Brampton Indie Arts Festival Rose Theatre, Brampton, ON February 13 to 15

It’s genuinely sad to see the BIAF deteriorating because it remains the most eclectically programmed arts festival in Canada. After moving to the new-fangled Rose Theatre last year, the BIAF hasn’t overcome its growing pains and the few bright spots were overshadowed by interminably long nights, a generally unexciting and unreliable line-up, and horrible sound. There are few certainties in life but here’s one: when the BIAF invades the secondary "Studio” space at the Rose, it becomes the worst sounding formal music venue in history. Like hands down, no contest — the fucking worst. This fact was exacerbated by an inept engineer who frequently ignored the importance of audible vocals. In fact, the Bicycles were a highlight for their open mockery of this mid-set smoke break taker. Best moment: drummer Dana Snell pleading for a better mix on-stage, as the oblivious knob twiddler answered questions from an audience member curious about why Snell’s vocals were buried. So, this well-intentioned schedule of underground talent was an unfortunate write-off with the exception of a beautiful stripped-down set by Forest City Lovers, who escaped the torturous room after 20 minutes; the amiable folk of the Houseplants; and another gorgeous solo excursion by Sandro Perri, who commands any stage with rare confidence. The somewhat incidental "Rotundus Maximus” fared well this year, as curator Scott Thomson of AIMToronto featured the likes of Hat & Beard (Ken Aldcroft and Dave Clark), a cool exploratory guitar session by Nilan Perera, and a stimulating "bass aplenty” performance by Victor Bateman and Rob Clutton. The main space actually sounded better this year, mostly because few loud bands (the poor Born Ruffians also valiantly made the best of difficult sonic circumstances) played there. Mike Harding remains the best MC around, bringing puppets Curtains and Tiny Chef to life, and introducing a new comic mastermind in the monosyllabic Blinky. Stop-motion animated film Paradise (featuring Dave Foley) is endearing and new music explorers Toca Loca were just mesmerising. A cancellation meant that Hamilton’s Dan Griffin opened two nights in a row — an oddly unprecedented occurrence for the BIAF — delivering his engaging folk rock with affable charm in the face of an 880-seat hall that held maybe 20 observers (six of which were ushers). Two Canadian, Oscar-nominated animated shorts graced the BIAF, with the mind-blowing innovation of Madame Tutli-Putli preceding the rightly-hyped John Lennon treasure, I Met the Walrus. Master accordionist Joseph Macerollo held a surreal clinic and esteemed Theremin artist Dorit Chrysler stole the show before the raucous percussion collective Samba Punk Sound System closed out the fest much later than scheduled, sending patrons home around two in the morning. It’s unclear if word of the BIAF’s logistical snafus kept its usual breadth of high profile artists away this year, but if this level of inconsistency keeps up, the talent won’t have to think twice.