Country music is alive and well, and it's living at Ginger's Tavern. On Tuesdays, at least.
Halifax hurtin' country unit The Whiskey Kisses launched Honky Tonk Hiccups—a weekly roundup of local country and folk musicians—two months ago, and the response has been stellar. Initially a way for the band to improve its live chops, the sextet discovered that it attracted a large, diverse audience.
"We're a little surprised by the response, to be honest," says rhythm guitarist Fabian O'Brien. "It's been an interesting mix of people—young and old, punks and country fans. You name it, we're seeing it."
The wide mix of fans shouldn't come as a shock, as The Whiskey Kisses' rhythm section is comprised of veteran rock scenesters. O'Brien and bassist Peter MacMillian perform together in Dead Red. Drummer Mike Bartlett pounds the skins for Montgomery Moth. Lead guitarist Craig Hamelin fronts the Dean Malenkos (vocalists Krista MacDonald and Jodi McLaughlin round out the group).The band's sound is classic country—more Johnny Cash than Johnny Rotten, if you will.
"We came together to try something different," says O'Brien. "For example, Craig had never really played country music before so I fed him a steady diet of Buck Owens, Waylon Jennings and Gram Parsons and it wasn't long before he found his way. There's definitely been a learning curve but it's been nothing but fun and rewarding."
The band is currently recording an EP with Dead Red's Francis Hall and spreading the word about Honky Tonk Hiccups. But don't expect a tour.
"We have no touring plans," says O'Brien. "We all have jobs or go to school. We started this band to simply have some fun. The most we have in mind at this point is going out of town on a Saturday night or something like that. When it comes down to it, I guess the whole thing is just to satisfy ourselves. We get to play music that matters to us and get drunk at the same time."
North by North End is back and better than ever. The third annual event kicks off at Gus' Pub and One World Cafe on September 8 and 9 before nine shows, September 13 to 16. Almost 30 bands are scheduled to perform in three venues over the weekend, which caps off September 16 with a softball game, BBQ and five-band bill at Fort Needham Park.
"CKDU did a Canada Day picnic up at Needham Park this year and it was great," says event organizer David Ewenson. "It was so much fun we figured we should do it again for North by North End then multiply it by baseball and BBQ."
Several bands are travelling to perform at the festival, including Quebexico, MM/DD/YY and The Saffron Sect, a Toronto supergroup that features the Flashing Lights' Gaven Dianda.
"They're a psych-folk band with medieval influences," says Ewenson. "This is their first time in Halifax and I think they are going to blow people away."
Mike O'Neill, Dog Day, The Stance, Ghettosocks and newcomer Mike Evin are among the many locals also scheduled to hit the stage during the event. "Mike Evin is amazing," says Ewenson. "He just moved to town and he is unstoppable."
While most organizers (outside of the Stones and the NHL) would hesitate to program an event at the same time as the film festival, Ewenson sees NXNEnd as complimentary and figures people will find time to attend both. "I would say we are tag team partners," he says. "Our combined powers will kick Halifax's ass for one crazy weekend."
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