In the Soil 2019 will be happening in glorious Summer weather, and as I’ve done the last few years, your intrepid #artcriticfromhell is here to help maximize your joy and make sure you’re aware of all your options amidst the three day whirlwind of cultural offerings. So, let us go then, you and I, and ‘get the good grit up in your teeth’ (the words of #inthesoilfest artist Tammy Jane Lepp, who collaborates on a piece this year and had what may have been the best artwork / installation / olfactory experience in #inthesoil2018) for this year’s iteration of the multi media, multi venue and multi artist extravaganza.
The schedule for 2019 is currently online, helpfully delineated by day. As with previous years, you must plan ahead, or you’ll find that you missed an opportunity to see / hear / experience a performer / event. Even last year, when I’d gone through the lists and such, and put it all out there, I still ended up missing a few things because I paused to chat or rest, and time got away from me.
Before we dig right in, I’d also offer this piece of advice: a full festival pass is your best option, not solely from a financial point of view, for what you can experience (even just on the Saturday) but also because it gives you freedom. One of your friends raves about a show you didn’t necessarily plan to see, but now you’re intrigued? You can go with your pass, no fuss or bother. Having the option to see anything and everything puts the choice in your hands. Get them here (and an appropriate side note, before you progress further, is that this article is ripe with links for more information on the artists and events).
Friday evening on James Street is where it all begins, with the Interactive Village running from 5 – 9 PM: Fat Moth opens #inthesoilfest2019 right after (Festival Hub Stage, 6 PM), and other notable performers include Miniscule (Festival Hub Stage, 7:30 PM) and Depression Era (Second Stage, 8 PM). The latter was part of a Rhizome last year, as soothing funky ambience, and you can already see in that listing that some choices will need to be made. In past festivals, the dramatic / theatrical offerings have been highlights, and on the Friday evening, at the Robertson Theatre at 7 PM is “Welland Centennial’s one-act play Escape From Syria…a theatrical adaptation of the graphic novel “Escape From Syria”… written by Canadian author Samya Kullab.” That venue is a bit removed from the ‘action’ of the James Street / St. Paul cacophony, but that same evening, at 9 PM, in that same site, is Cliff Cardinal / Imaginary Force presenting Cliff Cardinal’s CBC Special, where Cardinal “shares his original stories and songs as if you are listening on your radio in the kitchen.”
Cardinal can also be seen Saturday at 2 PM, and Escape From Syria will be performed again later that same day: Saturday at 4 PM.
Even more: in the Oddfellows’ Temple at 7:30 PM is Tasty Sandwich – “The Rob and Edwin Rox Showe” where “Rob and Edwin pull out all the stops. It’s like swallowing all three Rob and Edwin shows in one musical set! YUMMY! They will play past favourites and some new songs.” All together now: just because I’m a dinosaur / doesn’t mean I eat / everyone I meet! (a charming earwig from their mad – I say with love – performance last year). Later in that same space is Coco Barracuda (9:30) with the tantalizing descriptor of a “serum of sour grapes. Baby grade pineapple juice. Always crying.” Both of these are one time presentations over #inthesoilfest2019. Your intrepid #artcriticfromhell will try to catch both of those, if he can, post Fat Moth, because sometimes knowing that presentations like Escape From Syria or Cardinal are offered Saturday afternoon make them more convenient to block in to the heady schedule.
More, even more (and we’re still only on Friday night): Whatzername takes the Second Stage at 7 PM (‘Estrogen to the stage! Engage and entertain the masses!’), while Fourth Way (‘explosive art-rock band, armed with electric guitars and window-rattling synthesizers’) is rocking out the Merch at 8 PM, followed by Hungry Lake (‘progressive folk/rock band with swirling guitars, waltzes, and psychedelic jam’) and the final performance of the opening night of #inthesoilfest2019 returns us to Oddfellows. Elysha Poirier & Anna Atkinson’s proffer The inside, the outside, an “A/V concert combining live music, real-time animations, intrinsic worlds and introspective terrains”. Make your way from the downtown, and get some rest, as Saturday is full. This is good advice if you’re old (like #artcriticfromhell), but if you’re young and full of vigour, the party could continue at the Merch or Fids or many other sites on St. Paul….
