After a few days' delay due to lengthy video uploads and computer repairs, here's our review of Saturday night's fifth annual Swampstravaganza all ages concert event! Moving to The Canadian Nightclub this year after 4 years at The Oddfellows Hall, the event was well ran, but attendance was very uneven, peaking around the middle of the day's events and having a disappointingly low turnout for early and closing acts. There was a good amount at it's height though! The bar aside, there were no food sales or vendors beyond Haggith CDs, but there were plentiful flyers for the upcoming release party from DJ Seith & Conika (both Swampfest alums, click here for more details.) Now, here's what went down on Saturday!
Like last year, Swampstravaganza V opened with a 2 hour open mic block for any willing particpants to make use of, though sadly, the performer turnout dropped from 5 musicians to 4 this year. Opening the day was local solo singer/guitarist Jake Rydall (not to be confused with The Wild Iris' Jake Rendell), who played three original songs that got a good reception from early attendees! I've never seen him live before, but he has a good voice and songwriting ability, and you can check out more from him at this link! Apologies again for confusing him with James Watterworth originally too, I had a blonde moment. Jake also lent his guitar to the next two performers, with promoter Steve Mozarowski playing some acoustic songs during the open mic for a second straight year, and if you're familiar with Steve's softer original material, you'll have been right at home here! Strong work, but his vocals were sometimes muddled in the mix.
Patrick Evans played third, who you may remember from a brief set during the open mic block at last year's Soo Band Roulette, and he played a handful of acoustic country covers (including Darius Rucker's "Wagon Wheel") that were well done once again, but he was a little stiff on stage, and one could argue this wasn't the right crowd for country songs. The last performer was local pianist/busker Damjan Binda (a.k.a. Spider Fingerz), who also played during the Swampfest IV open mic, and his piano skill and natural ease when chatting between songs were clear as day! He and his keyboard (complete with wooden piano shell) make for good entertainment, and he transitioned that well to a turn on the guitar (former RedD Monkey drummer Kevin Overton's, he added) for a few vocal/guitar songs that were also well recieved! Steve also took a brief turn on Damjan's keyboard to close the night, showing us a side of him we don't see too much of!
Overall, the open mic block gave us four talented local musicians covering a wide array of sounds, from folk and punk to country and alt-classical, but if the open mic returns next year, I'd move it to around the middle of the schedule. I told Steve that if the open mic served as an intermission (i.e. from 8:00-10:00 PM), it would attract people who came later to come on stage, ensure that there's a larger crowd to stick around and see them, and provide an opportunity for a break if some fans need it before the bands return. Just an idea!
Infinity Grinder in just their second concert appearance, so what else can we say about them after seeing them live? Well, guitarist Brad Griffith and drummer Terrence Gomes split lead vocal duty about 50/50 on their set, comprised of original songs like "A Few Weeks", "You & Me", and "Wherever You Go", with the guys even swapping instrument roles for a handful of songs mid-set. Sonically, Infinity Grinder still remind me more of Brad's past bands than Terrence's, particularly his defunct two man band Sounds From the Green Room, but that's not bad, as they have a solid aggressive sound with creative flourishes, and Brad has a good singing voice! Hopefully we hear much more from Infinity Grinder in the near future!
Second among scheduled bands was another duo, Blood Shed Productions death metal band Brutally Fatal in what may have been the debut for any of the label's acts at The Canadian, but being so early in the show, not a lot of people saw it. While far removed from Infinity Grinder in sound, they did share more in common beyond both being two-man-bands, as guitarist Austin McCrae and drummer Tyler Gibson both shared vocal duties and they too swapped instruments mid-set, giving C.T.W. fans a little something extra, including renditions of songs from that band like "Entrepreneur of Depression", plus Brutally Fatal songs like "Stomp Your Feet". Tyler has the frontman swagger and energy in spades, but Austin still seems too nervous and quiet up front, and at times, the songs did seem a little simple vocally, but it's nice to see Brutally Fatal keeping at it!
Haggith in the first set since the release of their "XIV" EP (oddly not on sale at the show) and with returning member Caleb Cachagee on guitar in place of Daniel Horton, which the guys made light of at the start by beginning without Caleb, then remembering that there should be a tall long haired guitarist with them. In terms of his guitar ability, he gets the job done so far, especially with knowing many older Haggith songs already, but lead guitar parts with solos tended to be handled by frontman Curtis McKenzie. Their set was a mixture of familiar older songs like "Leon the Janitor" & "Rage Train" with newer cuts like "Hands of Death", with some recently familiar songs absent, but it's yet to be announced if songs Daniel wrote are being de-emphasized. Everyone sounds good, and Jordan Leach is coming into his own and getting more comfortable on bass, so thumbs up so far for the new lineup!
