DAY 1: FRIDAY
Unless you are a magician or time-traveller, it’s almost impossible to see every band at Evolve. At least, every full set. Five stages were full from noon ‘til morning light, every night. But the grounds are cozy so you can mosey through the bands with drinks in your hands. This year’s lineup was incredibly diverse. From electro to blues to indie rock to funk to dubstep to folk, it was all there. There were so many happy people, so many shades of neon, and a shared relaxed energy. And, as is true of life, everyone has an individual and special Evolve experience. This one is mine, and these are the highlights.
Early Friday morning, Evolve newbies Adria Young (me) and Bill Wood (Sunday Comedy at The Company House and Picnicface) hit the open road for Antigonish. We arrived at the legendary car lineup outside the festival grounds; people were already partying and blowing bubbles. There were girls in bras with hula hoops, fur hats and body paint, everything I thought it would be and more. With Evolve bracelets on wrists and ankles (Bill went with ankle bracelet; clever, I know), we quickly set up in a place local comedian Merv Hartlen called "Camp Jamaica," (there was a large Jamaican flag) but by the end of the weekend, I had moved my tent three times. Bill's opening remarks were “I hope I’m good at this.”
I hustled my buns to the main stage (The Sunflower Stage) to see Halifax’s Cousins as one-man-band Aaron Mangle. It was incredibly warm out. He played a cover and songs from Palm at the End of The Mind, and he waved at me from the stage. You can catch Cousins at The Khyber August 2 with Quebec's Ponctuation and Halifax's Dream Friends.
“How do I keep cool in the summer?” said Jon McKiel, “Well, I always wear pants." Playing with a full band—Mark Grundy (Quaker Parents), Nathan Doucet (Crosss) and Kyle Cunjak (The Olympic Symphonium)—McKiel said his song of this summer is “Ash Mound” by Each Other: “Those guys are really awesome.” He played amped-up tracks from Tonka War Cloud and the classic "Motion Pictures." He’s also playing on August 2 with B.A. Johnston, Fiver and Old & Weird at Gus’ Pub.
The Evolve organizers made sure everything was covered and everyone was safe: really awesome local food, craft and clothing vendors, The Tea Hive, the toilet situation (which was great, but lots of pooping early in the game), a natural spring of freshwater, plastic Garrison growlers, four-wheeler taxis, security teams and the RCMP.
“All we need is one guy to slip everyone bath salts and we’ve got a mini zombie apocalypse on our hands,” said Caleb Adams (far left). It was reassuring to know they were ready for anything.
On the main stage, pretty cool rock outfit Writers' Strike was wearing pretty cool rock outfits. In hues of blue, they played a bunch of hits, including “Stay Down” from this year's 7’’ split with Rich Aucoin.
The first of The Willie Stratton Band’s two sets at The Not for Kids Only Stage was against the lovely green vista of boreal Antigonish. For a few winters now, Stratton and his band has been bluegrassin’ and railroadin’ all over this town, howling through the frames of old photographs. The setting was perfect, the crowd was attentive. Some tough-lookin' biker dudes smoked cigarettes on Harleys. A girl hula-hooped.
It’s pretty hard looking cool next to Deerhoof drummer Greg Saunier so I didn’t even try (as you can see). From San Francisco, Deerhoof was really happy to be at Evolve and back in Nova Scotia, first and last playing in 2008 with Rich Aucoin and Dog Day. Saunier expressed he had a great time watching the afternoon bands, especially Cousins. “Maybe I like Canadian music after all,” he said.
On the Sunflower Stage, Deerfhoof was an electromagnetic experimental avant-rock experience. Guitarist/vocalist Satomi Matsuzaki’s presence and style is seriously bad ass. “We hope people like us,” Saunier said, before the show. And they do! They did! Deerhoof, come back soon!
Back in the Palace Yurt, blood-reds and magentas illuminated Montreal’s Crosss. I felt like I was at a grunge metal exorcism led by Andy March. His spooky vocals, the hypnotic drums, Ryan Allen’s death bass: the trifecta of the supernatural. If this sounds exciting to you, and somewhat demonic, bear the Crosss, and go to the band's goodbye show at Michael's Bar and Grill (August 18).
