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Tuesday, September 22, 2009

LOLA Fest 2009 - The Best One Yet!

LOLA (London Ontario Live Arts) Fest now marks the unofficial end of summer for me. Teasing the musical ghosts out for just one last solstice dance. The festival’s annual appearance now the musical highlight of my year. Perhaps you’ve seen that familiar red and white banner, a waving beacon of sorts for music fans and musicians alike to join the cause and take part in an event both creatively entertaining and uniquely soul enriching. A tradition now four years in, this year’s version was definitely the best yet. The eclectic lineup bordered on thrilling. Although other scheduling commitments would keep me from seeing everything LOLA had to offer, the performances and art that I did manage to take in were equally stunning and most unforgettable. From the opening post-punk squall of London’s own A Horse and His Boy to the bouncy, elastic dance groove of Michigan’s NOMO at the end, LOLA was indeed the place to be if you happened to be in London Ontario this past weekend.

How lucky we are to have such a sublime world class arts event like this take place right in our own proverbial backyard. The element that clearly distinguishes LOLA from other festivals of this type is the diverse nature of the lineup of performances and first rate art installations. How dazzling to witness eclecticism on this scale. To see a relatively new local band like A Horse and His Boy, (who have just released their debut recording), kick off LOLA 2009; to be followed on the new TransMedia stage by London’s legendary Nihilist Spasm Band, challenge listeners with their brand of noisy art is nothing short of phenomenal. Shortly thereafter legendary Canadian artist Michael Snow and Jesse Stewart took the same stage to a crowd of appreciative fans. The whole thing still leaves me feeling utterly gobsmacked and profoundly lucky to witness these very fine performances.

The weather could not have been better with miles of blue skies in the day to twinkling stars in the evening. Mind you, those twinkling planets might just have been the assortment of glittery disco balls, crane suspended high over the park for the duration of the event. I think this made the perfect visual accompaniment for perfomances by Brooklyn guitar virtuoso, Kaki King and Copenhagen’s remarkable Slaraffenland. (This would not be the last time festival goers would get to see these clever Danes.)

Closing the first night was Akron/Family, who may have had the deepest impression on me and related ‘familials’.- (Check the pictures) This would mark the second time the hypnotic Brooklyn band would wow LOLA festival audiences with their unique brand of extended, folky jams. Their first appearance in 2007 garnered rave reviews and a slew of new fans in this city.

This time out Akron/Family were flanked by members of Slaraffenland who aptly rounded out the bands sound with their dexterous instrumentation and vocal talents. Strangely they would not be the only accompanists for the band that night. Midway through their closing set, vocalist and guitarist, Seth Olinsky invited my twelve year old son on stage to play a variety of instruments through the remainder of the bands climactic performance. (FACT: Budding musicians please note, that it is in fact advantageous to wear a noticeable and slightly obscene balloon hat to gain access to the hallowed ground that is the main stage.) Number one son was thrilled to no end with his brush with rock stardom. I sincerely doubt whether London audiences will ever be the same after his blazing recorder workout! It was the perfect cap to the first evening of LOLA 2009.

Day Two in Victoria Park would regretfully be a bit of a hit and miss affair for me due to previously scheduled commitments. Thankfully however all was not lost and I was able to see a handful of events, namely the festival’s musical highlight (for some) Final Fantasy. LOLA 2007 alumnus, Owen Pallett again drew a huge number of fans to Victoria Park’s Saturday night’s main stage. His amazing violin and lush layered vocals echoed through the park like a warm summer breeze. His encore of Joanna Newsom’s Peach, Plum, Pear was an uncommon treat.

Back to the Heineken TransMedia Stage one last time Tim Hecker played an absolutely riveting nearly forty minute set of experimental electronic music. The perfect soundtrack for a slighly chilly evening in the park under the stars.

The festival closed with the thick dance beats of Ann Arbor, Michigan's NOMO; whose sax-driven groove carried on even after the soundboard was cut due to city noise bylaws — the band playing on out in the audience. Such a nice touch!

As I had mentioned earlier, LOLA Fest 2009 was the fourth event in this ongoing series and in my opinion, the best one yet. The highlights were many this year with enough memories to last a lifetime. Festival embellishments of vegetarian food fare and refreshment stands were welcomed this year. Kudos as well to Troy and Blair at the well stocked Grooves Records merchandise tent. I know I wasn’t the only one to leave with a handful of premium souvenirs. And so nice to see the Oh! (Open House Arts Collective) on hand promoting local music talent with free apples and lovely new t-shirts.

So thank you LOLA. You were once again smartly curated , flawlessly executed and far and away the best festival this city has to offer! Organizers deserve huge kudos for their hard work and tireless labours that every year surpasses the previous years’ efforts. I feel so very fortunate to be able to partake in this event and I can’t wait until next year.



Allison said...

Sounds like quite the festival!

Has Jack come down from rock stardom yet? I imagine he's still tickled pink. How lucky to be plucked from the audience. Note to self, must gain access to balloon hat for MSP concert tonight. ;)

Great pictures, by the way, I love the last one especially.

Barbara Bruederlin said...

What a wonderful post, Sean! I found myself reading with a huge grin on my face, shaking my head slightly over the surreal image of the offspring jamming with the other Family, and then reading eagerly to see what else I had missed.

Evidently I missed a great deal, but I now feel like I was there, through the magic of your words and pictures.

Thank you for the vicarious taste of LOLA. Glitter balls for the world!

Sean Wraight said...

Allison - He is still milking that appearance at every turn. I think he may have found his calling at last.

Hey thanks for that. I was using my new camera so it was a bit of an experiment at times. The results weren't too bad though.

Barbara - Thank you for those kind words. I aspire to your level of concert reportage someday. It really is a special event that I hope you will consider coming to some day.

Tell you what. I'll do Sled Island you come for LOLA? We will have a ball!