Flourish Festival Finds Gems After Rocky Start

Flourish, the Fredericton-based festival for arts, culture, and music kicked off for their third consecutive year, from April 20th to 23rd. With over fifty musical acts, as well as short films, art installations, craft and zine expos and more, there was a lot to take in, so The East sent a team of writers and photographers to take in all they could manage.

Our first significant impression of this year’s Flourish Festival was the showing of Michael Mohan’s short film ‘Tap Dance’ in the Fredericton Arts Building on the second floor. What stood out wasn’t the film, but rather the location which hosted a screening in what is essentially a stairwell.

(Irene Graham/The East)
(Irene Graham/The East)
Flourish Festival (Imogen Christine/The East)
(Imogen Christine/The East)
Flourish Festival (Imogen Christine/The East)
(Imogen Christine/The East)

Thirty people packed into the narrow stairs and around the small hallway between the building’s two second floor businesses. Customers awkwardly shuffled in and out, squeezing through the crowd and disrupting the movie. Every now and then, someone coming from upstairs would pop out from under the screen.

Shiftwork Studio is an odd concert venue. It has all the vibes of a teenage DIY metal show but is fairly emblematic of Flourish as a whole. Usually an art studio, it had been converted into a concert space with the addition of some show lighting, speakers, and a makeshift bar with some well-picked options from Picaroon’s and Red Rover Cider. With about as much square footage as a small apartment, Shiftwork allows for a lot of intimacy between performer and audience, though even a decent turnout packs the venue to full capacity. The festival is all about audiences and artists connecting, as well as keeping the local DIY art and music culture alive.

The first concert at Shiftwork, featuring Beard Springsteen, Right Shitty, and Kill Chicago, was legitimately painful. The bands all had fantastic energy, great sounds, and hilarious stage banter, but with everyone stuffed into what was essentially a living room, feet away from the band, a little volume goes a long way. Whoever was handling sound must have noticed the reaction  – the second night the volume was just loud enough to get everybody pumped but not so loud that we were all dying.

The best act at Shiftwork (and possibly the whole festival) was Russell Louder, a trans electronic performance artist from Prince Edward Island. Louder had the stage presence of a much more seasoned musician, commanding the audience’s full attention while still being sweet and humble between songs. As Louder recorded and remixed themselves live, we knew we were witnessing something truly unique. While loving Louder’s performance as a whole, it was their voice that was so captivating. When they sang their first notes on stage, chills went down our spines. Their set was called ‘Extra Sensory Musical Experiences 2’, featuring video by Kasie Wilcox projected onto the stage – a mix of personal and industrial footage that added to the low-key futuristic ambiance.

(Irene Graham/The East)
(Irene Graham/The East)
(Irene Graham/The East)
(Irene Graham/The East)
Flourish Festival (Imogen Christine/The East)
(Imogen Christine/The East)

Another highlight of the festival was Saturday afternoon at the Fredericton Arts Building. This was the first time we had been in the building in several years and there was a marked change. While the building maintains its same old carpet and chipping paint, the newer tenants breathe new life into it. People flowing between rooms on the second floor, checking out the concert, viewing the art of the zine and print expo, and dropping in to Back Street Records for Record Store Day. There’s art or music in every nook and cranny of the building, serving as an excellent home base for the festival.

The afternoon featured a zine and print expo as well as a small concert in Bellwether, the reincarnation of the beloved vintage shop, ReNeuBellwether is an incredibly charming venue for small concerts. The shop is beautifully curated and has surprisingly excellent acoustics. Despite how many people were crammed into the room, it still felt comfortable. David R. Elliott’s set was particularly enjoyable. Between songs he told charming personal anecdotes that made the show feel like just a group of friends hanging out with a guitar and a microphone.

Although the zine fair was small, each artist had enough content to allow for hours of browsing. Although each artist was great, one of my favourites was Patrick Allaby. We stopped to check out his ‘New Brunswick Trash’, but as we chatted, I noticed something else: Patrick’s ‘On The One Year Anniversary of the Puke-pocalypse’, a zine about how life has changed in the year since he was diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes. The shock of finding something so niche (and as a fellow diabetic) I felt compelled to buy it. Patrick says that people rarely recognize the cover’s diabetic paraphernalia, but this is what zine making is about at its core – people making very specific and personal art in the hopes that others can find some sort of connection through it.

