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Music city maniacs

Halifax music is constant...constantly changing. But right now, we're seeing great local acts at their peak, playing at choice live venues.

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Halifax is, by definition, a transient city. With its fresh crop of academics arriving each and every September, so changeability is ubiquitous---whether it's in the population, the weather or the music scene. This past spring, Halifax adoptee Jill Barber packed up her things and headed to Vancouver for love. The region's former night sky greeters Wintersleep recently moved to Montreal. Change is the only constant in these parts and that's what keeps creativity aflame, though it's not all capricious. There is a continuity of talent.

For example, The Inbreds relocated to Halifax from Kingston in 1993. Mike O'Neill and Dave Ullrich kicked around town only to break hearts after releasing the record Winning Hearts in 1998, going on to pursue solo careers. They plan to reunite at this year's Halifax Pop Explosion. It isn't a coincidence local kittenish songstress Laura Peek's band is called the Winning Hearts, and Mike O'Neill produced her record.

The New York Times once called Halifax "the next Seattle." Soon afterwards, as many North American publications starting doling out similar hyperbolic praise about the historic port town being the answer to the post-grunge era, everything fell apart. Well, sort of. Halifax's indie darling Sloan moved to Toronto, and their boyish counterparts The Super Friendz split. Joel Plaskett made the suburbs cool with his teenage rock band Thrush Hermit, who split up shortly after releasing Clayton Park (1999). But then Plaskett formed The Emergency and became the local rock icon he is today.

The Guthries, formed by Ruth Minnikin (now of Ruth Minnikin and her Bandwagon) and Dale Murray (member of Oshawa, Ontario alt-country rockers Cuff the Duke), blew in and out. The band featured their respective siblings, Gabe Minnikin and Brian Murray, and high school pals Serge Samson and Matt Mays. The country crooners went on to pursue respective solo careers in 2002, though Mays switched gears to heavy rock overdrive and formed Matt Mays & El Torpedo.

So, even though there is great music in the past, have no fear; we're in the midst of a musical renaissance here.

Brilliant singer-songwriters Don Brownrigg and Amelia Curran and country-folk songbird Catherine MacLellan frequent the intimate corner stage of Ginger's Tavern (1662 Barrington, 422-4954). Half Notes 7 featuring Kev Corbett, A.A. Wallace, Matt Dunlap and Andrew Sisk play there September 4.

Sloanster Chris Murphy sang his heart out on "The Marquee and the Moon," from 1999's release Between the Bridges: "Cabaret licence, I've been coming by since the action continued past two." His hometown homage is to The Marquee Club (2037 Gottingen, 429-2242), with its legendary decor---think tea lights, vintage decorations, high bar stools, broken mirrors and wine-coloured velvet curtains. Other Marquee song references include Joel Plaskett's ode to Halifax (and Dartmouth), "Love This Town."

The bar is notorious for hosting a damn fine party, as well as the best this city has to offer in its small but influential hip-hop scene: Buck 65, Universal Soul and Classified have all played the Marquee, along with hot Canadian acts coming in from out of town, such as Black Mountain, Feist and Hawksley Workman. Even the odd international band: Bloc Party is playing September 14 and 15---but sadly sold out. Catch the Stop Summer Spectacle Show Spectacular featuring locals Rich Aucoin, the First Aid Kit, the Rhythm Method and Pete Samples plus Saskatchewan's own These Handson September 5.

Perhaps Hell's Kitchen aligns more with your style. Situated in the downstairs caverns of The Marquee, Hell, as it is known, serves one of the best thick-crust-pizza slices in town. The bar itself has made local music lore in Ruth Minnikin's track "Behind Bars," inspired by a brawl that broke out during Matthew Barber and the Union Dues set years ago.

Argyle Street bears little resemblance to knitted diamond-patterned socks; in fact it's Halifax's uber chic bar strip. Below the sprawling Economy Shoe Shop (1661 Argyle, 423-7463) lies The Seahorse Tavern (1665 Argyle, 423-7200), established in 1948, where the music is always loud and bartenders are constantly pouring. Every Thursday night is a celebration of funk, dance and soul with local party band the Mellotones, and the Seahorse has recently featured Cape Breton's tar pond rockers the Tom Fun Orchestra and Newfoundland'sHey Rosetta.

Stayner's Wharf Pub & Grill (5075 George, 492-1800) provides nourishment for both the belly and the soul, as the waterfront location is known for quality jazz performances from the Jeff Goodspeed Trio (ongoing Sunday nights). Country singer Rylee Madison, bluesman Matt Anderson and world musicians Sheva have all graced the Stayner's stage. Regular jazz breaks can also be found at Niche (1505 Barrington, 423-6632) with trumpeter Mike Cowie and Waterbabies Jazz Quartet holding court. If you've got an ear for the blues, Bearly's House of Blues and Ribs (1269 Barrington, 423-2526) is the place to be. Local acts such as Dutch Mason's blues scion Garrett Mason and Shirley Jackson frequent the Barrington hot spot.

