My favourite thing about winter is how sound is dampened by falling snow. Silent. When even your footsteps seem miles away. But, sitting in the Fredericton Public Library on Friday evening, Sandro Perri and his associate Joshua Van Tassel are crafting a sound that is full, warm, and nearly identical to how it feels to stand in the middle of deserted streets when the roads are too perilous for cars. They’re playing together for the first time, apparently, and I’m a little offended at the ease of their chemistry and comfort. Their backdrop is a view of the Saint John River and Fredericton’s north side. Trees are front-lit by walking-path lights. We are bathed in the aesthetic wonder of winter.
It’s weird that I’ve completely forgotten that I’m in a library. People are coughing and sniffling and fully at ease. We’re outdoors. We’re in backyards. We’re not wedded to silence (libraries aren’t either, you should know).
Perri and Van Tassel play a handful of songs to warm many of us up to our first Shivering Songs show of the weekend. It’s a perfect representation of what I love about the festival on this; it’s eighth year. I’m in a regular place observing something irregularly beautiful. Van Tassel is wrangling a table full of pedals and crafting sounds like what I imagine lonely satellites would write when they begin to drift forever out of orbit. I imagine the Philae satellite floating in space for a decade before touching down on an asteroid, humming square waves, sending them home. The transmission takes a while to get to us through the coldness of space, but it still carries warmth. Perri plays his guitar with a subtle lightness. The tones are almost hard to focus on… sort of like looking at a sunset.
We take a break and stretch our legs before Laurie Brown starts Pondercast. The website for Pondercast describes it as “Useful podcasts to keep you company into the night. Free range brain shavings for what ails you.” Cool. Yes. I’ll take one.
Brown wants us to think about how little of our lives actually represent our own agency. That we work for people who ultimately control us. That we spend our time on devices that manipulate our intentions. Then she’s talking about the beauty of words and the beauty of love and the beauty of Frenchies and suddenly she’s ripping pages out of a book in the library, and I am rapt. People gasp. But I throw out a “woo!” because I am a librarian and it is a tremendous catharsis. She bought the book elsewhere, she reveals. That’s fine. The symbolism is fine. I’ll take it. She tells a tragic story about Henry Miller and his very young, Japanese wife. I won’t spoil it. You can listen to it on her podcast when it is released. Perri and Van Tassel create soundscapes for her curious mental pinball.
I get the sense that Brown is encouraging us to slow down, be present, less on agency-free autopilot… more willing to accept challenges and go off the rails… more accepting of the unusual. She’s throwing us curveballs. Suddenly, I’m standing on the walking bridge over St. Anne’s Point with a disco ball strapped to my chest lighting sparklers with a crowd of show attendees who are following Brown. She’s wearing a neon orange fleece getup. She is our fearless leader asking us for directions.
We are going to Christ Church Cathedral. Inside, the astoundingly talented Lydia Mainville is playing a cello. The lights go out. Brown asks for the disco ball. It’s pretty inadequate at lighting the scene but honestly just listening to Lydia in the dark is enough. Between the sounds and the twirling lights, I’m certainly not thinking about what I need to do tomorrow. I don’t have a list. I’ve misplaced it. Before I can think twice, we’re in the basement of Science East. It used to be a prison, you know. And we are in a very dark tunnel lit with ridiculous foam strobe light things and The Olympic Symphonium are stacked in the corner. Of course they are. They play a song. Dennis’ amp loses power because there are no amplifiers in prison, Dennis. Jeez.
Before too long, I am at Wilser’s Room. Fiver is about to play. I am excited to see Fiver. Fiver is Simone Schmidt, also known for her work in the bands One Hundred Dollars and The Highest Order. Simone’s most recent album is a collection of songs about the inmates of Rockwood Asylum in Upper Canada between 1856 and 1881. Her show is about telling the stories of these souls, often women, shipped to a violent place for their human behaviour. It’s a period in Canadian history we so rarely consider and one where the voices of regular folks were so rarely recorded. Fiver’s songs give these whispers of history thoughtful amplification. It’s folk music. It’s a soulful folk music reminiscent of the South. It is earnest and rough around the edges. Schmidt confesses that her dive into the personal lives of these people made her feel like a bit of a creep. But for telling the stories of the voiceless, I would argue she’s a bit of a hero.
After her set, I pop down to The Capital for a minute to see a happy crowd of folks bouncing to Charlottetown’s Stabbing Joy. This is a full reversal in setting. They’re buoyant and full of nervous energy. There’s hooks. They’re casually tight. I say hi to a few friends. I know the crowd is in good hands because Brookside Mall and The Waking Night are up soon. But I am tired and a little hungry. I am always, always sick during Shivering Songs and I do not want to jinx it.
Saturday is a big day.
You have options. There’s the Songwriter’s event at Wilmot Church this afternoon. Tim Baker at Wilmot this evening with Olympic Symphonium, David Myles at the Market, a free show outdoors on Carleton Street by the library, and the thing I am most excited about, Timber Timbre at the Charlotte Street Arts Centre. Motherhood a bringing a children’s choir. Did you hear? Oh jeez. I’ll do what I can. So should you.