I previously mentioned that some productions are Saturday, as well as Friday: so perhaps that is what you build day #2 of #inthesoilfest around, in terms of your schedule of #must-sees, #trytosee or #seeifyoucan (the last there isn’t a comment about quality, but quantity, of what’s being presented). In my experience, Saturday is the intense day of past #inthesoilfest programs. This is the day that most people can get downtown, and everything begins when the Interactive Village opens at 11 AM: but I’ll be downtown already to catch Inferno Experiment 1 at the Robertson Theatre (which also happens at 6 PM that same day. Cardinal and Syria happen ‘in between’, in the Robby). Your intrepid #artcriticfromhell is very intrigued to experience Inferno, described as a “new audience specific format that reflects on the roots of theatre, in which audiences are challenged to visit a contemporary urban hell.”
Saturday IS the day when you’ll need to prioritize and be ready to glut, if you will: and a site like Oddfellows Temple has several performances that are worth your time. Cole Forrest’s The Heels of Our Grandfathers (a single performance this day at 3:30 PM) and Joe Lapinski (also a singular presentation, but at 7 PM) both take place there. The former lets us “follow the journey of Little Eagle; an Indigenous teen who takes themselves from reserve reject to full fledged drag queen”, while Lapinski (whose involvement with so many musicians and musical productions and groups in this region is vast) offers us A Sum Of Its Parts. This is “a suite of new music, inspired by stories gathered about communities who have helped to make St. Catharines what it is. Starting in 2015, Joe has interviewed several members of various communities to hear their stories. First Nations, agriculture, manufacturing industry, arts, and education. Joe took these recorded interviews, and has composed a suite of music that translates the words, emotions, stories, into a musical journey made from the layers that represent the communities.”
#artcriticfromhell is very excited about both of these, for different reasons that overlap and intersect: this is a good example of the strength of #inthesoil, both in the current incarnation and in the previous ones I’ve experienced. #inthesoilfest offers voices from this place / space of contested narratives, and gives a platform to voices from elsewhere that resonate with people and stories here, as well.
Ah, but let us expand our perimeters beyond the plethora of theatrical options available on Saturday. Guilty by Association , a “live film/theatre experiment…a haunting, coming-of-age story of a young drifter lost in the backseat of crap cars deep in the savage South” is at the Robertson at 8:30 PM. At 9 PM in the Oddfellows is Queer‽ Now‽ you’ll find Max Hunter and Ashley Cackle telling us a story of how “two people fail spectacularly, love every minute of it, and are still mad.” Then there’s Agit-Pop!: “drag superstar and tragicomedienne Pearle Harbour’s signature blend of song, storytelling, and sociopolitical tirades!” That surely fabulous performance kicks off at 10:30 PM, also at Oddfellows Temple.
If you peruse the online / downloadable schedule for #inthesoilfest2019, you’ll also notice that besides the day-by-day breakdown (with conveniently coloured chart) that there’s also a category titled Ongoing. Some of these are events / spaces I’ve previously mentioned, such as Rhizomes or the Interactive Village, but there’s also some artists mounting exhibitions and installations. Some of these are in conjunction with other performers, some are stand-alone, but let’s pause for a moment here, from the dashing back and forth between Oddfellows and Robertson and stages inbetween to consider these.
The Interactive Village is always amusing (several years ago, your sassy #artcriticfromhell was nearly consumed by the Cardboard Monster, but has learned nothing from this experience, it is said). A highlight of #inthesoilfest, the hours of the Village are Friday from 5:00 to 9:00 PM, Saturday from 11:00 AM to 7:00 PM and Sunday from Noon to 5:00 PM.
Several artists / spaces to mark on your list: Jon Shaw’s Multifarious (an interactive painting of St. Catharines that will be created by multiple crowd participants) is new to #inthesoil while Hannah Swayze’s Letter Writing Project was a favourite from last year that returns. Two projects explore history in both a wider and more specific sense, but both use the personal as a means to engage with visitors: Me on the Map (where you’re invited to ‘enjoy this interactive, chronological, and fun romp through the history of our City’) is facilitated by the St. Catharines Museum and Toast of the Town: Senior Stories is presented by Essential Collective Theatre (wherein ‘young artists gather the stories of seniors creating an original play’).
One of the many events that bridge culture and community is the Portable Community Garden, facilitated by Elva Tammemägi, where you can ‘plant a seed, flower, or veggie seedling with a personalized nametag into the Community Garden.’ This last piece has some clear delineations (roots that stretch deeply, you might say) to a number of the artists I’ll be mentioning in a moment, also part of the Ongoing category (Joanne Ring, Kristina Rolander, Tammy Jane Lepp & Lisa Renee McKenzie).
But first (as it IS a bit more time dependant), let us visit Rhizomes.
Ah, no wait. First a word of warning and clarification from your #artcriticfromhell, to avoid trouble later.
