at UNB.

FLOURISH FEST: DAY 3 PT 2 – FIZZY DRINKS, RIOT GRRRLS, AND FEELINGS

[cw: mention of gendered/sexual violence]

The CSAC is buzzing as Saturday night unfolds at FLOURISH Fest. Alongside local beer and cider options, the bar is serving two flavours of custom-made Flourish kombucha: orange dream, and lavender cardamom. The fizzy, floral drink is a refreshing surprise, and I’m thankful for the small hit of caffeine as I gear up for the fullest night of Flourish.

Opening Saturday night at Flourish is Fredericton trio Terre Wa. A recently formed electronic improv collaboration between Indigo Poirier, Erin Goodine, and Emily Kennedy, Terre Wa’s sound ranges between video game soundtrack, contemporary classical minimalism, and atmospheric beats. High-reverb cello sweeps and riffs played by Emily are live-looped with Erin and Indigo’s rich synth percussion and bass beats. Swelling in complexity, receding into airy softness, then morphing echoes of previous themes into new rhythms, Terre Wa’s performance feels like listening to what dream logic might sound like–rich, enigmatic, and sometimes danceable.

terre wa flourish

Photo by Caitlin Dutt

Emily Kennedy remains on-stage for the next act, her and violist Mark Kleyn’s classical/songwriting project Pallmer. Both musicians’ classical backgrounds are audible in the lush tones and harmonies of their compositions and playing technique, as is their clear passion for the music. Most of Pallmer’s songs begin softly, recording via pedals the loops that act as a foundation for layers of lush strings and Emily’s soft-spoken vocals–during one song, both members of Pallmer team up to record a complex rhythm of percussive taps and pizzicato notes on Emily’s cello, before both return to voice and viola, respectively. The songs themselves are wistful and poetic, exploring themes of memory and longing with a gentle curiosity.

Partway through the set, Emily asks for the stage sound to come down, overall, laughing that her cello is reverberating uncontrollably. It’s a reminder of how sensitive and responsive string instruments can be: every time I hold my own cello, I can feel it vibrating sympathetically to ambient noise, like traffic sounds outside my apartment, let alone an auditorium of amped sound.

pallmer flourish

Photo by Caitlin Dutt

Next, Flourish founder Jane Blanchard takes the stage, accompanied only by her own Fender guitar, and co-founder Stefan Westner on drums. Jane’s set begins slowly, stripped down to feature her soft, unpretentious voice over finger-picked guitar and cymbal sweeps, before building intensity through the instrumentals. There is an honesty in Jane’s songwriting that suits her voice, and a definite rock edge that emerges as each song peaks emotionally. Instrumentally, the songs are rhythmically varied with definite blues and rock influences–which is to say, demanding and impeccably executed timing.

jane blanchard flourish.jpg EDIT

Photo by Caitlin Dutt

Before finishing her set, Jane apologizes in advance before promoting various other Flourish events and thanking this event’s crew, merch designers, and other performers. The depth of Jane’s performance, along with this closing gesture, shows her dedication and skill as a musician and storyteller. This is a songwriter fully invested in her craft, and also in the community she is building.

Quebec City-based l i l a follows Jane’s set, redecorating the stage with purple twinkle lights and silvery fabric–small changes that quickly transform the room into a dark, sparkly dreamscape. In their interview with nybc, posted just days ago, l i l a frontperson Marianne framed their music as an act of self-care, and care generally–an intimate practice with others. Even in the large space of the auditorium, l i l a’s sound feels tender and close, combining Marianne’s floaty, high vocals with airy synths, bowed guitar, and an understated rhythm section that pulses like a heartbeat.

Between songs, the singer performs poems that bridge between each song’s dreamy, introspective feel. Many of the songs about betrayal and heartbreak are written in second person, calling in the audience, drawing us into complicity and closeness. l i l a’s gentle intensity is the kind of night music that, at the end of the most draining days, reminds you to breathe, and fills you with stars.

l i l a flourish

Photo by Caitlin Dutt

“I want to start by saying how much i love this fucking festival,” begins Anna Horvath of Merival, while tuning her guitar. “Sorry about all the cursing. I’m going to play some really tender songs to match it up.”

Tender is the perfect word for Merival’s lyrical, solo folk set. Over fingerpicked guitar, Horvath’s songwriting showcases her astonishing vocal range, which maintains its reach in louder notes as well as in the softest, whispery tones. Between songs, Horvath is bashfully earnest, and jokes about the vulnerability she feels performing songs that are so personal and difficult to expose. In some of her songs, I’m reminded for the second time today of Joni Mitchell–this time, by Merival’s whispery intensity and fiercely confessional lyrics. Her music is deceptively simple and honest to a fault, with newer songs veering into jazz-like riffs that further set off Horvath’s stunning command of her high range. Merival makes a gorgeous end to an evening of magical songwriting.

merival

Photo by Caitlin Dutt

It has finally stopped raining by the time I make my way across town to the Capital Complex for the next wave of Saturday night performances. Shifting moods from the dreamy, introspective emotions of the CSAC show, I arrive to the sounds of joyous screaming emanating from the Capital’s main bar.