At first glance through the glass doors of Tribeca (1588 Granville, 492-4036) the stylish bistro, bar and cafe has a hip urban feel, while upstairs the dimly lit, exposed, brick-walled atmosphere acts as a cozy late-night DJ haunt and music venue. Past performances have included chanteuse Jenn Grant, poet/performer Tanya Davis and suave songster David Myles.

Located on the corner of Agricola and North Streets, Gus' Pub (2605 Agricola, 423-7786) is the crown jewel of Halifax's north end music community. Owned and operated by Dimo Georgakakos, Gus' Pub is home of the $2 baby pint glasses and offers cheap drinks and nightly entertainment. The recently renovated corner stage was raised up from the beer-stained carpet with a tranquil forest scene wallpapered as a backdrop. Most of the city's current crop of acts got their start under Gus' roof. B.A. Johnston even shot his DVD there, This Is What 110% Smells Like: One Man's Triumph Over Boyhood and Hygiene. He's throwing another stink bomb of a show to release his album Stairway to Hamilton on September 18, inviting his mod-rocker friends The Stance and the ever-so fantastical Brent Randall and his Pinecones to climb the musical ladder.

For those frosh who arrive in town a little wet behind the ears, The Pavilion (5816 Cogswell) is a good place to hang your ball cap. Located adjacent to the skate park on the Common, the all-ages venue recently celebrated its third year in business. Previous acts include Hunter Valentine, Ghettosocks and more.

FRED. beauty food art (2606 Agricola, 423-5400) acts as a gallery by day and venue by night for sporadic folk/acoustic performances. During the seasonal In the Dead of Winter Festival, the space throbs with patrons anxious to see stellar songwriters like local darlings Meaghan Smith, Rose Cousins, Christina Martin and Share.

For a theatre-style atmosphere the Rebecca Cohn Auditorium, in the Dalhousie Arts Centre (6101 University, 494-3820), is Halifax's largest soft-seat venue, home to Symphony Nova Scotia. SNS has been adding special guests to its classical offerings: Last season saw Jill Barber, Buck 65 and Matt Anderson with the symphony for the Maritime Pops Series. This year's performers include Ron Sexmith on October 24, Natalie MacMaster on November 21 and 22, Rose Cousins and Old Man Luedecke on February 20, 2009, and Bluegrass Roots on April 17 with the province's world-class string and horn instrumentalists.

Tucked in the back of Dalhousie's Student Union Building is campus bar The Grawood (6136 University, 494-6529). The university atmosphere will morph into an intimate coffee house when Wooden Sky and local cautionary solo pilot Daniel Ledwell (of In-Flight Safety fame) takes the stage September 17.

The best acoustics in town belong to The Music Room Concert Hall and Recording Studio (6181 Lady Hammond, 429-9467), as the venue was constructed for intimate performances, and only accommodates approximately 110 listeners. Speaking of great acoustics, keep an eye out for the regular intimate shows at St. Matthew's Church (1479 Barrington, 423-9209) recently having included Final Fantasy, Steve Earle and Tegan & Sara. In the summer, the outdoor venue Alderney Landing (2 Ochterloney) in Dartmouth is a happening place to see live music right on the harbour, and, ocassionally, the Halifax Forum (2901 Windsor, 490-4614) will host a band: On October 1 it's punk godfathers Bad Religion.

Former MuchMusic hosts Mike Campbell and Mike Rhodes have teamed up and established Halifax's newest venue/restaurant/bar, The Carleton (1685 Argyle), with live music when the talent presents itself. Previous performers include Steven Bowers, Nathan Wiley and Gordie Sampson.

For sing-alongs to old sea shanties, Celtic favourites, '70s and '80s cover tunes as well as rockin' originals, look into the bar-band scene---and names like Clam Chowder, 10 Mile House and Shaydid. They appear live at joints like The Split Crow (1855 Granville, 422-4366), Pogue Fado Irish Pub House (1581 Barrington, 429-6222), Lower Deck (1869 Upper Water Street, 425-1501), The Old Triangle (5136 Prince, 492-4900), Coconut Grove (1567 Grafton, 444-0887), Red Stag Tavern(1496 Lower Water, 422-0275) and Gorsebrook Lounge (496-8712), the student pub at SMU. Check out The Coast listings weekly for the schedules.

And if you feel inspired by all this music going on and need to launch your own career as a troubador, there are plenty of open mic events happening around town. One of the newest is on Wednesday nights at The Foggy Goggle (1667 Argyle, 444-1414). For when it's time to play those new songs.

Music Tips
1. If you saw Rich Terfry play live, under his Stinkin’ Rich handle, you saw the man who became Buck 65.
2. So don’t hesitate to check out the current crop of local musical geniuses, so you can say you were into their early, edgy stuff, before they sold out and did that duet with Celine Dion (not that Buck 65 is likely to do that. But you know if he did, it would be cool).

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