Natal Day festivities kicked off at Alderney Landing well before the Route 104 Concert (sponsored by the ‘pride of Nova Scotia’ – Alexander Keith’s) even got started. People slowly began milling about the concert grounds around four o’clock; filling up on hotdogs, over-priced fish ‘n’ chips, slushies, cotton candy and the rest of the usual summer festival suspects. St. John’s Ambulance and the HRM Policewere also present to keep everyone safe and standing (or at least sitting).
For those who don’t know what Natal Day is, here is a brief rundown. In 1895, Natal Day was initially meant to be a celebration of the railroad reaching out to the East Coast, but given delays on rail construction, the celebration became a birthday party of sorts to celebrate the history of Nova Scotia (P.E.I. was also a part of these first celebrations).
Setting the bar for Nova Scotia’s birthday bash, The Stogies took to the stage and gave a blistering set of high energy and hard-hitting classic rock chalk full of squealing guitar solos and properly and excitingly placed church organ – oh the sweet irony.
I wish beyond wishing that there had been a larger crowd to catch this gem of a band. With spectators still slowly filing in at 5:30 p.m., it was far too early to put up such a great band. That being said, front man Blake Johnston, with his Meatloaf quality (I say this in the most respectful and complimentary way I can possibly muster) worked the crowd wonderfully and left them hungry for more (no pun intended), while keys player Jason Keddy seamlessly led the foray into The Who’s “Baba O’Riley”. They took the show by the reigns and rode it hard the whole way through. Between their explosive entrance and exit, I nearly forgot that there were five more bands to come. As U2 and The Simpsons once said, “The garbage man can”, and The Stogies with their “Garbage Man” song took out any thought of trash to come. They’ve got an EP out for sale – check out their website for details.
Having opened once for Deep Purple and heading out on tour soon with The Cult, Gloryhound made their entrance with pounding drums by Judas Priest-looking drummer, Shaun Hanlon. Apart from Hanlon, the band brought an interesting 50’s look to some hard rock. There was no mistaking Gloryhound’s purpose with front man Evan Meisner’s stilted and breathless but telling statement: “Natal Day, beer, rock and roll, Dartmouth, fireworks, Gloryhound!” Guitarist and back up vocalist David Casey’s harmonies were solid and wonderful to hear.
The demons danced about with Gloryhound’s great dual, harmonized guitar solo and apart from the constant tuning, Gloryhound kept the energy up with witty banter, a salute to The Stogies and great songs from boozing to Boy Scouts as well as their new single: TKO Tokyo, their closing number. By the end, this band was “Still Golden”.
Hailing from Newfoundland, The Long Distance Runners brought a groovy and smooth feel-good vibe to the now ever-growing crowd. Even their mellow numbers brought out the sunshine on Alderney Landing, which at this point was starting to go down. The always-smiling Runners gave a wonderfully tight set (probably the tightest musically of the night). They didn’t have much to say, but their music said it all and ironically enough, when they did say something, or sing something, the Newfoundlanders were clearer than any other band at the event. I don’t think there’s a better way to take a sunset on the harbour than with The Long Distance Runners smoothing out a sweet, quirky groove to pull the crowd together with great harmonies and an energetic lead guitar from Dicky Strickland.
Looking to the concert schedule in the dim lamplight of the grounds it was apparent that the band name clad in capitals was to be the headliner of the evening: the main event (even with two bands to follow). WINTERSLEEP hopped up on stage with an ethereal presence, and at this point the crowd was enormous and ready to party. In spite of a wonderful bass played by Mike Bigelow, Wintersleep front man Paul Murphy could not quite give his body to the music, though the rest of the band more than made up for his lack of movement. I’m not sure that the effects-heavy band gave too exhilarating an energy to the crowd, but I found myself thinking (when I wasn’t wondering if I had seen Wintersleep’s ghost) that their music would be great to either make out or fall asleep to. Before I am berated for insulting such a popular band, let me clarify that I think this to be a great quality.
Apart from the mellow make out tunes and the voice of bed time and dreams (not to sound creepy), there were a few numbers that one could get up and dance to, once again complete with wonderfully heavy bass. Even Murphy got to jumping with the rest of the band after a while. Everyone needs to warm up after the sun sets.
Darkness upon us, the MacDonald Bridge spouted ribbons of green flame and waves of Las Vegas gold, as the nine-minute firework display wowed the crowd. Heart shapes, cosmos-looking explosions, and the brand new UFO fireworks that hovered down upon us made way for the mushroom clouds and the finale: a rushing waterfall illusion of sparkle pouring down off the bridge. A display that I think tops the Queen’s Canada Day visit to Parliament Hill in Ottawa two years ago.
Following the display Rich Aucoin took to the stage with just as much fire. A hilarious slew of trailers ranging from ‘Guy on a Buffalo’ to ‘Jurassic Park Harmonica’ introduced the set, including a congratulations to us all for being alive. Rich gave a wicked, high-energy performance complete with streamers, psychedelic visuals (which will never let me look at the Grinch the same way again) and the most thrilling light-up drum kit played by Joel Waddell. “Push till it’s done,” Rich said, and he and his band certainly did. The biggest crowd pleaser of the night, Aucoin hardly left the audience. As a matter of fact, he even crowd surfed on the audience. Literally. With a surfboard. The parachute party and coordinating a recording of the crowd for his new album all added to the classic Aucoin experience.
The final act, with a hard-hitting energy and ability to keep rocking in spite of the fairly quickly dwindling crowd, Alert the Medic “turned the tables” and still brought a great close to the show. Packed with wonderful harmonies, haunting ballads and a contrasting, thunderous beat (thank goodness for floor toms), Alert the Medic kept the remainder of the audience captivated without acknowledging having been cheated out of the crowd they deserved nearing the midnight hour.
With the concert at a close, the glow-in the-dark hula hoopers having moved on, the beer tent emptying and the cigarette smoke clearing the grounds, I’m left to say that big hair, big bands, big sounds and big hearts made a scintillating spectacle for Natal Day weekend.
- Anthony Leclair
- Photos by Jessie Meisner