Moncton-based Klackers is 5-piece band with bouncy, unapologetically feminine punk sound. The millennial lovechild of 90s riot grrrl excellence, Klackers’ overall vibe dares you to dance. Lead singer Shannon’s bold, high voice gets loud, cute, rapsy and defiant all at once, and the whole band is visibly having so much fun together it is difficult not to join them. The house is packed and dancing at full energy through the entire set, which includes covers of The Adicts and Bratmobile.

KLACKERS.jpg

Photo by Caitlin Dutt

As I run upstairs to Wilser’s room to catch the next band, I happen on a pop-up improv performance by local Hot Garbage Players on the Wilser’s room patio. While I pass through too quickly to catch more than a few out-of-context snippets from a scene, the small crowd gathered around the players is laughing constantly.

Inside Wilser’s, two specialty drinks by local craft breweries are on tap: a hibiscus witbier by Greystone, and a mango-infused Cider by Red Rover. Described in the Flourish program notes as “power-pop doo wop,” BBQT is a pop-punk party raging loud and bright. Their performance features songs “about partying with all our friends in Fredericton, NB,” announces one member of the band (the crowd is so thick I can’t see which one!). “That one was for Iris the dog, who apparently is a huge fan of our band.”

Back downstairs after BBQT’s show, I arrive in time to watch Lemongrab tune up. Named for the infamous Adventure Time character, Lemongrab is a five-person punk outfit impossible to not dance to. Vocalist Gaëlle Cordeau belts hard melodies, veers into spoken word, and wails demonically in the same impressive breath. Even aesthetically, the band’s range includes diy art punk (Cordeau) to 70s vintage mom chic (guitarist and backing vocalist Leonie Dishaw)–the effect of their high-energy, artsy punk is undeniable. Wrapped up in the joyful noise, I meet a friend I haven’t seen for some time in the crowd, and we join what feels like the whole bar dancing.

LEMONGRAB

Photo by Caitlin Dutt

[cw] Unfortunately, the spell breaks when I have to forcibly remove a middle-aged white man’s hand from my friend’s back. While trying to make his way around us in the packed bar, the man laid his hand on my friend’s back from behind, and left it there long enough that he walked all the way around us and had time to pause before I yanked his hand off them. Instead of apologizing, he looked appalled, and told me off, as though I were the rude one. Before getting too much farther in the crowd, he leans back to hand my friend his empty beer glass, motioning for them to put it on the nearby bar for him. I see him laying hands on other femme-presenting people in the audience as he moves away from us; some push him away, but he keeps on groping until he hugs a woman who seems to know him. They leave together, though not before making out mid-crowd and taking up the space of six or more people while doing so. It feels extra insulting that this happens while a feminist punk band performs.

I thought about leaving this out of my account of Saturday night’s Flourish happenings. I still wonder if it’s worth disrupting what I intend to be a positive account of a small, independent art festival to address what happens to femme-presenting people in crowds. But the point is that those of us who face this kind of violence do not get to attend these spaces without thinking about that danger, even if we escape it actually happening, no matter how safe the festival or venue. Part of me wants this man to recognize himself in this. I want this man, and every cis-man, to think about the way they take up space in public, about the way they feel entitled to the bodies of anyone they perceive as other. It doesn’t matter if this man groped my friend sexually, or just because they were a convenient body to balance against; he still felt like their body was there for him to act upon.

A little shaken, but mostly exhausted by another such incident, my friend and I decide to leave and walk each other home. We tell each other stories about other nights ruined by similar, or worse incidents. We talk about the bands we’ve seen, and gush about our favourites. By the time we part ways, we are recommending new music to one another, and reminding each other to text when we get home. [/]


Contribution by Rebecca Salazar (she/her)

Rebecca Salazar is the author of the knife you need to justify the wound (Rahila’s Ghost) and Guzzle (Anstruther Press). Recent publications include poetry and non-fiction in Briarpatch, Minola Review, and The Puritan. Rebecca is currently a poetry editor for The Fiddlehead and Plenitude magazines, and a PhD candidate at UNB.

FLOURISH FEST: DAY 3 PT 1 – AVOCADOS, MERMAIDS, AND HARDWOOD SOUNDPADS

When I wake Saturday morning, the power has gone out. Outside, Fredericton is blustery and grim, threatening rain, and smoke hangs over the neighbourhood of the Charlotte Street Arts Center from a nearby construction fire; as I turn onto Charlotte street, firefighters are still extinguishing the gutted, half-finished apartment building.