I caught up with Willie, sister/keyboarder half-wolf Grace, and Magnus von Tiesenhausen in the Palace Yurt late at night. The band played the very same yurt on Sunday, and also plays The Company House and The Seahorse soon, so shine up them boots.
I fell asleep in my tent to the sounds of Tommy Knuckles and Sonny D at the Synergy Stage. I missed Each Other's 3:45am show, but I woke up briefly for the ‘goodnight Evolve!’ shout by Mickey Sasso at 6am. I don’t know how all those crazy kids stay up all night, but peace and love to them. They were having fun. The BCN Laser Yurt and Synergy Stage were bumpin’ til sunrise.
DAY 2: SATURDAY
I woke up in my steamy hot tent a little worse for the wear. I went to see if Bill was up, and he was—awoken, just like I was, by the toilet cleaning truck, or "Chug-A-Lug", as he lovingly called it. With smoothies, we laid back in The Tea Hive, a geometrical safe space with various potions and elixirs (but mostly tea). The fresh morning air was starting to burn: a hot day ahead. I ducked into "The Village" and got a henna tattoo. If I was doing this thing, I was doing it right. There was also a body piercing station (no penises!), a free barbershop, CKDU 88.1 FM, and Vagabond Vintage Clothing, to name a few.
Then I went for a coffee and ran into DJ A.A. Wallace and synth guitar man Matt MacDonald (Sleepless Nights). A.A. said their show went really well the night before; Evolve folks love to dance. He's still hosting Shake It Out at Menz Bar once a month for all you dance-aholics.
Plumes was a great band to see in the high-noon sun. From Montreal/Brooklyn, with Halifax harpist Ellen Gibling (who you may remember from the Farmer's Market), Plumes was like Joanna Newsom meets Jenn Grant with tons of whimsy aged by pain. I guess I mean they're awesome. Vocalist Veronica Charnley: "From Jersey City to Antigonish, it's great to be here!"
And then I saw Andrew Patterson, Paper Beats Scissors (Tim Crabtree) and Gianna Lauren hiding in the shade of the make-shift hammock town, the latter two performing later in the day. Yurt up. Then, we walked to the nearby river waterfall with at least a hundred other people splashing around. Lots of really good looking people go to Evolve, I should add. Everyone is beautiful, anyway.
We went back to Evolve and had a really nice food-truck dinner at The Rolling Bistro. The thing about Evolve is you can be doing anything anywhere and hear music from somewhere. You're always still immersed. You're always still a part of it. And I think, really, you are it.
On the main stage at dusk was hip-hop collective Three Sheet, voted "Best Local Band" in The Coast Best of Halifax 2011. Recently back from Taiwan, Three Sheet had some serious steez going on. Soul-vocalist Vanessa Furlong yelled to the crowd, "I hope some of you are just waking up,"(knowing most people really were just waking up), "Because you better be ready to stay up for the next twelve fucking hours!"
EMC's beatboxing was ferocious. He and Expedyte busted incredibly fast raps. Like Bizzy and Krayzie Bone incredible. Three Sheet's energy was three feet off the ground. They were jumping around on each other like rap star animals. With so much energy, Three Sheet could dethrone the Fresh Prince of Bel-Air.
I ran into Tynan Dunfield (Writers' Strike) on a break. He worked stage and sound the entire weekend, and helped things run smoothly. Also, this really beautiful girl was there. And so was this guy in an inflated cow costume. People are themselves at Evolve and it's refreshing and awesome. EVOLVE!
Halifax DJs Moldylox and Rekkid Bitch, who still spin straight-up vinyl onstage, had the crowd bouncing and pouncing on Friday evening. On Saturday, the duo cruised Evolve as speaker dudes (seen above). Moldylox is an Evolve regular and bass/drum whiz seven years running; he'll be back, baby.
After a Nutella and banana waffle from the Waffle Truck, a nice hammock hang (where I could hear the bluesy rock of Moncton’s Easy Wind), and another run in with A.A. Wallace and Matt MacDonald, I went over to the main-stage for Toronto duo Woodhands. And holy mother of crap! Have you heard these guys? I don’t think drummer Paul Banwatt stopped playing once the whole time. And Dan Werb on vox/synth had David Byrne/Isaac Brock power, loud and constant movement and rhythm.
