How do you know that summer has arrived in Nova Scotia? That you can finally put away those snow boots? The simple answer: the weekend after June 21 is coming up and you’ve got FULL CIRCLE FESTIVAL written in your calendar. If you’ve bought some tickets. Bought them way beforehand, because, baby, this festival sells out faster than cheese for half price at a Halifax supermarket.
As in previous years, Full Circle Festival 2017 in beautiful Avondale was sold out halfway before all artists were confirmed showing one thing: no matter who plays, a good time is to be expected. This year’s festival did not disappoint on that aspect.
Full Circle kicked off on Friday under heavy skies and some rain but that did not prevent a merry round of “Hellllooooo you!”s all over the festival area and camp ground, the latter freshly moved from the apple orchard to the meadows and featuring less banging your head against tree branches and seeing (and hearing) more of your tent neighbours. Full Circle is one of these festivals that attracts a familiar crowd every year and, being so small and intimate, it’s easy to feel part of the family after the weekend. After all, nothing forges bonds between people like some dancing together, cheering as the sparks of a big-ass bonfire fly into the night, and a good mud slide.
Musically speaking, Friday was all over the place, from quiet melodies to wild heel kicking. From The Swinging Belles, all dressed up in 50s outfits, incredible high-heels and equipped with bubble makers, bringing the swing to town for all from one to six foot tall, to OQO featuring Nightingale with haunting, eerie and beautiful melodies straight from somewhere behind the moon, to the strong singer-songwriter tradition and thoughtful, honest songs by Dana Sipos and her impromptu-band members Mike Kerr and Owen Steel.
After that, things heated up. Halifax local heroes The Big Country Ramblers took to the stage in great numbers. And took time setting up, all eight of them. The huge country was well worth the wait and their heel-kicking bluegrass took about 20 seconds to fill the whole hall dance with a sound that was so full and rich that it was nearly tangible. It was an excellent and fun warm up for another band beloved in Nova Scotia and beyond – after their successful album release just a few months prior, The Barrowdowns basically had a home game and many supporters present singing along their stunning five-part vocal harmonies and dancing and dancing and dancing. Light, charming and funny and a wonderful team as a band, old as well as new songs were well received and Friday’s music concluded in an excellent way. Just to continue on the campground until the rain set it.
A big part of each Full Circle Festival are the workshops and activities led by a variety of volunteers and Saturday is the day for it. From herb walks around lovely Avondale to yoga sessions on the ball field to circus acrobatics, fairy houses and a jungle jam, everybody had the chance to get active and creative. Or just lie on the ball field or newly constructed pier watching the tides come and go in the red-tinted Avondale River.
Musically the beginning of Saturday was rather quiet, slow-paced and dominated by singer-songwriters. First band to crank up the speed and turn the so far mostly sitting audience into a hopping and dancing crowd was the trio around Willie Stratton with some serious foot-stomping, yodling and reminiscing about various forms of rambling. Rambled from quite far away were, a bit later in the evening, the first ever international act at the festival, The Mae Trio, all the long way from Australia with their contemporary folk music. The three ladies, their many instruments, amazing voices and their charming Aussie dialect, provided the perfect relaxed atmosphere for the setting sun, singing about classics like the Isle of Skye and the rather modern problems of parallel parking and getting a driving license.
After that, things got wild. A pleasant constant since 2015 straight from the Annapolis Valley, Ida Red are holding up the festival slogan for a newfangled old-time string … mayhem. A true mayhem in the most positive sense this word can have, was to follow: a set of rowdy tunes from originals to all time favourites, throaty songs about Full Circles and Gaspereau, lots of loud singing along and a crowd gone wild, dancing and hopping and turning in circles and sweating. It was heart-warming to see how much fun the band had playing and the crowd had dancing – no one wanted to stop! Kudos to the humble, sweet and funny Ida Red who were more than capable of filling a headlining spot on a Saturday night. They left The Basin Brothers with a well-warmed up crowd. Also from the area, and a recurring sight at Full Circle, they sang and toe-tapped their way through a set ranging from somewhere near psychedelic rock to good old country, wringing the last dance moves out of the people strong enough to remain.
Concluding Saturday, as is tradition, was the big bonfire. In a mellow mood brought on by summer and music people watched the freshly built pyramid going up in flames, accompanied by some more tunes.
For all who made it out of their boiling hot tents to greet the brilliant sunshine, an anti-hungover yoga session kicked off Sunday, followed by the BEST THING EVER. Really. Pancake breakfast, made by local volunteers (big hooray to all of you!), sunshine and some more excellent bluegrass tunes in finest tradition on the ball field by The Franklin Brewery Boys from Halifax. This was followed by an excellent round of mud sliding and swimming in the incoming tide, before listening to some more songs and tunes in the hall.
What more can one ask from life? This pretty much sums up the very essence of the Full Circle Festival. This year was a lot calmer than the wild party of the previous years; it was a great time to reconnect with old friends, meet new ones, smile, sing, dance, mudslide and generally be merry. Planned and executed by an excellent team and dedicated volunteers, it was an all around perfect weekend of smiles. What other festival can offer a stage that opens up to a wide river and some of the highest tides in the world, a concert hall decorated with beautiful wooden boats hanging on the walls, and a mafia gang of children selling colourful paper hats with feathers?
Or, as a friend and first time festivalgoer put it: “I feel like I’m in a movie!”
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