Lawnya Vawnya 2023 Was a Lucky Number 13

With Cecile Believe (pictured), Nico Paulo, Cakes da killa, So Violento, Bria and more

Photo: Rebecca Pardy

BY Dillon CollinsPublished Jun 12, 2023

Quaint, steeped in history and welcoming as much for its salt-soaked aura as the good-natured hospitality of its people, St. John's requires first-hand viewing. There's little wonder that the soundtrack of the city, and of Newfoundland and Labrador itself, can be best described as eclectic. Sure, there's the tried and true Celtic music that vibes in commercials and attracts tourists by quite literally the boa full, but to paint the sounds of the Rock with one colour would be a disservice to the abundance of talented artists that call this place home.

On any given night, one could venture to the downtown core and find musicians plying their trade in bars and concert halls, crooning out blues ballads, melting faces with searing heavy metal, washing the masses in the glow of ambient synthpop, or challenging our hearts and minds with slick and fearless hip-hop. There are no hard and fast rules, no boundaries or limitations, and all hands are welcome. And for 13 years, Lawnya Vawnya has promoted those ideals of welcoming all comers — regardless of gender, creed or artistic preference — to bask in the glow of the universal truth of music. 

Taking place June 7–10 at various venues and performance spaces across downtown St. John's, Lawnya Vawnya 13 boasted a stacked lineup of diverse performances, as well as panel discussions, workshops, artist talks, a two-day record and press fair, pop-up shows, and a music crawl through the heart of the city. Nurturing an atmosphere of togetherness and acceptance where, for the four days of the festival, all comers are proudly and unabashedly united under the banner of music, Lawnya Vawnya continued its long-standing streak as one of Canada's hidden gems, though one whose sheen has caught the eye of music lovers and curious observers from well beyond our rocky coasts. 

Here are seven sensational performances Exclaim! took in during Lawnya Vawnya 13.

June 7


Eclectic, as noted, is the buzzword of choice at Lawnya Vawnya, and perhaps no performance summed up the frenetic friction of genre-melding fury quite like the effervescent stylings of instrumental trio Xia-3. 

Featuring longtime punk rock scene fixtures Ritche Perez (bass) and Brian Downton (drums) alongside world-renowned guzheng virtuoso Jing Xia, XIA-3 blends traditional Chinese influences with post-rock grooves.. 

Xia's mastery of the guzheng is a sight to behold, as the newly minted MusicNL winner and ECMA nominee caressed her instrument of choice in a near trance, fading in and out of delicate arrangements juxtaposed with full-on, rock-filled breakdowns, more than holding her own with her road-tested contemporaries and owning the stage to kickstart the festival on the opening day. 

June 8

So Violento 

St. John's synth-punk quartet So Violento did not so much present their off-beat brand of alternative, chaos-soaked goth rock as they did bludgeon the audience with their sound. 

Anchored by guitarist/vocalist Nadia Duman — who operates somewhere between Garbage's Shirley Manson and Rage Against the Machine's Zack de la Rocha — So Violento's frenzied riffs and droning tones captured the packed crowd at the Rock House in one of the more surreal experiences of the entire festival. 

At one point in the foursome's powerhouse set, Duman ascended the stage-side bar, attacking the mic with a frantic and almost manic energy, signalling to all hands that the gauntlet had been laid down. Top this, if you can!

June 9

Nico Paulo

A good friend of mine described Nico Paulo's intimate performance at the First Light Centre on Friday evening as "a warm hug"; a perfect description of the aura, and indeed the welcoming personality, of Paulo herself. 

Originally from Portugal and now calling Fogtown home, Paulo's nuanced and tender set featured no shortage of material from her lauded 2023 self-titled studio effort, which boasts collaborations from past members of Hey Rosetta!

Tender and soulful, Paulo's voice melted through the openness of the room, soaring to particular heights with rousing takes of her latest hit single "The Master" and the anthemic "Hand Kisser." Add Paulo to your good vibes playlist immediately and thank me later. 

Crossed Wires

Making up for lost time, Halifax pop rock trio Crossed Wires made the most of their first appearance in St. John's since 2015's Shed Island Festival. Now featuring Mount Pearl-based drummer Jonny May — sporting a moustache that would make Lemmy Kilmister proud — the fuzzed-out stylings of bassist/vocalist Heather Grant and guitarist Kayla Stevens had the enthusiastic packed crowd at the Ship swaying to the infectious rhythm.