Thankfully, the CSAC has power, and is warm, dry, and well-lit. I make my way to Connexion Artist-Run Center’s office and gallery, where Indigo Poirier of Wangled Teb is setting up a workshop on Ableton Live. Suspended in the middle of the room is an exhibit of miniature-scale couture creations titled Weight of Power, by local fashion designer Tracy Austin: lush, dark, gowns ornamented with petals, thorns, and branches. Workshop attendees are seated in a row of chairs beneath the exhibit, making it seem like they are haunted by a brace of regal fairies floating in midair.

With their computer screen projected on the wall, Indigo begins demonstrating various Ableton functions and plugins that they use while performing. While most of the technical details go over my head, it is fascinating getting to watch Indigo reveal the workings of several of their Wangled Teb sets, including one or two pieces I have previously seen in performance. Most of the workshop participants are other Flourish performers, including the duo behind VERSA Visuals, and folk singer Kylie Fox. The workshop feels collaborative and open, and Indigo takes various questions and suggestions from the attendees, showing them how to create particular effects they request, demonstrating how to map tracks and effects onto electronic consoles, and explaining how to free up processing speed for more complicated pieces.

For the second half of the workshop, Indigo invites the participants to bring out their own computers and instruments to experiment with Ableton. Though part of me wants to stay and listen, when the group breaks for coffee, I thank Indigo, and make my way downtown.

It is stormy and raining by the time I reach Bellwether, a local vintage and art consignment shop. Inside,  Erin Muir and Corey Bonnevie of Wrote have begun playing. Muir’s soft soprano voice and muted, finger picked guitar ballads are accompanied by the sound of clothes hangers faintly clicking as people search through racks of clothing from Flourish pop-up Ok My Dear Vintage. Seated on a vintage wood-and-floral-velvet bench, with her boots neatly removed and tucked behind her, Muir sings about watching houseplants wither, and lupin-planting as grief work. Surrounded by local artwork and macrame plant hangers, Wrote’s music feels at home in the small, intimate setting of Bellwether, each song’s soft, organic tones a refuge from the rain.

The next performer is Kylie Fox, arriving from the Ableton workshop. Her set begins with a cover of Joni MItchell’s “Case of you,” executed so tenderly that I am convinced the song was written precisely for her voice. Backed by acoustic guitar, Fox’s voice is bold and ethereal, with an almost operatic vibrato at its peaks and sweet, delicate tones when she sings softly. Her down to earth humour runs through the storytelling between songs, as well as in the songs themselves. Fox’s song “Avocado” is dedicated to a friend who, while pregnant, discovered one week that her baby was the size of an avocado. “People ask if it was planned and you say– bitch –under your breath,” sings Fox, peppering what could easily have been a sentimental topic with enough sarcasm, reality, and empathy to make it unmistakably genuine.

While heading back to the CSAC, I am caught in a sudden downpour, and end up taking shelter from the rain in the newly opened library of NBCCD, Fredericton’s local craft college. This weekend, the library is hosting Flourish’s annual zine and craft fair. Local and visiting artists are set up to sell their wares: comics and postcards by Patrick Allaby and Laura K. Watson, zines by Al Cusack and Olivia Thompson, hand-sewn scrunchies by Sackville-based designer Jeska Grue, issues of Fredericton-based literary Qwerty Magazine, and more.

Even as I am delighted by the art on display, something begins to nag at me: I am the only brown person in the room. I can’t say this is unusual in the Maritimes, and I’m generally desensitized to being the only person of colour around, but for whatever reason, the presence of several white people with waist-length dreads at the zine fair makes me suddenly hyper-aware of the room’s overwhelming whiteness. It’s hardly shocking, but at the same time, it is. Saying anything about this feels like a risk. I could too easily become a villain, the stereotypical angry brown femme meant to be laughed at and dismissed. I know any anger or discomfort I feel is loneliness, the reminder of how isolated I am from communities that understand this feeling, too.

Scanning my festival program, I realize there are only two visible people of colour among the hundred or so performers featured all weekend. One of the two, Wabanaki fashion designer Mariah Sockabasin, is scheduled to showcase some of her designs at the same time as the event I was headed to before being interrupted by the rain–an open jam session for women, trans, two-spirit, and non-binary youth hosted by Girls+ Rock Camp at the CSAC.

Being torn between the two events is a visceral reminder of the way in which QTBIPOC are made to choose between our communities, forced to abandon our ethnic communities to feel included for our genders or sexualities, or forced to closet ourselves in order to belong with our racialized kin. Even on such a small scale–me, alone, with all my privilege to choose between attending one amazing art event or another–it hurts to defer part of your identity.

