Arts & Entertainment
2 min

In the Dead of Winter festival heats up Halifax’s music scene

Canadian queer artists among the more than 50 musical acts scheduled

HEATING UP HALIFAX. Festival organizer and musician Tanya Davis performs at Palooka's on Saturday.

It’s hard not to talk about the weather in Halifax, especially in January. Wind, snow, sleet and ice are ubiquitous. But all climate conditions fall by the wayside, as the city celebrates the season in true musical fashion during the annual In the Dead of Winter festival. From Jan 27 to 31, over 50 musical acts are scheduled to play at six venues across the city.

This year’s dead fest includes everyone from hip-hopper Buck 65 to vintage eight-piece band Gypsophilia. Festival organizers Heather Gibson, Tanya Davis, Amelia Curran and Don Brownrigg have outdone themselves. In the Dead of Winter runs the whole musical gamut, from burgeoning local acts to legendary folk songwriter Ferron.

“She was the original out lesbian folk singer in my time,” says Gibson, who says Ferron’s older material was the soundtrack to her own coming out.

There are plenty of queer performers at the festival, but Gibson says she was just looking for the most-talented musicians.

Local songwriter Ryan MacGrath is set to perform Thursday at Eyelevel Gallery. The charming, yet bold romantic indulges in his imagination. His debut In My Own Company EP is a result of such whimsy.

When it comes to his sexuality, he says being gay is as instinctual as creativity.

“I don’t censor myself in my lyrics,” says MacGrath. “I’ve been out for 10 years. I’m really comfortable. I hope the songs are strong enough to translate to anyone.”

“Sure, I’m a guy singing about another guy, but I hope that desensitizes. I want my music to transcend.”

Festival organizer and musician Tanya Davis performs at Palooka’s on Saturday. Davis says that her sexuality is obvious to anyone who takes notice.

“My sexuality is as fluid as my creativity,” says Davis. “I don’t sit firmly in the category of lesbian, but I don’t sit firmly in poet or songwriter either. I love people for people. I think the way I love is queer.”

Davis shares the boxing-ring-turned-stage with Dinah Thorpe. The Toronto-based musician hasn’t played in Halifax before, and her upcoming performance marks a pivotal shift in focus. Recently she ditched grad school plans and hibernated with a slew of instruments. After mucking around for a few months, she recorded and released a self-titled debut this past May.

“For me there’s something inherently paradoxical about writing songs,” says Thorpe. “Composing is an entirely personal and private undertaking, and yet I’m expected to share its results with increasing numbers of strangers.

“And I am a very private person. I’m getting used to playing my songs out loud for people, but it’s certainly not easy. As for inspiration, I find that in love and sex and trees and lakes and factory farms and riding the Dufferin bus at rush hour.”

Her rhythmic confessional beats are blatantly honest. Her desire isn’t masked by floral adjectives, as she makes reference to queer culture and sex.

“To me being out and vocal about being a dyke is inseparable from being vocal about colonialism, capitalism, and environmental destruction,” says Thorpe. “It’s the same as growing food in my backyard and talking to people I don’t know on the street and trying to find space on the roads for me and my bike.

“It’s about trying to live some kind of alternative life in an ever-increasingly commodified and homogenized capitalist culture.”