If you want it, build it. At least, that’s what led Jeremy MacNeil and Matt McIntyre to co-found Gridlock, the music festival that kicks off its inaugural weekend in Halifax on Friday.
“We just felt that there was a bit of a hole in the concert market in Halifax for summer concerts,” explains MacNeil, who has spent more than a decade working as a concert promoter in the city. “I go to Sappy [in Sackville, N.B.] pretty religiously and it's a really exciting point of my summer, so I wanted to build something similar to that but in our own backyard.”
Gridlock started with an email to Wintersleep’s management in November 2015 — “they were the first band we confirmed and we just kind of built the festival around there” — and grew into a three-day festival that counts the Halifax-bred, Quebec-based band as Friday’s headliner, followed by shows from Wolf Parade, American Football, Waxahatchee, Beach Slang, Rural Alberta Advantage and more, with free, all-ages programming on Saturday and a comedy lineup on Sunday.
The programming is primarily Canadian (21 national acts and seven American), which is by design. MacNeil and McIntyre also want to put Halifax back on the summer map for touring musicians, because all too often, a "Canadian tour" stops at Montreal — and the only other summer festival booking big names in the city proper is Halifax Jazz Fest.
“We find that the type of bands that we're booking were bands that used to tour to Halifax on one-off shows at the Marquee, and we ... just find that that's not happening as much anymore," MacNeil says. "Like Wolf Parade, I mean they played here years ago and sold out the Marquee, and when they reunited they sold out like six shows at Lee's Palace [in Toronto] and shows across New York and Europe. Halifax is a market that should've got one of those shows, and it just doesn't anymore.
“We want to refresh that and get people excited about coming to see live rock bands in the summer.”
While we prep for Gridlock, we’re also looking to the promise of summer ahead, so we asked seven musicians playing this weekend — five local, two national — to tell us which artists they’d love to see at a festival this season, and what song they’d request. Some of the acts are at Gridlock, and some are farther afield. They are all worth the trip.
Artist: Nils Edenloff (Rural Alberta Advantage)
Gridlock time: Saturday, July 9, 9:15 p.m.
“I'm probably most looking forward to seeing Wolf Parade. I didn't have the chance to see them before they went on hiatus in 2011, so finding out that they were also booked to play Gridlock this summer was definitely a pleasant surprise.”
Song request: “Modern World”
Artist: Tara Thorne (Dance Movie)
Gridlock time: Friday, July 8, 5 p.m.
“I don't know where Hunstville is but I want to go to its Festival of the Arts to see Sarah Harmer. Sarah is like the Missy Elliott of Canada — peerless and untouchable and on a very extended break. You Were Here is one of the greatest albums of all time. I saw her do a free show in Toronto three years ago and she sang one new song. Come back, Sarah, I need you. We all do.”
Song request: “I am Aglow”
Gridlock time: Saturday, July 9, 7:20 p.m.
"DIIV! I missed them at Field Trip this year, so I'm glad I get to see them at Gridlock."
Song request: “Doused”
Artist: Kim Harris
Gridlock time: Sunday, July 10, 3:45 p.m.
“I would absolutely love to see Weaves at a festival this year! Since being introduced to their EP, I've been obsessed. They have just released an incredible new record, they are out-of-this-world musicians, and every live performance video I've witnessed is artistic, inspired and ferocious. Just bananas in the best way! In September, Weaves play the End of the Road Festival in the U.K.. I'd fly over the ocean to see that no problem.
Song request: “If I were in the crowd and they asked for requests I would lose it and yell ''Hulahoop' please you bunch of babes also let's be friends I love you!’ Something like that maybe.”
Watch our First Play Live session with Weaves at the Allan Gardens Conservatory.
Artist: Darryl Smith (Beauts)
Gridlock time: Saturday, July 9, 3:30 p.m.
“Almost two years ago, I was lucky enough to interview Dan Boeckner about his Operators project and their Halifax Pop Explosion show. After the interview and while we were making ‘thanks for coming in’ small talk, I mustered the courage to ask him about the status of the ‘indefinite hiatus’ that Wolf Parade were on. He said very plainly that they were starting to get together again and that there would probably be Wolf Parade music and shows in the near future. Now Wolf Parade is coming to Halifax to play the first Gridlock Festival in Halifax, and I could not be more excited. Dan Boeckner didn't necessarily make a promise to me, but it felt like one and I treated his words as such, and it’s really nice when your heroes don't let you down.”
Song request: “C'est La Vie Way” and “Floating World”
Artist: Justin Murphy (Walrus)
Gridlock time: Friday, July 8, 6:30 p.m.
“I most want to see Whoop-szo at Shifty Bits Circus in Fredericton, everyone needs to know how great that band is, and how great that festival is.”
Song request: “Gerry”
Artist: Babette Hayward (Vogue Dots)
Gridlock time: Sunday, July 10, 7:30 p.m.
"I've had Lowell's new single 'High Enough' on repeat since it came out and can't wait to catch her this weekend at Gridlock Festival in Halifax.”
Suggested song: “High Enough”