I arrive rain-soaked and out of breath at the Girls+ Rock Camp session. Members of various bands performing at Flourish, including Motherhood’s Penelope Stevens, songwriter Jane Blanchard, and Indigo Poirier are guiding about a dozen young people as they play on several drum kits, keyboards, synth tables, and guitars scattered around the CSAC auditorium. A constant groove emerges from the various rhythm stations, and a song begins to take shape as I watch. Two young girls wearing pastel hijabs join Indigo at the mic, and sing about everyone becoming mermaids. Other kids around the room chime in gradually, singing and laughing along, swapping instruments and making new friends.

After stopping to warm up with a coffee from Milda’s Pizza and More, I make my way back through the rain to Gallery 78, a historic, turreted house on the South bank of the Wolastoq river. Featuring several exhibits by local artists, today, the gallery’s main room hosts a pop-up installation by classical/songwriting duo Pallmer and Montreal-based electronic artist Charles Harding.

On the floor, Harding has taped off a large square with arrows pointing through it, accompanied by the words “Step Study.” Pallmer cellist Emily Kennedy and violist Mark Kleyn are set up at opposite corners of the square, and play from scored composed by Harding: though the scores contain standard lines of musical notation, between each line, there are sections denoted by colourful, abstract blobs and waves. The performance begins with Pallmer playing an airy, minimalistic duet, but the twist is revealed when Harding walks through the outlined square, and invites the audience to do the same. As soon as anyone walks into the square in the center of the room, Pallmer’s playing becomes a musical interpretation mimicking the person’s steps.

Tiptoeing through the square incurs soft, plucked harmonics. Stomping results in loud, heavy chords. When three women dance into the square together, holding hands and spinning, the music becomes a raucous waltz that follows their every movement. Pallmer’s improvisations echo the speed, weight, and feel of the audience’s interventions as people become bolder and begin to experiment: one man removes his shoes and slides across the floor; a Flourish volunteer gets down on the floor and log-rolls through the square; some people try squeaking their rain-wet shoes against the hardwood to test the effect; and at one point, people try throwing coats and keys into the ring, incurring a variety of sustained harmonics and chords.

Throughout the performance, the art gallery becomes a dance floor and soundpad, where the audience is invited to collaborate in the music, using their bodies as instruments. Step Study is an invitation to play along with the performers, not just in the musical sense, but in the childlike, imaginative realm. As the piece comes to a close, the final audience intervention that modifies the score is when Erin Goodine (of Fredericton band Terre Wa) pulls up a corner of the tape delineating the square soundpad, breaking the barrier between the scored and improvised music for a moment before gently putting it back. After enthusiastic applause, Harding explains that his goal is to make performance interactive. The performances of his piece at Flourish are also data-gathering expeditions, as Harding intends to compose a future piece based on the step and sound patterns recorded during the festival. As everyone leaves Gallery 78, we leave as co-conspirators and collaborators in this future composition.


Contribution by Rebecca Salazar (she/her)

Rebecca Salazar is the author of the knife you need to justify the wound (Rahila’s Ghost) and Guzzle (Anstruther Press). Recent publications include poetry and non-fiction in Briarpatch, Minola Review, and The Puritan. Rebecca is currently a poetry editor for The Fiddlehead and Plenitude magazines, and a PhD candidate at UNB.

FLOURISH FEST: DAY 2 – PIGMENTS, PUPPIES, AND MAGICAL FORESTS

Dashing from home before a looming rainstorm, I arrive late to the Charlotte Street Arts Center. Sadly, I only catch the end of a set by Shady Jane, one of Flourish’s youngest bands this year–their precocious rock chops shine through in their final chords, and in the applause that erupts as I sneak into the auditorium.

Shady Jane pt.2
Photo by Caitlin Dutt

The auditorium is darkly lit and colourful, with a smattering of chairs in the center of the room, and bar stocked w local craft brews and merch tables at the back.

Guelph, Ontario’s VERSA begins their set by thanking Iris from Shady Jane for lending them a bass. Ironically, Iris’ bass guitar matches VERSA’s co-ordinating all-white outfits, complementing their aesthetic. The multimedia duo of Monika Hauck and Alex Ricci improvises mellow, hazy electronic music along with live visuals projected overhead. While some of the visuals are geometric, digital animations that resemble light streaming through blinds, or warping colour grids, others are live-painted by Hauck.

VERSA

Photo by Caitlin Dutt

At first, I mistakenly think Hauck is playing a theremin with a pen-like wand, until i realize she is using a long dropper to add pigments to a liquid ink medium on her work surface, which is rigged with a camera that projects her creations overhead. The pigments morph and blend with reverberations from the nearby amps, keeping the visuals in perpetual motion. The combined effect of the music and visuals is atmospheric and watery, swelling and receding in waves. Between songs, Hauck prints the live-painted medium onto a page, preserving an imprint of each performance.

