Lawnya Vawnya 14 Dispatch: Day 3 and 4

[Blunt Chunks Daniel Smith]

Contributor Tia Alandra recaps the last two days of LAWNYA VAWNYA 14 in St. John’s, NL/Ktaqmkuk.

DAY 3: 

12:30 pm

What they don’t tell you about Lawnya Vawnya is that you’ll find yourself so overwhelmed with excitement, places to go, and wonderful people to meet that you might just forget to make time to eat. Thankfully, the festival staff have thought of everything. I make my first stop along Clift’s – Baird’s Cove to grab a snack provided by the Lawnya Vawnya organizers. Not only are they on top of replenishing my electrolytes, but the many volunteers I encounter here and at other stops throughout the festival are friendly and ready to help. Many of them are artists too.

2:00 pm

After grabbing a complimentary coffee from Terre Café, it’s time for the first event of the day, a panel discussion, Media as a Method: Marketing Your Art and Values. The panel is moderated by none other than Lawnya Vawnya’s own Marketing Coordinator, Nora de Mariafii, and features panelists Nelson White, Caitlin Woelfle-O’Brien, Nadia Duman, and Corey Clocksy.

[Nelson White, Caitlin Woelfle-O’Brien, Nadia Duman, Corey Clocksy Rebecca Pardy]

For those of us in music, journalism, and the arts broadly, this is a discussion we’re all having in our own little corners; how to navigate our industries, find our niche, and stay true to the vision we set out to see realized. The panel grapples with accessibility, authenticity, and the overwhelming responsibilities placed on artists to be content creators, managers, publishers, activists, politicians, etc.

Visual artist Nelson White expresses the importance of being strategic, clear, and descriptive with social media because it’s often the first point where people see your work, while keeping faith that your audience will find you. While the panel agrees on the capacity for connection and community that social media has, Caitlin Woelfle-O’Brien prefers in person connection, wary of the blurred lines between creative work, content, and consumption, claiming, “we should just be able to be artists and express what matters and show up for what matters”. Corey Clocksy gives perspective to the fear of posting, connecting it to the rapidly evolving, “out of control” nature of social media platforms. Nadia Duman sees social media as a tool for building queer community that’s not necessarily accessible in person, engaging with it as an exaggerated version of how they would naturally engage with day to day life.

Some takeaways worth mentioning include: living in the grey space, being selective with the type of space you’re taking up online, allowing for ignorance as a precursor for education and growth, acknowledging your capacity, and staying true to what feels right. While the pressure to perform on and offline can be arduous, there is a subtle but forgiving difference between branding yourself versus showing your work and letting your work brand itself.

[ Rebecca Pardy]

3:30 pm

With a free BBQ and haircuts in the parking lot, there’s lots to do on the corner of Clift’s Baird. Eastern Edge is home to the Merch & Print Fair where you can find everything from band tees, to block prints, ceramics, up-cycled clothes, and zines. For anyone fancying something a little more permanent, there is also a tattoo artist doing live stick-and-pokes!

4:00 pm

The next panel is Discussions in Navigating Genre as Art Creators & Consumers, where the most commonly recurring phrase is, “whatever that means”. Hosted by Jack Etchegary, this panel features Waubgeshig Rice, Martyn Bootyspoon, Kyle Cunjak, and Tashiina Buswa.

Martyn Bootyspoon says the idea, which I understand to be a song’s essence, comes before genre and is then stylized in the production phase according to which kind of space it’s going into. What distinguishes art-making from the content creating is the process of distilling a human experience, a process that robots will only ever be able to represent from abstractions.

As a writer, Waubgeshig Rice draws inspiration from culture, history, and music. He names concerns around AI generating cultural narratives and the implications that could have for vulnerable populations with sensitive identity markers.

Kyle Cunjak echoes concerns around discernment, even after a lifetime of honing technical skill and proficiency in music. What is real and what is fake? It seems artists across the board are wary of AI generating content that is removed from any tangible experience of the world. 

Tashiina Buswa speaks to the reductionist categorization of indigenous music that not only lumps a range of distinct styles and influences into a monolith, but pressures indigenous artists to perform sacred ties. Although marked by identity group, Tashiina draws inspiration from feelings and moods in soundtracks, films, visuals, nature, and everyday life. Kyle also suggests rigid genre boundaries do an injustice to listeners, putting them in boxes and underestimating their capacity to have diverse tastes, a sentiment I think a lot of artists can relate to.

With AI extracting the value of creation and also divorcing us from the experience that makes art content relevant in the first place, we have the individual and collective responsibility to maintain our ability to discern. A wholesome way forward is for artists to refine their art practice, become more intuitive, and maintain their distinction from AI generated content.

The language of genre can be a helpful tool when telling audiences what they’re listening to, providing a reference point of understanding that increases the likelihood and depth of their continued engagement. From a marketing standpoint, there are benefits to defining your work, simplifying the message, and relating it to other bits of culture, but it’s also ok to be undefined. So what other ways can we tell stories to listeners? As musicians,  journalists, managers, and curators, we have the opportunity to shift the focus towards experience more than labels, to who over what.

