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.
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.
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.
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.
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.