This is a very subjective, if expansive, guide to #inthesoilfest2019. I’ll mention events and artists that interest me, offering some guidance and suggestions, but I shan’t – I won’t – I can’t cover everything. If you’ve read past ‘guides‘ I’ve published with The Sound, you’ll know that I’ll say that sometimes what you expect and prioritize isn’t what you’d hoped. Many, many times I’ve chucked the plan aside and just gone to a show or a Rhizome or #bandonacouch on a whim, and it was one of the best moments of my #inthesoilfest. See, even I know that my ‘guide’ is just that.
So, caveat emptor, comrades: but I think most of y’all understand that.
The second half of this interjection is more barbed. In my recent teaser for the St. Catharines Arts Award, someone whinged on FB about my ‘disrespect’ to the year’s nominees. Clearly having not read the article to offer such libelous bile, really all they did notice was how I DIDN’T MENTION THEM, AMONG MANY OTHERS I COULDN’T FIT INTO THE ARTICLE. Oh, sorry to yell, ahem.
So, please remember, lest you be sent to the Gulag, that this is a snippet, a sampling, if you will. In editing / prioritizing I must make choices. But many who’ve responded respectively to these teasers in the past know that if you mention your event, or a band / show / performer you think was worthy of inclusion, but didn’t make my cut, in the comments in social media, I’ll be nothing but pleased. I do (really) try to avoid exasperated declarations of ‘TL:DR.’ BUT if some of The Sound‘s many amazing readers says, “whoa there, #artcriticfromhell, I will be going to the Poetry Slam at Mahtay, and here’s some amazing spoken word artists to tell everyone why you should too”, or “Improv Niagara is fun and funny and don’t forget them”, I will be nothing but grateful.
But whining ‘n’ bellyachin’ will get you a time out, and a serving of my deep reservoir of distaste for people who forget that ‘you owe the world, not the other way around’ (Holzer).
Do we have an understanding? Good. Let’s return to a very enjoyable topic: Rhizomes.
These will be at the MIWSFPA (Marilyn I. Walker School of Fine and Performing Arts) and their hours are as follows: 9 PM – 11 PM Friday Night, 9 PM to Midnight Saturday Night and rounding out the weekend with 1 PM – 4 PM Sunday Day. Rhizomes are always intense, as although they’re repeating, and you’ve a common space to select which you’d like to interact with, this is also the event that I so often find I miss something I’d hope to explore, or that suffers in terms of the wider schedule leading me to chose something else. This year, I aim to change that, partly due to the variety of Rhizome artists. A quick glimpse of Rhizomes: Quinn Oberlein‘s Moons (who installed a wonderfully playful work in last year’s #inthesoilfest at the Warehouse); Stolen Theatre Collective (A Glass of Wine with Noam Chomsky, where ‘Aristotle invites you on a quick trip through Democracy’s spectacular combustions, emerging for a pleasant glass of wine with Noam Chomsky’ ); David Figueroa (presenting ‘a sensory experience within an interactive Geodesic Dome Greenhouse filled with plants and subdued lights’); Matt Jaekel & IZM/HPH Crew (‘Nintendo + nitro. A supersonic racing competition set to an original chiptune soundtrack’); Alexandra Mureson‘s ‘delicate and intricate drawings in an immersive atmospheric installation’; and as it connects with some of the other community based artists / activists in #inthesoilfest2019, whom are eco aware / thinking about how what we consume physically relates to what we consume culturally, I’ll end this tease about Rhizomes with Rose McCormick‘s You Are What You Eat And I Eat Trash, with the enchanting subtitle of ‘How many bananas must one eat to fill the void?’
I previously mentioned how a number of artists / installers / activists are taking the ‘soil’ aspect of #inthesoilfest2019 literally, incorporating shifting and interactive environments. Several artists whom fall within the Ongoing category demonstrate this: Joanne Ring‘s Carpetography of the Niagara Region (‘a colourful, textured, topographic representation of the Niagara Region in carpet’), Kristina Rolander (‘immersive installation and performance space. A life-size diorama. A magic forest portal into another world’); and one I’m anticipating with much excitement, Tammy Jane Lepp & Lisa Renee McKenzie (last year McKenzie installed and intervened all around the festival, in various venues, and I can still smell the wonderful aroma of Lepp’s Rhizomes artwork from #its2018, and the island of calm she provided to many who visited it). With many of the artists and events I mention here, in this spastic synopsis, your enthusiastic #artcriticfromhell has offered just a glimpse, a (hopefully) alluring peak. The descriptor for Lepp and McKenzie’s collaboration continues this trend: ‘one sliver, one morsel of hope, a new consciousness, a new life, rising from death, transforming your consciousness through a new journey….born.’ As with so many of the performative elements of #inthesoil, past and upcoming, words are insufficient to the task, and you must go experience it.