While the stage is reset for the next band, I wander the CSAC’s labyrinthine galleries and find a variety of art and music exhibits scattered throughout: cyanotype tapestries by Rachel Thornton, miniature couture creations by Tracy Austin, and a live music collaboration between Fredericton band Pallmer and Charles Harding (read more about this project tomorrow!). Most of the historic building retains the original winding, ornate wooden staircases. A newer wing, completed in the last year, includes an elevator, making the venue’s galleries, events, and basement pizzeria, Milda’s, accessible. On my way back to the auditorium, I notice that Flourish volunteers have taped “All Gender Washroom” signs under the binary gender markers on the washroom doors.

Next on stage is Massachusetts-based indie band And the Kids. Only one half of the band appears tonight (singer Hannah Mohan and drummer Rebecca Lasaponaro), but their sound and energy fill the room with the power of a full lineup. Their first song features Hannah Mohan on vocal, guitar, and tin flute–after the tin flute solo, she brightly tosses it offstage to jump back on guitar. Mohan’s voice is clear and high, with sweet peaks in her upper range that somehow capture the nostalgic feel of a rockabilly crooner, but with a definite riot grrrl edge. And the Kids has a summery, indie sound that is charming without being precious, with plenty of grit in the instrumentals. Their onstage presence is equally engaging; between songs, Mohan jokes about astrology, and encourages the audience to check out their new album, When This Life Is Over. “My doggy’s on the cover!” she exclaims, to delighted laughter, “so check it out!” Halfway through And the Kids’ performance, most of the audience has abandoned their seats to dance.

The dancing continues with Carinae, a five-piece band also hailing from Massachusetts. Bassist Nina Kent builds a solid groove that is layered with shimmery synths and guitars to create a bouncy, psychedelic feel. It is telling that drummer Gabe Camarano grins non-stop while playing, even when his hat slips over his eyes during the last song.

Carinae

Photo by Caitlin Dutt

Rounding out the night is dynamic Fredericton trio Motherhood: Penelope Stevens on bass, keys, and vocals; Brydon Crain on guitar and vocals; and drummer Adam Sipkema. Showcasing songs from their latest album, Dear Bongo, Motherhood are ace performers. Their sound is high-powered, oddball experimental rock with plenty of arty grooves and more onstage enthusiasm than seems physically possible–it is clear why Motherhood is a major local favourite.

Motherhood

Photo by Caitlin Dutt

As much as I am swept up in the sound, and enjoying the visible fun both Carinae and Motherhood have while performing together, it is during these sets that I notice a shift in the crowd. It is only by the fourth or fifth time I am bumped into or brushed against that I notice that the audience has filled out with mostly men. Though I am standing closely with a small group of mostly femme-presenting friends, men keep cutting through us instead of going around us, and knocking into us as though we are invisible.

It is in no way the fault of the bands–of any bands, for that matter–but I can’t help but notice that as soon as the majority of the musicians onstage are men, the number of men in the audience increases, as does their aggression, and their lack of spatial awareness. The audience is quickly dominated by white men, most over six feet tall, standing and nodding in the front and middle of the room with little to no regard for the space or sight-lines of shorter audience members.

Both Flourish and its performers have made obvious efforts to make a safe, inclusive space for all audience members. The spirit of the festival and the music it features are overwhelmingly welcoming and engaging, so it feels extra disappointing when public spaces still feel like they are made for men, with the rest of us left feeling out of place and overwhelmed. At least during Flourish, the music gets us dancing through it.

Racing across downtown Fredericton to the Capital Complex, I am not prepared for the transformation the familiar downstairs bar has undergone. Kristina Rolander’s Neon Forest Remix installation has turned the Capital’s lower level into a psychedelic fairy tale: hand-painted tapestries of abstract greenery and neon waves cover the walls, and layers of leafy paper forms hang from the ceiling, washed in a mysterious blend of green and purple light. The dreamy, smoky voice of Thanya Iyer winds through the dark, leafy forest, drawing me immediately toward the stage. Iyer and her three-piece band are soon joined on stage by Anna Horvath of Merival, who bounds through the crowd and settles on-stage behind a speaker to provide backing vocals for the night. Muted bass plucking, percussion, softly looped violin, and synths provide a backdrop for Iyer’s enigmatic lyrics about healing, pain, and interconnectedness.

Live, improvised video by new band member Sophie Grouev project over the band, washing the scene in gently warped images of nature, household objects, and close-ups of microscopic organisms. From where I am in the crowd, I watch pixels from the video projection scatter light and colour across Iyer’s face, and over the sinuous leaf tapestries hung from the ceiling. The combined effect is mesmerizing, layering smooth, organic and electronic textures both visually and aurally.

“We’re so happy to be in this magical forest,” Iyer says, while introducing the band between songs, and in that moment, I can’t help but feel the same.