[Jack Etchegary, Waub Rice, Martyn Bootyspoon, Kyle Cunjak Daniel Smith]

7:00 pm

I make a quick stop at my billet to introduce new friends to newer friends and get a little writing in before tonight’s shows. Once again regretting my ability to be physically only in one place at a time, I resolve to wander down to The Rockhouse. Also happening tonight is Augur’s Wand and Former Eraser at First Light Event Space, Ribbon Skirt, Blunt Chunks, Gallery, and reader Aley Waterman at The Ship, and Destiny, Stacey Sexton, Ash Park, and Augur’s Wand at the Velvet Nightclub.

9:00 pm  

CUERPOS impresses everyone with the performance of an artist who has honed the chaos. To throwback to the panel discussion on genre, CUERPOS combines a range of styles that really work together to create a cohesive yet free dance-like experience. Electronic, latin, punk, and dub, CUERPOS blends scream-your-head-off energy with get-down energy, and the crowd is here for it.

[CUERPOS Rebecca Pardy]

Thank goodness for drag artists because host \garbagefile brings such passion and sensitivity to the room. Not only do they slay their performance of Macklemore’s Hind’s Hall, but they also use their stage time to speak up in solidarity with Palestine among many other Lawnya Vawnya artists and organizers.

[\garbagefile Rebecca Pardy]

Rapper, DJ, producer, and community leader, Myst Milano, has been on my radar for a couple of years, but their live performance at Lawnya Vawnya makes me eager to follow along more closely as their career takes off. Their presence commands the room in a way I would expect to see from a household name on a much larger stage, and it’s evident in the audience’s response that they have fans in St. John’s.

[Myst Milano Rebecca Pardy]

After hearing her name passed around excitedly for the past few days, it was no surprise to see the audience captivated by Polaris prize winner, Debby Friday. The electronic artist sang her heart out with a nonchalance that was definitely giving rising star energy.

[DEBBY FRIDAY Rebecca Pardy]

DAY 4: 

12:00 pm

Of all the worthwhile workshops and panels in the Lawnya Vawnya 14 lineup, Crip Rave: On Producing and Promoting Accessible Live-Music Experiences is a particularly essential conversation. Admittedly I’ve never even dreamed of attending a rave, but this discussion on accessible sensory experiences in electronic music is working towards broadening audiences while accommodating “Crip, Disabled, Deaf, Mad and Sick body-minds“. Facilitated by Renee Dumaresque and Stefana Fratila, this workshop addresses accessibility in live music without problematizing access needs, taking some of the onus off of the individual and putting it on institutions.

Access in venues depends on humility, curiosity, compassion, and a willingness to put those values into action. This also means understanding how queer and racialized bodies are positioned. Crip Rave suggests employing trained navigators and support staff, policies to accommodate sensory needs, low-cost or free entry, de-escalation tactics, harm reduction supplies, and communications, using security personnel only as a last resort. Transparency regarding current barriers and a commitment to improvement can also go a long way.

As an overextended (often overstimulated) arts worker and spoonie myself, this conversation is particularly heartening and makes me further appreciate the model of care worked into Lawnya Vawnya 14. I would love to see them implement even more of the insights from this workshop into future iterations of the festival. With limited funding, it’s understandable that arts organizations may struggle to address more than basic needs, but it’s in everyone’s best interest to provide food, water, resting places, earplugs, and other shared necessities.

[Crip Rave [Daniel Smith]

3:00 pm

The second day of Lawnya Vawnya’s Merch & Print Fair is well underway. If that wasn’t enough, the sun is out, and the garage is shaking with live music by Mummers, Carnage, Doberman, Indian Giver, and Here & Now. Everyone is excited and gearing up for the final night of another successful Lawnya Vawnya festival.

8:00 pm

Closing night features a stacked lineup of artists, including local staples and neighbouring visitors. Inuk singer-songwriter Willie Thrasher shares the stage with his partner Linda Saddleback, giving an intimate performance at The Ship, followed by Jenina MacGillivray’s subtle storytelling through folk song. With an impressive C.V. (seriously, go read it), St. John’s author Eva Crocker gives a reading from her new novel Back in the Land of the Living.

A must for metalheads, anonymous hardcore band from Toronto/Tkaronto, Indian Giver embodies their mission of reclaiming space by rattling the Rockhouse. If you missed St. John’s own Tunnel Vision, they can be found jamming at the Prescott every Saturday. Finally alt-rock Montreal/Tiohtià:ke band, Taupe, dials it down just a bit with softer tones and melodic guitar. For festival goers with hopes of dancing the night away, Martyn Bootyspoon, Groceries and Hotmail Summer, Corey Clocksy, and Augur’s Wand close out Lawnya Vawnya 14 with a party at the Velvet Nightclub.

[ Groceries B2B Hotmail Summer, Martyn Bootyspoon Rebecca Pardy]

Return to TO

My final moments in the province before returning to Toronto/Tkaronto are complete with all the fixings of a down home stay in St. John’s: hospitality, friendship, fish & chips, and a shared passion for the arts. Thanks to Katie Baggs (another local musician, by the way) for making sure I catch my flight on time.

Leaving St. John’s is bittersweet. I’m both physically exhausted and emotionally recharged. The warmth and enthusiasm of every person I encountered at Lawnya Vawnya will stay with me, along with all the arts worker insights gleaned from thoughtful panels and workshops. I’m taking home new perspective on the Canadian music industry, hope for the longevity of live shows, and connections I’ll keep close to my heart. Should I have the opportunity to return to Lawnya Vawnya in any capacity, I’ll count myself lucky again.

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