In The Dead Of Winter Music Festival (Day 1): A Night of Exceptional Music at the Company House


The In The Dead Of Winter Music Festival kicked off  Thursday Night with shows at The Company House (Ari Hest, Zac Crouse, Sarah MacDougall, Ria Mae), The Bus Stop Theatre (Marine Dreams, Folly & The Hunter, The Weather Station) and Cempoal (Irish Mythen, Owen Steel, Kim Harris).

I spent my evening with Ari Hest, Zac Crouse, Sarah MacDougall, and Ria Mae at The Company House and was treated to an exceptional night of music.  It was also a place to see some others here for the festival.  Spotted at the Company House were Andrew James O’Brien, Dana Beeler, Heather Gibson (IDOW organizer), Jen Ochej (Jen on Twitter), Mo Kenney, Morgan MacDonald, Rose Cousins, Stewart Legere and Tara Thorne among others.


Stewart Legere & Rose Cousins


Ari Hest & Mo Kenney







The nice thing about a music festival is that often you will only know one or two of the performers prior to arriving, but by the end of the evening,  you will usually be thinking to yourself “how have I not heard of (that person) before”.  The negative thing is that you are often left wanting more of each musician.

That was exactly my response on Thursday.  When I arrived, I knew Ria Mae’s recorded material; was somewhat familiar with Ari Hest; had heard of Zac Crouse; and Sarah MacDougall was a complete unknown.  I had never seen any of them perform live before.  I left The Company House about 5 hours later thinking “Wow, that was better that I could have ever imagined.  All four performers (and their guests) were exceptional.  I wish he/she had played longer” …and Ria Mae…how is she not an international star (more on that later).

Ari Hest

The show started at 8:00 with New York’s Ari Hest.  Hest is a dynamic performer and a proficient songwriter.  Although only in his early 30’s, Hest recently released his 7th full length album – The Fire Plays.  I started listening to The Fire Plays in preparation for the IDOW festival and once I started listening, I  had trouble switching to anything else.  Hest has a captivating voice and playing style that makes you want to keep listening, and his live performance was no different.


Ari Hest with Doug Yowell

Hest was accompanied by his exceptional drummer Doug Yowell.  Yowell compliments Hest’s playing perfectly with soft brush drumming and many cymbals (or things resembling cymbals).  It was a pleasure watching Yowell play and as Hest later mentioned to me “it is like watching two shows at once”.  I couldn’t agree more.

Hest took the stage and proceeded to entrance the audience, playing some of his old favourites (“Dead End Driving”, “Erica” & “Business of America”), as well as some songs from The Fire Plays, including the stunning “All Because”.  Towards the end of his set, Hest was joined on stage by  East Coast favourite Rose Cousins for a beautiful rendition of “Set In Stone”.

Hest plays IDOW again Friday night at Cempoal before heading to Wolfville to play Al Whittle Theatre on Saturday.

Here is Hest’s performance of Dead and Driving:

Zac Crouse

Following Ari Hest on Thursday night was Nova Scotia’s Zac Crouse and his band – Kris Pope (guitar), Ian Bent (keyboards) and Jordi Comstock (drums).

Immediately likable, Crouse is an avid paddler.  It is easy to see that paddling is his passion.  Crouse’s show started with a premiere of the trailer for Paddle To The Ocean, a documentary written as a healing process following the death of his best friend.   It was a very moving start to the performance.


Kris Pope, Don Brownrigg, Jordi Comstock (drums), Zac Crouse, and Ian Bent

Crouse has one solo album, You Plan To Do Nothing, released in 2010.  In 2011, he was nominated for 2 Nova Scotia Music awards (Folk Recording & New Artist).  His song “Scott’s House” charted at #4 on the CBC Radio 3 Top 30 in 2009, made the top 103 songs of the year (CBC Radio 3) and was nominated for an ECMA (Single of the Year).

