With over twenty-five bands spread out over three days, the inaugural Gridlock Festival made a positively chill and certifiably dank first impression on festival-goers in the downtown Halifax area. Drawn in by the buzz of headlining acts American Football and Wolf Parade, it was the depth of artistic talents and curated attractions that turned a mere high-school parking lot into a festival punching well above it’s first-year weight class.
For all of the anticipation and curiosity surrounding how the new fest on the block would fare, Friday’s opening reveal and up-tempo beginning set a high bar that would be pushed all weekend. Onlookers were greeted with a singular, high-rising tent outside of Citadel High School that would act as a revolving door for talent throughout the weekend. Great early sets by Toronto’s Fake Palms and local favourites Walrus pulled crowds in while late arrivals explored the festival grounds, scarfing down a T-Dog or Ace Burger and a craft beer from Stillwell. Security were friendly and diligent in checking bags and pockets for loose liquor (and my silver pen which evidently looked like a switchblade,) and all areas of the festival appeared well thought out and easily accessible.
The Friday night lineup was admittedly its weakest of the weekend, though it was certainly worth sticking around for DIIV’s set, which was equal parts gritty, fun, and engaging. The night’s headliner, Wintersleep, put on a well-received performance that felt nostalgic and bittersweet to some of the band’s early adopters. While their set was filled with crowd-pleasers early records Untitled and Welcome to the Night Sky, their presentations of these songs inch closer to a mid-tempo rocker sound than in previous tours.
The festival opened its doors up to fans of all ages on Saturday, and they weren’t just throwing the kids some scraps. Taking seats in what may be the nicest high-school auditorium I have ever seen, the afternoon crowd took in powerful and intimate sets by high profile acts Postdata, Owen, and Waxahatchee. The stripped down, emotional solo set by Waxahatchee was particularly applauded, as whispers around the tent that evening echoed “Were you there?” and “I must have gotten some dust in my eye.” Back outside, the Saturday lineup was an East Coast all-star showcase, with Beauts, Jon McKeil, and Partner all playing in quick succession. (Note: My sincerest apologies to Solids, who were on-stage as an Aerodactyl flew by my PokeRadar, sending me on a wild saunter downtown.)
Along the festival lot, some multi-tasking exhibitionists were getting their hair cut on a grassy knoll by a mobile Oddfellows Barbershop while others were nursing hangovers nearby. Smokers gathered into an awkward, fenced off pen while over-eager security tossed a half-full $8.00 pint I’d placed on a table. By the time I’d returned to the tent, Rural Alberta Advantage were in full swing, and they had the look of a band that has tightened every bit of their catalogue. While I lack the nostalgic connection to American Football that many Haligonians share, it didn’t take long to share in the revelry and feel as though I was sharing in a special moment.
Sunday’s lineup was refreshing for a number of reasons, and one of those was that it wasn’t eight straight hours of guitars. Inside, Matt Braunger and a cast of comedic talent were adding a lighter twist to the evening. Outside, Vogue Dots brought their patented, soothing electro-pop and filled it out as a four-piece, bringing drummers Bianca Palmer (Vulva Culture) and Tri Lee (Century Egg) on stage for an enthralling set that overcame the heavy downpour just outside the tent. Equally engaging, Baths was one of the biggest pleasant surprises for me, putting on a memorably intense and highly danceable performance. The other two can’t miss sets of the night belonged to Freak Heat Waves and the festival’s closing set by Montreal’s Wolf Parade, ripping through crowd favourites and planting newer material seamlessly into the night. After a long, loud, and frantic five minutes of cheering, Wolf Parade came back on stage for an encore, confessing that, if they were to envision the Platonic ideal of the perfect show, this show was as close as it gets.
Despite Sunday’s heavy rains and the unofficial launch of Pokemon Go, nothing seemed to be able to slow the Gridlock train down. In it’s first year, it would seem that the festival and its organizers have made a statement by fielding a stacked and well-curated lineup and surrounding it with excellent organization, layout, and local businesses. 10/10 would Gridlock again.
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For more information about the festival visit www.gridlockfestival.com