Also, Haggith did release their newest full length CD "Apocalypse II" a day early at the show, but to give it proper emphasis, we will touch on that in an upcoming news post. Stay tuned for that!
The Bear Hunters came on next to continue their perfect streak of Swampstravaganza appearances (only Steve has joined them on the lineup each year), so kudos to for keeping this run going! Despite the relatively early set, the guys attracted the day's largest crowd for their brutal originals like "I Fear No God", "Deception", and "Neckbreaker", plus the fan-approved returns of their covers of "Squirrel Buddy" and "Guardians of Asgaard". If you've seen The Bear Hunters' recent quartet sets, they won't have disappointed, with Nik, Mitch, Justin, and Johnny on form musically but things did seem a little rushed, possibly due to Mitch & Johnny's show with Beaumont Avenue shortly afterwards. Strong work as usual from The Bear Hunters though, and here's hoping they're back for Swampfest VI!
Northwest in their first live appearance since their CBC Searchlight contest run, and they entertained a still solid-sized crowd with their well recieved and well-written originals like "I Got You", "Young & Wild", and a handful of newer songs. Musically, you can't complain with their veteran talent and accessible punk sound, and Wayne Watkins' vocals were on point, but the guys didn't seem quite as energetic as they have at some prior events. (also, it's a little odd seeing Mike Smykacz playing with his back to the crowd so much.) Still, their songs do show why they made it so far in CBC Searchlight, and I'm very curious to hear what Northwest have up their sleeves for the coming months!
Seventh on the bill were the returning Skeyes of Seven, as the local hard rock band made their first live concert appearance in two years and their first with their current quartet lineup, so how'd they sound after such a long hiatus? Not bad at all, they hardly looked like they had any rust! Playing songs like "I Am", "Under The Rug", and "Fallen Faith", plus a cover of Tool's "Schism", they handled each well, with Cory Murchison's vocal range on full display and the now-bald Ron Baxter solid on all guitar parts, while Alain Fletcher acclimates well on bass in the new lineup, and longtime As It Stands drummer John Mignacca is more than welcomed back behind the kit! Whether you're familiar with members' past work with bands like Sense of Truth or not, Skeyes of Seven's modern hard rock made a solid impression, and look for them back on stage next month, with details to come on the SMS!
Sykotyk Rampage, in their first concert of the year, and their fun improvised alt-rock was definitely welcomed back to the stage by late attendees! Playing an all original set featuring songs like "Sweet Young Thing", "Old No. 7", "Hay Zeus", and the debuting "Suffering Child" (they titled it, not me!), Sykotyk Rampage kept the fun drinking song vibe going for their set, with Paul Becker's forceful lead vocals back in full swing, guitarists Dirk Becker & Shane Kokis laying down fun and solid riffs, and the now-bald Tony Briglio still channeling Lemmy nicely with his presence and ability! Though George was surprisingly stuck in the corner, it was nice to see Sykotyk Rampage's raucous originals back on stage after too long, and here's hoping they're back before you know it!
After brief confusion on if they were there, VM Radio Battle winners Gnaeus returned to the site of that event as the headliners on Saturday, and despite the low remaining crowd turnout, they jammed out a fun and well recieved set that eschewed formality for just having a good time! Along with established songs of theirs like "Crave", the guys took crowd requests, played some extended jams, and just made the most of the moment. Aaron Alessandri's vocals sounded as good as they ever have though, and he and Brad Irwin handled the guitar (and synth) well throughout their set (plus, I liked Brendan's hat!) That said, I was hoping people would stick around for Gnaeus, whose profile is growing fast, and they deserved a better crowd, but I know they made a solid impression on everyone still there on Saturday!
Overall, Swampstravaganza V was a good time, if long, but every band delivered in their own way, as did the open mic performers, and hopefully we see a similar quality from next year's event! Kudos to Steve for another great show, Dirk for solid sound throughout the day, and every performer for a great time, and here's to Swampfest 6! I did get photos of each band (and open mic performer), so check everything out at this link or at our Facebook page! And apologies for the quality on them, I can't do much about the reflective paint on the road signs on the stage's back wall.