Contribution by Rebecca Salazar (she/her)

Rebecca Salazar is the author of the knife you need to justify the wound (Rahila’s Ghost) and Guzzle (Anstruther Press). Recent publications include poetry and non-fiction in Briarpatch, Minola Review, and The Puritan. Rebecca is currently a poetry editor for The Fiddlehead and Plenitude magazines, and a PhD candidate at UNB.

FLOURISH FEST: DAY 1 – WHEELIE SHOES + CARTOON SWORDS

The floods that days ago engulfed most of downtown Fredericton have just receded. It is unusually cold and gloomy for late April, but downtown’s Shiftwork Studio is warmly lit and in full colour. I arrive just as the first two bands playing Flourish Fest’s opening set are sound checking, and chat briefly with festival founder Jane Blanchard, who hands me my festival pass, a hand-printed geometric piece made by Jane and her co-founder and collaborator Stefan Westner in the very studio this first show takes place in.

I have lived in Fredericton for nearly six years, just a year longer than Flourish has been running. Having arrived as a grad student with no intention to stay in the Maritimes after my first, two-year program, I spent the first-ever Flourish at home or at the library, buried in books. It was not until I became more involved and invested in Fredericton’s small but impressive queer and arts communities that I became aware of Flourish, and I have made a point to come to a few shows and its annual zine & craft fairs ever since. The festival and the artists it features each year make Fredericton feel shimmering and vital each spring.

Waiting in a corner of Shiftwork studio for the show to begin, I watch members of Frooti-Toot-E zip through the room on wheelie shoes post-soundcheck, and am excited for what this year will bring.

“Who wants to get cozy and come closer to us?” asks the singer of indie rock outfit Terminal, the first band to play. “Or maybe have a dance off?” Dressed in monochromatic baby pink, Cameron Corey leads their band through bouncy riffs, with vocals ranging from  Bowie-esque pop tones to cartoon-villain-worthy cackles.

Introduced by the festival program as “fashion icons from the future,” Frooti Toot-E takes the studio stage next. Recently profiled by nybc, the experimental trio is dressed according to the colours of their band personas: Banana, in a yellow polo dress and rubber duck-print bucket hat, Peach, in pink faux fur and fuzzy antennae, and Tomato, in an oversized red t-shirt that reads “#1 Dad.”

Frooti Toot-E’s first song chronicles Tomato’s existential woes (“I’m a fruit, not a veggie,” she sings). After an initial ballad section, the song shifts into a poppy rap sequence as each member of the band introduces herself in character. The back-beats swell in tempo and build up to a high-energy battle, each band member performing riotous choreography with cartoon plastic swords.

The audience cheers and laughs as Frooti-TootE charm us through their songs with unabashed, artful silliness. Though their song lyrics are largely a series of jokes and puns–excellent puns!– on fruit names, the band cover topics ranging from lost love to self-affirmation with a sense of humour that feels both genuine and infectious.

While I am sad to have to leave the opening show early for another, non-Flourish event, I leave joyful and laughing, still buzzed with the energy of the studio.


Contribution by Rebecca Salazar (she/her)

Rebecca Salazar is the author of the knife you need to justify the wound (Rahila’s Ghost) and Guzzle (Anstruther Press). Recent publications include poetry and non-fiction in Briarpatch, Minola Review, and The Puritan. Rebecca is currently a poetry editor for The Fiddlehead and Plenitude magazines, and a PhD candidate at UNB.

FLOURISH FEST: INTERVIEW #6 – l i l a

As part of the media coverage for FLOURISH (April 25-28), not your boys club will be having conversations with some of the folks that will be organizing, creating, and performing at the festival.

For the sixth installment of this series, I spoke with Marianne (she/they) the front person and songwriter of l i l a. Other members of l i l a include Anthony (he/him) on guitar and synth, Audrey (she/her) on drums, and Pascal (he/him) on synth.

it is / a mood / a small gesture / a fragile sound / like cracking ice / maybe / a flower / maybe / a landscape / or maybe just / soft & slow sounds / from somewhere / between the sea / and the sky / hoping to comfort one / somehow / sometimes / in the darkest times

lilaPhoto by Phillipe St-Pierre

You named on your social media that your first EP, songs from a room, bloomed l i l a. Can you speak more to this — the beginnings of what is now l i l a?

oui! i’ve been working on my music for 4 and a half years now and for the first 3 years, i did it under my birth name [marianne poirier]. it was okay at first, but then i started to think and feel like it wasn’t what i wanted. it was not that my name was wrong, that i didn’t like it or anything, it just didn’t feel like it belonged with my music and my art. i wanted to detach myself from myself somehow, and create a full persona for my work. i thought about changing my name for a whole year before finally doing it but it’s kind of funny because in the end, i think i always knew i wanted to be called l i l a.

