Published Apr 25, 2012The Dictionary of Newfoundland English defines lawnya vawnya as "a good time at a dance or party; plenty to eat." But since the seldom used term is experiencing a revival as the namesake of St. John's popular new five-day independent music and arts festival, it's quickly becoming synonymous with the discovery of exceptional music.
Brainchild of the Burning Hell's Mathias Kom and Ariel Sharratt, who moved to St. John's in 2010 after multiple on-tour love affairs with the city and its music scene, and their friend Dave Lander, Lawnya Vawnya found its second year delivering another illuminating experience.
Festivities kicked off last Wednesday (April 18) at the Inn of Olde in Quidi Vidi, a quaint village that hugs a cove in St. John's far east end. Earlier that day two men made national headlines by scaling a nearby iceberg and hucking themselves off it into the frigid North Atlantic. One of them found a good warm-up spot at the Inn, where people willfully packed themselves in like sardines to catch intimate sets by Woolly Leaves and local acts Steve Maloney, Joanna Barker, Sherry Ryan and the Goodbyes. It was a good segue into what, by Friday, would become a full-on party.
Thursday saw musicians continue trickling into town as the festivities spread to multiple venues. The Weather Station, Stanley Brinks and Newfoundland up-and-comers East of Empire respectively wooed, humoured and charged a nearly full house at the Rocket Room, the festival's main site for all-ages shows. A couple blocks up Water Street, said to be North America's oldest road, local loudsters Colonel Craze & the Hunch whipped the sweaty Rose & Thistle crowd into a moshing frenzy in the wake of Wax Mannequin's set, which saw the Hamilton psych-songwriter perched atop the bar leading the crowd through a series of sing-alongs.
Lawnya Vawnya organizers had only a few things in mind when they launched the festival in 2011, says Lander: to gather a bunch of friends and fellow musicians for a party and, by featuring both local and mainland acts at each of the festival's dozen or so shows, to dually introduce St. John's listeners to some of Canada's best hidden talent and acquaint the visiting musicians with the island's most exciting new acts.
This year they also merged the celebration of indie music with the spirit of small independent publishing presses. Tamara Lindeman (the Weather Station) and Rollie Pemberton (aka Cadence Weapon) joined visiting and local poets Friday and Saturday evening for readings at Eastern Edge Gallery on the St. John's habourfront. The gallery was also the site of a small press and record fair, as well as panel discussions on the current state of independent music production and distribution and the opportunities and challenges for small publishing companies.
On Friday night, the 30- and 40-somethings crowded the Ship Pub's stage to be front and centre for a rare reunion of '90s indie rock duo the Inbreds, who were playing their first-ever show in Newfoundland. Prior to last weekend, Mike O'Neill and Dave Ullrich had only gigged a handful of times in the past 14 years. On Saturday, they did it again at a surprise show in the back of a tiny downtown vintage clothing store.
Cadence Weapon and Sheezer's concurrent Saturday night performances at different venues created a dilemma for some, but in Sunday afternoon discussions none seemed disappointed with their decision.
Lawnya Vawnya's afternoon music crawl was extended to two days this year, both of which, against St. John's springtime odds, afforded the roaming Saturday and Sunday afternoon crowds of about 50 a dry opportunity to see performances in unlikely places. Together, families and a contingent of hungover festivalgoers converged at noon both days to follow a marching band (members of the Newish Klezmer Ensemble) from shop to shop where artists like Olympic Symphonium, Laura Barrett, Marine Dreams, Stanley Brinks & Freschard, B.A. Johnston and Richard Laviolette performed short, intimate sets to the festival's most attentive crowds.
On Sunday night, following performances by Snailhouse and Atlantis Music Prize (Newfoundland's Polaris) winners All the Wiles, Canadian indie queen Julie Doiron and former Constantine Will Kidman brought the festival to a grungy but gentle close at the Ship, which was packed to the brim with musicians and festivalgoers revelling in the music of a woman whose influence on independent music in Canada will likely long outlive her.
The spirit and vibe in the legendary St. John's pub said it all. Something special is happening in the Newfoundland capital, and Lawnya Vawnya has eloquently created an experience for all -- visiting and local musicians and supporters alike -- to share in it together.