"It's really fucking hot in here. My eyeballs are sweating," joked Grant following a lively rendition of their new single "Rain," taken from their first new album of material in eight years, Ellipsis

The trio pounded through classic CW cuts before a showstopping cover of Gob's 2000s classic "I Hear You Calling." Well worth the wait, we think. 


"Chinched" is a fine piece of Newfoundland slang. Though it can be used in various ways, it is perhaps best wielded to describe a feeling of fullness — making it the perfect word to describe Bazooka's unrelentingly heavy and blisteringly intense set at the Ship. 

An absolutely jammed-to-the-rafters crowd thrashed and moshed in a manic frenzy as the ninja masters of Fogtown beatdown uncorked face-melting cut after cut from their 2022 demo, namely the wild "WHY WOULD YOU BRING NEW JERSEY HERE" and "GOSSIP GIRL."

Featuring hilarious interludes cut with hip-hop tracks and an intro overdubbed by the now iconic local NTV news theme leading off their brutal barrage, Bazooka claimed the unquestioned title of heaviest and wildest set of Lawnya Vawnya 13. And that's not even a hot take. 

Cakes da Killa

"Make me look slutty! I want it to look like a cabaret in here!" beckons New Jersey native Rashard Bradshaw to the venue's lighting guru. Yep, it was that kind of night.

Bradshaw, with all the pomp and circumstance you'd expect, is best known by his stage name Cakes da Killa, and on this night — in a sultry, sweaty and decidedly party-ready Rock House — Killa brought the party and unbridled passion to the stage for a raucous set of brazen house music and unrivalled lyricism. 

Oozing charisma from the opening verse to his final outrageous bow, complete with tireless backup dancers and an aura and electricity that dried out the soaked summer air, Cakes da Killa's set was a masterclass in poise, polish and the patience of a true pro. Top marks to a stunning rendition of his unabashed nod to the queer community, "Stoggaf" — a true showstopper. 

June 10

Bonnie Trash

A hypnotic, eerie ambiance washed over the packed Rock House for the final night of Lawnya Vawnya, which marked the sophomore appearance of Ontario's Bonnie Trash — the darkened shoegaze/post-punk drone project of twin sisters Emmalia and Sarafina Bortolon-Vettor — at the festival.

"To say that we're delighted to be back would be an understatement," shared Sarafina emotionally, following what was an extended period of applause that genuinely moved the vocalist. Evidently, the festival faithful were more than pleased to usher the sisters back to the stage after a lengthy absence, in which time they have expanded to become a four-piece.

A first-timer to the Bonnie Trash experience, the spooky sonic showcase completely blew my mind. Think Sabbath-inspired riffs with droning drums and tones reminiscent of a John Carpenter soundtrack. Halloween OST meets Godspeed! You Black Emperor meets Emma Ruth Rundle. 

The band unspooled sinister-sounding cuts from their latest must-have collection, Malocchio, treating festival fans to a one-of-a-kind showcase of one of Canada's hidden gems that seem poised to take over the globe. A+. 


"I hope you got your rock out, because the rest of the set is pretty quiet and depressing," jokes Bria Salmena, vocalist/guitarist for festival closer Bria. "I hope you guys enjoyed your weekend!" 

Indeed, Bria's subdued, and at times achingly melancholic, performance at Lawnya Vawnya was unlike anything that preceded it in four days of sublime artistry. 

Bria's sombre, mood-soaked takes on country classics in the vein of Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds dripped with atmosphere and raw emotion. Stripped down to the bones and rebuilt in a tender and restrained image, the trio breathed life into classic cuts from Waylon Jennings's "Dreaming My Dreams With You" to Paula Cole's "Where Have All the Cowboys Gone?" and Gillian Welch's "I Dream a Highway".

"Somebody told me that people in Newfoundland really like to sing along to things!" Salmena joked mid-set before launching into a palate cleansing, joy-filled rendition of John Cale's "Buffalo Ballet." Bria's closing performance served as a fitting end to four days of honesty and from-the-heart performances across a wide pallet of genres and disciplines, all of which were interconnected with one word: passion. 

Passion for the craft, for the art of self-expression, and for the idea that within the safe confines of music we are all united, which is the true beauty of Lawnya Vawnya. 

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