it felt like it represented me well. when they hear/see/read it, people might think of the flower [lilas/lilac], people might think of the smell, people might think of the colour but then again, it’s none of it and all of it at the same time. l i l a is for the idea of the ephemeral, the revival, the softness, the mystery, the secrecy. i wanted people to know me for who i was becoming and who i am now and not what they saw me as 4 years ago [i was on The Voice..yah..and people kind of identified me as the cute girl wearing a hat]. it kinda made me mad somehow because that is not what/who i am. i am human and that is all. i carry oceans and i play sad music. i wanted something neutral, i wanted it to be mysterious. i wanted anyone to feel like they could be l i l a, you know ? i didn’t want anyone to assume anything about me and my music without even hearing/seeing it and so yah, changing my name was the first step i felt i had to take..and so i did, but i also felt like it wasn’t enough just to change name: i had to give [something] to people. the idea of recording my first EP on my own came really randomly, but it also seemed like the right/best thing i could do. i wanted to do everything myself to show people who l i l a truly was/ gonna be and so i handmade 50 physical copies, all with a different drawing, made the jackets, burned the CD’s, did everything and i said:

here is me: here is l i l a. [it worked pretty well, i must say. and i was surprised! but also very happy and relieved because i was already working on the next thing when it came out]

I really want to acknowledge and appreciate how everything that I’ve come to know about l i l a is very personal and very tender — your song writing, the bedroom recording by you, the unique drawings for each copy and each t-shirt. There is a certain kind of care here that isn’t often seen. Would you be willing to share the importance that carefully hand making and personalizing everything has for you?

seriously, that is so sweet. i am deeply touched and must say that i got kind of emotional reading that’s the way you perceived l i l a because that’s exactly what it’s all about: caring.

doing music/art is my self care and i want it to help other people too. it is crucial for me that anyone feels included and important all the time. everything i do is very personal, yes, but it is also inspired by [everyone and anyone] so that’s why i want people to feel like they can still belong to it and with it. i want them to be able to recognize themselves in all my art and the last thing i want is to be placed on top of anyone [i notice there’s a certain hierarchy and coldness that can take place in the arts and i totally hate it]. i don’t want anyone to feel like what i do is not accessible or unaffordable and i think that is why i feel the urge to do everything myself. i am a real pisces [drama drama] and every single thing goes straight to my heart. i am very emotional and i feel like i want people to experience l i l a in that way too. i think that doing everything [my merch] by myself makes me feel closer to people and it also makes people feel closer to me. i know and they know that when they buy something of mine, they’ll have a real piece of l i l a/me and that they’ll be the only to ever have it. i find that very beautiful and i want to always make sure that everyone buying something from me understands what it means to me and how important it is and how grateful i am for them to even consider my art. I couldn’t do less or else i’d feel like i am not being truly true.  

I read in an article (2019) that at the songs from a room EP launch in the Saint-Jean bookstore in Montreal, folks in the crowd were sitting and listening on cushions in front of you. To me, this sounds very comforting, intimate, and safe. Is this the kind of a environment you are hoping to cultivate at your FLOURISH show on April 27th?

the whole idea behind that night was to recreate my bedroom [because that was where i recorded most of the EP] so my friends and i moved all the tables and chairs, put blankets and cushions on the floor, hung christmas lights and sheets on the walls and ceilings, burnt incense, hung my drawings and even served kombucha! it felt exactly like my bedroom and with all the books around, it was so lovely. i was scared people wouldn’t show up because i called the show very last minute, but we ended up refusing people at the door cause the place was too full ! it was such a nice night, i still get the feels.

for the release of my new EP [quiet as fire], i did it at « le Knockout », which is a independent record store downtown Quebec City. it felt like the perfect place to do it since i released the EP on vinyl. i did things a little differently this time, but the main idea was still to create this very intimate and comforting place. i made it all very dark and the [almost] only lights were those purple christmas lights i hung with shiny garlands on that decor that my dad had built me. the night started with a listening of the vinyl and then i played that new solo set with my loop pedal, mixing both music and poetry. i think people were very surprised by all of it and then again, it was so lovely.

i always want to try and create a whole universe when i’m playing. it can never be just music because in my heart it’s not just music. i want people to be experienced. i want them to let themselves feel [things]. i must say that i am in my solitude a lot when i play. i love solitude and i am not afraid nor sad when i go there. i feel peaceful, nostalgic yes, but also very calm and serene. i feel like it is too often a place within oneself that people are afraid to go? but i really want to try and have people go there during my shows. not to have them feel sad or anything, but to have them realize that it’s all ok. because the music is so deep and introspective, a safe and soothing space is needed and it is my job to create it for them. from the lightning to the way they are seated, i always try to create this intimate and comforting place in which everyone can just breathe and move or close their eyes or be happy or cry [i’ve seen people do it] or dance or feel whatever they want to feel.

i am definitely hoping and going to try and create something similar [but also different, of course] at my FLOURISH show! i can’t wait to see the place and people! xxx

In the same post that you mentioned the blooming of l i l a, you also mentioned that there are many more amazing things to come. Are you able to share what some of those things might be?

