River & Sky is a beautifully beachy time

The idyllic outdoor festival welcomed The Courtneys, Moss Lime, and Darlene Shrugg.

July 20, 2016

Photo: The Courtneys (Liz Lott)

There are a lot of things that make River & Sky special. Something that struck me about the festival is that, despite being BYOB and having minimal security, I noticed no stray trash or aggressive behaviour. The faith that River & Sky puts in its attendees is truly admirable.

On top of beach parties, ideal water for swimming, and late night chats, the music this year was also pretty incredible. The line-up featured noise-punks METZ, seemingly immortal roots-rockers The Sadies, and Basia Bulat, who was recently shortlisted for the Polaris Music Prize for the third time.

Those acts were good and all, but the ones that really made an impact were Toronto supergroup Darlene Shrugg and Montreal’s Moss Lime, who both left me feeling both roused and inspired. I’m hoping that everyone who attended River & Sky saw something that spoke to them the way those two bands did to me.

I travelled to Field, Ontario with Rachel Weldon, lead programmer for Debaser, and Luke Martin, technical director for Ottawa Explosion Weekend. Neither would let me take a turn driving the rental car, with their reasoning being that I “don’t have a license.”

We rushed to get our tents set up and then headed over to the main stage so we could catch Darlene Shrugg. Featuring members of Toronto groups Ice Cream, U.S. Girls, and Slim Twig they outdid headliners METZ with heavy, inventive noise and powerful hooks. Darlene Shrugg only have one recorded song released at this time, but hopefully they will have more soon.

Moss Lime (Photo: Liz Lott)

After eating some wood-fired pizza and taking a quick nap, I walked down to the beach to see Moss Lime. I’d seen them once before, at Gabba Hey! in Ottawa, but their set at River & Sky was the one that blew me away. Not only are Moss Lime’s songs great, they’ve grown into confident and able live performers.

In particular, guitarist Jane L. Kasowicz (also known for her solo project JLK) has really come into her own as a musician, and her guitar work may be the best thing about the band. It’s not often that I see someone shred and then think to myself, “I want to learn to play guitar exactly like that.”

Sik Rik (Photo: Christine Loomans)

Music continued at the beach on Saturday afternoon. A standout performance came from Sik Rik, a supergroup comprised of various weirdos from Sudbury bands Strange Attractor and Mick Futures. Bouncy synth lines carried the party-happy group through a fun set. There’s a certain charm to watching talented musicians playing intentionally dumb songs. Sik Rik capitalize on that charm.

The Courtneys (Photo: Liz Lott)

I was curious what The Courtneys‘ live performance would be like, given their disaffected personas. Luckily, their songs are wonderful and they played them well. The highlight was their track “Social Anxiety”, which they added to the setlist on special request. Even their banter was charming, with drummer/singer Jen Twynn Payne telling us about how she’s played in a Third Eye Blind cover band.

Nap Eyes (Photo: Liz Lott)

Following The Courtneys was one of my favourite bands, Halifax’s Nap Eyes. Nigel Chapman’s soothing voice and philosophical musings eased us into the evening. Several new songs were played, including one with lyrics by Old and Weird’s Danika Vandersteen. Nap Eyes closed their set with the instant-classic “No Fear of Hellfire”, a lengthy, existential jam.

An outdoor rave began as performances wound down. In spite of only having a few DJ sets under her belt, a very glam Stephanie Bourassa impressed with slick transitions and bumping selections. I think I might like house music now. Thank you, River & Sky.

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