Into the north

A local festival returns to celebrate the music and art of a Halifax neighbourhood. Natalie Pendergast finds the heart of North by North End.

illustration Kate Sinclair

Since last year, popular north end venues such as Gus’ Pub and North End Pub have increased their band bookings and live shows, not to mention their revenue. A year ago, Jessica Whyte, Christian Johnston and David Ewenson organized Halifax’s first North by North End music and art festival. With the festival’s eagerly anticipated sequel to take place from March 16 to March 18, one has to wonder if the venues’ recent celebrity and the success of North By North End are more than a coincidence.

According to Whyte, it was only a matter of time before people became aware of the north end’s artistic identity and rich musical culture. “The population of the area is so saturated with students, and there are a lot of people interested in the arts whether it is music, art or performance arts, so you have that residential base there,” she says. “There are so many people that live there who want to go somewhere close to home.”

Gus’ Pub owner Dimo Georgakakos has responded to the growth and diversity in the area’s population by modifying the original Thursday Night at Gus’ country and western show. Since the beginning of January, the weekly event has expanded to three nights a week.

“Now it includes everything: Al Tuck-style folk and indie bands,” he says. “This is a neighbourhood bar and the demographics of the neighbourhood have changed. It now includes students and so we have started including students in our entertainment base.”

But it is not just any students who are neighbouring and frequenting Gus’ Pub. Chik White, of Divorce Records, says that due to the north end’s proximity to NSCAD, most of the students are artists, which means that they are not only attending shows, but they are putting on and contributing to shows as well. “It feels like a comfortable community to be a part of. It’s nice to walk down the street and not feel like the only freak,” he says. “I’m pretty sure there are more artists and musicians living in the north end than anywhere else in the city.”

This varied community will be well-represented at this year’s festival. Among the performers are Be Bad, Gilbert Switzer, the all-girl Oh Beautiful! Majestic! Eagle!, Jesse Dangerously, The Establishment, Le Coq et Le Fuc and Laura Peek. Organizers have also added a more in-depth visual art segment to the weekend. Philip Clark and Stephan MacLeod are each set to deliver their video art at the Art Bonanza at FRED on Thursday, alongside the works of artist Mitchell Wiebe and various poetry, dance and projections. New to this year’s fete is the Karaoke Brunch at Gus’ on Saturday—diners are encouraged to sing a song for extra toast to accompany their $1.99 meal.

What makes the festival especially inclusive is its all-ages accessibility. “We did an all-ages show last year but we weren’t really in control of the musical programming,” says organizer Christian Johnston. “So basically this year’s is bigger and still managing to be close to where we all live.”

The proximity of the events is a definite plus for audiences. Since there are multiple events taking place on each of the three nights, the short distance between venues allows people to walk quickly to and fro, ensuring they catch all their favourite performers. Gus’ Pub (2605 Agricola), One World Café (2412 Agricola), North End Pub (2776 Gottingen) and FRED (Agricola and North) are all located in the heart of the neighbourhood.

The organizers agree that North By North End is more than just a celebration of local artists--it also serves to prove that the north end has just as many vibrant shows as anywhere else in the city, if not more.

This is a fact Jesse Dangerously feels is being unfairly overshadowed by the area’s exaggerated reputation. “People expect to be accosted and mugged, assaulted, shot at and solicited for the purveyance of crack and sex,” he says. “There used to be a road sign on Gottingen Street, just before the library, that said ‘Rough Section Ahead.’ I always worried that people were taking that sign a little bit too much to heart.”

North by North End, March 16-18 at various venues, $5 ($6 Saturday, $20 weekend pass),

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