Oui mais non mais non mais oui!

i must admit that i always write that [new things are coming out soon] to try and keep people around and have them in that perpetual state of wonder and mystery.  

Then again, I am constantly creating and working on new stuff: videos, songs, poetry, art stuff..and so i might just be working on new merch for Flourish! i don’t even know what i’ll be doing in an hour so who knows what’s coming up?

i guess i could say that we started pre-producing the second EP and that it is going to be crazy cool/good, but not out so soon yet. i will also have more shows coming up, one of which is gonna be pretty epic and it will take place this summer in Quebec City, my city. i cannot say more because it has not been announced yet and i think that people will still have to wait a few weeks before i can say anything serious about it all. BUT i can say watch out for it because you won’t want to miss it ! ! !

See l i l a live:

April 27th @ FLOURISH Festival, Fredericton, NB.

April 28th @ bloom fest, Sackville, NB.


Contribution by Nikki A Basset

FLOURISH FEST: INTERVIEW#5 – FROOTI TOOT-E

As part of the media coverage for FLOURISH (April 25-28), not your boys club will be having conversations with some of the folks that will be organizing, creating, and performing at the festival.

For the fifth instalment of this series, I spoke with Rachel / Tomato (she/her), Claire / Banana (she/her), and Lauren / Peach (she/her) from Frooti Toot-E (NB) – a project that started out as just a joke on instagram between these high school pals.

frooti tooti.JPG
Photo by David Cheng

I *loved* the article that The Aquinian recently published that centers all ages programming at FLOURISH and interviews the youth that have been booked to perform or install art at the festival (Flatt, 2019). In this article, you were quoted saying that Frooti Toot-E started as a joke on instagram – could you let me, and the readers, in on this joke and the formation of the band?

Tomato: Well basically Peach and I took the course “Sound and Recording” this year at school. We got to make music using Logic Pro – basically a fancy expensive version of GarageBand. We found it really fun to make funny music and the joke kind of started with “oh my god, imagine if we started a band and it was just weird, funny music! imagine if we PERFORMED!”. We just thought it was funny until one day we said, “wait.. like.. we could easily do that, we just have to make an instagram and soundcloud. It’s grad year – why not!” and the band kind of took off from there.

You were also quoted saying that you had never intended to play a show, but then it “became something real”. How did this happen? Does Fredericton often embrace and centre youth in the music and arts community?

Tomato: No, we honestly never thought it’d be possible to perform live since most of our music is just us singing over a backing track we made ourselves, but our music teacher (shout-out to Mr. Webber!!) really encouraged us and gave us a way for this to happen which was incredible. Performing live has been super fun and I honestly am super grateful to Mr. Webber for helping us start that.

And yeah! I think Fredericton definitely has places where they encourage youth to be creative with music and other forms of art – the Charlotte Street Arts Center has been an awesome place for us personally and i know they do a lot of events to encourage youth to be creative. I think that’s awesome.

What can folks at FLOURISH fest expect from your set at shiftwork on Thursday, April 25th?

Banana: Well.. definitely something they probably haven’t seen before. Our sets are pretty unique but definitely playful and fun – the whole set has sort of a storyline to it which we think is cool. We hope people will like it!

I’ve seen and heard many folks (Jane Blanchard, Motherhood, The Aquinian) refer to Frooti Toot-E as fashion icons. Can you tell me about your aesthetic and why this is a critical part of your performance?

Peach: haha! The day jane said that about us we all freaked out !! Motherhood thinks we’re FASHION ICONS?!?

But yeah, fashion and style is something we really like to incorporate into our performances. Because we are all fruit, we make sure to dress in our fruit colours, so i’m dressed all in pink, Rachel (tomato) in red, and Claire (banana) in yellow.

We just like to have fun with our outfits and be as creative as possible when deciding what to wear to our shows. We’ve worn skirts from value village as shirts and full pastel wigs before – it changes every time!

What are some ways that you feel Frooti Toot-E is paving the way for other youth to take up space in music and arts communities? Do you have any advice for creative youth?

Tomato: I think because we’re so different from i guess “normal” or your typical form of music, it might encourage people and show them that they can make whatever they want. Although not everyone will like it (you can’t please everyone), there’s always going to be people who enjoy it .

This sound cheesy, but as long as you’re creating and having fun, that’s all that matters.

Banana: Yeah I agree. For advice, I’d say just be brave and try your hardest to create for yourself and not to please other people – it’s YOUR art, not theirs. Being creative is fun!

See Frooti Toot-E live on April 25th at FLOURISH Festival!


Contribution by Nikki A Basset