Flourish Festival (Imogen Christine/The East)
(Imogen Christine/The East)
(Irene Graham/The East)
(Irene Graham/The East)
(Irene Graham/The East)
(Irene Graham/The East)
Flourish Festival (Imogen Christine/The East)
(Imogen Christine/The East)

One of the highest points of Flourish  was a show in Wilser’s Room where they had three back-to-back artists playing amongst the crowd. It opened with the enjoyable Ada Lea, with Owen Steel following – hands-down my favourite performer that night. With rugged charm, amazing tunes, and an entrancing voice, he had the audience’s undivided attention. He had us hooked so bad, at one point he put on a tape of ambient music and read us a diary entry about strangers having sex in a hot spring, and we still hung onto every word of it. He was followed by Jenny Berkel, who he briefly shared the stage with for a duet. Where Owen’s performance won that night perhaps due to his fantastic stage presence, Jenny’s music was particularly touching, and the two were some of our favourite artists at Flourish.

Jon McKiel’s latest album had made an impression, but we still couldn’t have predicted how fantastic he’d be live. He packed the Wilser’s Room to capacity, and at points you’d see people open the door, see the crowd piled up onto the stage and awkwardly back out. David in the Dark was another fun band to see too, they had a really great energy and even premiered a few new songs. Two of their members, Jane Blanchard and Stefan Westner, organized the whole festival, so it was pretty much a given that they’d put on a good show, but they still kept humble about their involvement, with it only being mentioned in passing by their bandmates.

There were so many fantastic bands playing at the Capital this weekend. Cellarghost, Beauts, Smokes, and Sorrey to name a few. Pony Girl really stood out though. Pascal Huot and Yolande Laroche have amazing stage chemistry. At times, their set felt like an intense musical conversation between the artists. Laroche’s clarinet was an impressive addition to the band, enough to make anyone wish they’d never given it up in the eighth grade. Huot had a very compelling stage presence. The look on his bandmates’ faces when he left the stage to sing in the middle of the audience was that of confusion and bemusement.

Flourish Festival (Imogen Christine/The East)
(Imogen Christine/The East)
Flourish Festival (Imogen Christine/The East)
(Imogen Christine/The East)

(Imogen Christine/The East)

Sunday. Sunday’s slow start might be attribute to the hangovers we were collectively experiencing. It began with a screening of the film, ‘Et Tu, Dude?’ in the basement of The Abbey. The free coffee and snacks were greatly appreciated, as was the cozy location. The film chronicles the struggles of local musicians in conservative, impoverished London, Ontario. From the city shutting down venues to artists struggling to find an audience, the problems were relatable to many Maritime musicians.

Perhaps the most unique event of Flourish was the Woman / Femme / Non-Binary Drone Jam Session. We had no idea what we were walking into as we entered the Fredericton Arts Building, but we heard this haunting, electronic, ambient noise. We traced it to a small room draped in white sheets with cords snaking across the floor. Walking into a room full of instruments is asking for disaster, but the folks in there were very welcoming (except for our male correspondent being barred from the event), inviting those without a Y chromosome, or at least no strong attachment to one, to try out a synthesizer. The noises we made were eerie and haunting – two of our favourite and most clichéd adjectives from the music reviewer toolbox.

We figured we should end with our Flourish Festival pros and cons, so here we go:

Pros:

  • Russell Louder
  • Owen Steel
  • Drone Jam Session

Cons:

  • Back-to-back scheduling, leaving not time for breaks to eat or rest, making the whole weekend feel more hectic than it really was.
  • Festival plague?

While not really a festival veterans, or even enthusiasts, we would highly recommend Flourish to people who otherwise hate them. It’s not outside in some muddy, mosquito-infested field, everyone is just really welcoming and the shows are so intimate and enjoyable. Although Friday had a rocky start it was otherwise a great weekend. The music, the art, the people, it was all a really cool experience and a great event for the community overall.

The multiheaded hydra The East sent out to Flourish Festival consisted of writers Andrew Sketchley and Cecilia Long, and photographers Imogen Christine and Irene Graham. We remain unshaken in our belief that they can still be converted into righteous festival-goers.

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