Last night, I watched a throng of proud parents film their middle school children singing in a choir alongside our friends, Motherhood. It was genuinely heartwarming to see these kids enthusiastically shouting their vocals into microphones just steps away from the sort of jubilant exorcism Brydon Crain, Penelope Stevens, and Adam Sipkema tend to perform. When I was in middle school, I went to Nashwaaksis. I remember they’d always try to stir up a rivalry over which school was the best and most often victorious. I cannot help but emphatically declare that George Street is absolutely the coolest.
It’s worth noting that Motherhood were and are great. I have had friends who look at me wild eyed when seeing them for the first time say, “uh what? this uhh”, and I say, “mmm hmm”.
Just prior, Camille Delean put on an ethereal set that I feel mostly consisted of some form of magic. A combination of space, tone, and craft. Backed up vocally and on guitar by the inimitable Michael Feuerstack just as she was during the Songwriters and Storytellers event but with a full backing band. Full, rich, contemplative… she is a presence. I immediately feel bad for missing the other times she’s played in Fredericton.
As the evening draws closer and closer to the Main Event, Toronto’s Timber Timbre. I’ve seen the band twice before but this time, Taylor Kirk is playing with a whole other outfit, it seems. If you haven’t heard them before, I often describe them (probably inappropriately) as sexy music for ghosts. Or by ghosts. Taylor’s songs are a sultry, shambling blues/soul combination. Sometimes even a little sleazy. There’s a dark and sinister Nick Cave-like overtone. But tonight, I see Taylor smile. These songs, mostly tracks from the band’s newest record “Sincerely, Future Pollution”, all carry a substantial groove. People are dancing. I have never really seen this at a Timber Timbre show before. It is a formidable and commanding set. It sounds like the record (which I should mention is very good), but with an assertive confidence in delivery. It’s almost overwhelming but in a good way which, come to think of it, is usually the defining characteristic of every amazing artist Shivering Songs brings to this city.
I look around and everyone is smiling. I know so many of these folks. Friends from Saint John, Halifax, Bathurst, Montreal, Moncton… people are hugging and catching up and then they are draped over one another. They are swaying and laughing and making the oh-my-god-is-this-happening-actually face. You know the one.
And this is just the one show I made it to in a night with three concurrent festival headliners in three beautiful venues. There’s amazing artists I don’t have the energy left to see at The Capital Complex. People there are smiling and hugging and listening to stories too. They’re making the oh-my-god-is-this-happening-actually face. There’s more. I already feel full. I cannot possibly fill my plate again.
The front of the Shivering Songs program/zine starts with what reads like a sigh of relief. It says, “that was quite the year we barely escaped from”. It occurred to me yesterday that we really haven’t escaped from the themes of 2017 (or 2016) at all. I was home yesterday afternoon browsing Twitter and watching women flood streets just as they did last year. I remembered that day so clearly because the march overlapped with the Songwriters & Storytellers event at Wilmot Church. Basia Bulat joined as it passed her hotel. I remember saying to friends, “look at this… there are millions of people,” and I was so distracted by what seemed like a first step. Millions of first steps happening all over the continent; all over the globe. I kept my foot in that door because to do anything else seemed irresponsible. Scroll, scroll, retweet, retweet, petition, scrolling through news cycle after news cycle like a broken water pipe in your bathroom and the valves are broken or seized. And it’s not water but it’s, like, hot garbage.
No, we haven’t really escaped. But I know that we’ve had time to adjust and adapt. I know we make room for ourselves. I know we make room to try to find good things. Marches are still happening but we know when and how to focus on self care (I think).
We can focus on caring for each other.
At it’s best, Shivering Songs is about caring for each other. It’s about sharing our stories. It’s about sharing the stories of others. It’s about the binding narrative that we’re all in this together. This communal tone is one that flows throughout the whole festival. It’s also what sets it apart from so many other festivals. On Thursday night at the Songs of the City performance it was so clear. Musicians writing songs to tell the stories of folks who have specifically been lifted up by dedicated members of our community. Inspirational members of our community. When it’s all over, folks pile into the market and have breakfast together – hoarse voices and exhausted smiles in tow – to share highlights and fresh stories. Where better to commune than over a warm breakfast with friends? Where better to share? Where better to take the personal time to remember that people can be good… that there are communities that have us?
Thanks to all the organizers and volunteers. I know you all work hard and I know it’s a huge team effort. But also congratulations for continuing to offer a distinct and unique experience on the jam-packed festival landscape. Thanks for making the best of this place. And, thanks for making a space that exposes the best of folks.