Baltimore, Maryland's electro guru Dan Deacon rolled out, ground level. No stage for this guy; Deacon makes the audience his stage, and incorporates them into his act, bar none. Deacon had the crowd staring back at themselves onscreen, like a mirror hall of self-consciousness. Deacon is all about real talk. "Why don't you enjoy reality instead of trying to augment it with your camera?" he asked. I didn't take too many pictures after that. His first time in Nova Scotia, but not his last: “I'll see you in the future," he said.
"When I say Windom, you say Earle!" One of the best shows at Evolve, Windom Earle almost blew the canvas flaps off the Palace Yurt in a barrage of strange and unusual but musically charged antics, like beard shavings ("No More Beards!") and cult-with-a-sailing-twist costumes. After old faves "Running Theme" and "Oh No," sexy sax man Nathan Pilon ended with an emotional, "Can You Feel The Love Tonight?" karaoke jam. Everyone hugged.
"Having matching uniforms was a really empowering thing," Pilon said, "In those clothes we had a serious responsibility to bring it." And it was brought. Plus, the yurt added something special: "The energy being given and received inside the yurt is much more immediate. You can't be in front of a crowd this positive and do anything but enjoy it." Windom Earle: ruling since 1998.
This man needs no introduction, but he gets a congratulations for making the Polaris Prize Longlist this year (go Rich!) If you really want to see Rich Aucoin's show, go to one. I don’t have pictures for you. I was far too engaged by the streamer cannons, giant balloons, confetti, YouTube clips, parachutes, and all the other special effects by Aucoin and Tyrone Reveen's Streamer Effects International to do anything but gape in awe and wonder. Bill noticed how amazing it was to think of all of the artists, musicians, stage techs, friends, and fans who came together to bring Aucoin's ideas to life. And I think that's a good way to conceive of Evolve in general: every single person makes it happen. Aucoin's second Evolve show was spectacular, with a crew of talented musicians (Nathan Pilon, Darryl Smith and Paul Aucoin, for starters).
Near the end, Aucoin asked the audience to relax and recite a new chorus so he could record it live for his next record. Oh yes, this is real. And everyone was happy to help. And after one perfect take, I saw Aucoin whisper "yes" to himself and realized how much it all meant to him. Did anyone else see that? Man, I wish you were there. When I asked him how he feels about having such control over the audience, since he can make us do just about anything, he said, "I'm only asking the audience to do things they want to do," which is, for the most part, living and loving in the moment together. We can hope for it, anyway.
DAY 3: SUNDAY
I woke up in the parking lot, the farthest I could drag my tent, because the BCN Laser Yurt and The Gratefully Deadicated Sound System were just too awesome for me to sleep, I'll put it that way.
After some ham and cheese waffles, a dip in the river and butter chicken and rice (I'm telling you, the food was amazing, I had no need for the crap I packed), I went to the main stage for Gypsophilia, who had the crowd kicking up dust and dancing to European and Jewish-Jamaican gypsy jazz.
Halifax's longstanding jazz group recently played The Halifax Jazz Fest and it was great to see them again. I noticed the band wore regular-people clothes instead of their usual dapper duds. "We didn't have time to get changed when we got here," Nick Wilkinson said, "so that was different." Ross Burns said it was an amazing show: "The audience at Evolve gives so much back per person because people go out of their way to be here. Also, Nick has a degree in Medieval History so if you need anything translated into Latin, let him know." Nick nodded in agreement. Noted.
Brent Randall was there, as a newer member of Paul Aucoin's experimental collective, The Hylozoists. Since 2001, the super group’s impressive list of participants (including Owen Pallett, Broken Social Scene chums, and Rich Aucoin, of course) speaks to The Hylozoist's fluid yet inclusive nature and style. Brent Randall said he might be back in Halifax in October with His Pinecones, fingers crossed.
Halifax's bearded piano crusader Ben Caplan played without his Casual Smokers in the Palace Yurt for a return performance at Evolve. And you know what they say: it's not over until the bearded man sings. Well, that's not what they say, and actually, it wasn't even over but I had to go. I missed the Sunday night acts, which I heard were amazing (I don’t doubt it, I wish I was there). But man, I got a good taste of it. To everyone at Evolve, thank you for everything, the waffles, the beer. Thanks to all the friends of The Coast, too. Evolve has given thousands of people something to love, which is a pretty special thing. See you next year!