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.