On this night at the Company House, there was some great musical chemistry between the band, blending together to form a tight, cohesive unit.  My highlights of the set were the song “Where Does The Time Go”, the aforementioned “Scott’s Song”; and “Freeze The Ocean”, a song about a four-month long kayak trip around Newfoundland (that’s “Around Newfoundland!”) with his friend Kip Keen.  Crouse was joined onstage for “Freeze The Ocean” the talented Don Brownrigg.

Crouse plays an IDOW solo show on Saturday night at Cempoal

Here he is performing “So Fine”:

Sarah MacDougall

Next up was Yukon’s Sarah MacDougall.  She is the perfect example of why you should go to your local live music venue even if you do not know the artist – you never know what gem you might uncover.

I knew nothing about MacDougall prior to her stepping on stage…and I don’t think I was the only one.  We quickly learned MacDougall is from Sweden, lived in Vancouver, moved to Yukon to house sit, has a (healthy) fear of bears and wolves, and is a brilliant singer and guitar player.


Sarah MacDougall

I don’t want to give the impression that MacDougall is an unknown Canadian quantity (just unknown to me). She has two full length albums, The Greatest Ones Alive (2011) and Across The Atlantic (2009), has been called “one of the most promising exports out of Sweden since Abba” by 24hrs Vancouver, and was nominated for two 2012 West Coast Music Awards (Songwriter of the Year & Roots Solo Album of the Year).

This was MacDougall’s first time in Halifax, but she was obviously comfortable with her new Atlantic Canadian surroundings and friends.  On stage for about an hour with just her guitar, she was stunning.  On many of the songs MacDougall would step away from the microphone, but her voice still resonated throughout the venue.

Some of my favourite songs were “Sometimes You Lose, Sometimes You Win”,  “Perma Frost”, “Rambling”, “It’s A Storm” and “Cry Wolf”.  On the latter, MacDougall’s fun personality shone through as she encouraged (and succeeded in getting) the audience to howl.

MacDougall plays another  IDOW show on Friday night at Spatz Theatre

Here she is performing “It’s A Storm! (What’s Going On?)”:

Ria Mae

Let me start by saying that I love Ria Mae’s music.  I know, I know, I’m not the only one.  Mae’s debut full-length album, Under Your Skin, won the 2012 East Coast Music Award for Pop Recording of the Year, and her latest single “Leaving Today” is nominated as Song of the Year at the 2013 East Coast Music Awards.

Prior to Thursday night, I had never seen Mae play live.  Because of this, hers was my most anticipated performance at this years In The Dead of Winter festival.


Margot Durling, Ria Mae & Mo Kenney

The wait was worth it.  While watching Mae perform (accompanied by Margot Durling, who provided”perfect harmony” ), I kept wondering “how is she not an international star?”

Mae combines Jonny Rotten attitude with Sarah McLachlan vocals.  It is a fascinating combination. Add to this a stand up comedy routine that would allow Mae to headline a comedy festival and being accompanied on stage by some marvellous musicians,  and I was left with a show that I never wanted to see end.  Mae finished her show to rousing applause.


Ria Mae, Margot Durling with Folly & The Hunter

Aside from being joined by Durling,  Mae was joined on-stage for “Under Your Skin” by Nova Scotia’s “next big thing” Mo Kenney (whose debut album was released last year to critical acclaim).  Mae was also joined by Ambition (“Take Your Clothes Off”), Natasha Peach (“Leaving Today”) and Folly & The Hunter (“Titanium”).    It was the perfect way to end this exceptional first night of the IDOW festival.

Thursday night at The Company House was Mae’s only IDOW performance this year.

Here are a couple of videos from Mae’s performance (“Under Your Skin” & “Leaving Today”):

For more videos from Thursday night at The Company House, click HERE

Click the links below for more informaton on:

In The Dead of Winter music festival
Ari Hest
Zac Crouse
Sarah MacDougall
Ria Mae


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