Returning to musical options, and back to the Saturday evening of #inthesoilfest2019, there’s a mixture of the familiar and new. Supernatural Buffalo (‘grounded like a majestic prairie beast, their music soars to ethereal heights of big sky dreaming and peaceful reflection’), Strange Shakes (both on the Second Stage, at 7 PM and 9 PM, respectively….and #artcriticfromhell loves Strange Shakes, it is known) and Brittany Brooks (NAC, 7:30 PM, ‘Country, Western, Honky Tonk’ – a fine performer) are all taking the stage on Saturday. Band on a Couch will be on the Festival Hub Stage from 5 – 7 PM: Crabrat follows, and then The Rhyme Runners & DJ Tanner, before what many are considering the apex of #inthesoilfest2019. Lido Pimienta takes the Festival Hub Stage at 9:30 PM and will take us all to midnight on the second day of the festival. Pimienta (who talked to The Sound not that long ago) would be a wonderful way to end the intense second day of #inthesoilfest2019: but from Midnight to 2 AM DJ Brize and guests will be spinning tunes and the bar will be open at the Oddfellows Temple, to sweat and sway and swing until you fall into bed (maybe alone, maybe not, ahem, as fecundity and virility, in an ecological sense is a stream of #inthesoilfest2019, so let us hope for blooming and cross pollinating, ahem) after a full day….
Like many who approach #inthesoil with a plan, I consider Sunday to be a calmer day than the initial frenzy of the Friday night or the seemingly non-stop extravaganza of Saturday. It’s also a day to ensure you see some things you may have missed (in past years, Sunday has also been the day where, if you and your fellow #inthesoilfest attendees have been exploring different options, you can consult your friends’ ‘reviews’ and decide accordingly how to spend your last day). Three things I’ve previously mentioned recur on Sunday: Inferno Experiment 1 at 10 AM on a Sunday morning is an appropriate antidote for those of us who experienced our first taste of Hell being jabbered at in some church at that ungodly time, as a child. Guilt by Association also offers a final show, at 2 PM: both Inferno and Guilt are in the Robertson Theatre.
Some of the musicians on Sunday are ones I’m a bit more excited to hear than several of the more promoted gigs: perhaps that’s because I’ve seen Lux and the Curio Cabinet a few times and enjoyed greatly their ‘multimedia musical performance juxtaposing darkness and light’. They’ll take the Second Stage at 1 PM on Sunday. The slower pace of the last day also means you may wander back and forth between the Hub space on James, and other ongoing events like the Grey Borders readings happening at Mahtay, beginning at 3 PM. But overlapping with Lux are Tragedy Ann (1:30 PM will see – hear?- them ‘harmonize greasy spoons and hospital visits with equal intimacy’ ) and then Road Waves (who also recently owned the space with ‘energetic, genre-bending, funk-rock music for the heart and soul’ at Oddfellows with Fat Moth) take the Festival Stage Hub at 4:30 PM, and local favourite The Pindles will be playing an hour later, on the Second stage.
A tradition of #inthesoil is Suitcase in Point’s Dirty Cabaret (Oddfellows) and the afterparty that follows. Both at 7 and 9 PM, Dirty Cabaret VIII will officially close out #inthesoilfest2019, and then we can all tumble and traipse from James Street to the Robertson, as DJ Brize will once again provide us with a soundtrack to end our day, and #inthesoil2019, for another year….
Having made it this far, I offer you a treat: in recent conversation with photography based artist Barry Smith, all about this year’s #inthesoilfest, he spoke of how there was a was Ferris Wheel during the 2014 fest. Here’s some amusing pictures of that: Smith also spoke of how it was chilly and even worse high in the air – but this year, #inthesoilfest will be in the warm and welcoming days of June. #artcriticfromhell shall hopefully see you there.
As previously stated, your intrepid #artcriticfromhell’s guide to #inthesoilfest2019 is arbitrary and subjective, so caveat emptor, and keep your own copy of the schedule close at hand. Many thanks to Tammy Jane Lepp for the title of this piece. The header image was liberated and secured from Mayor Senzik’s social media page on FB, ahem, while other images are from the In the Soil site.
Bart Gazzola (also known as #artcriticfromhell) is an arts writer/critic who has published with Magenta Magazine, Canadian Art, New Art Gazette, Galleries West, PrairieSeen, Long Exposure and BlackFlash (where he was Editorial Chair for 3 years). He is Assistant Editor at thesound.rocks and a frequent contributor to various cultural spaces in Niagara.