Newfoundland and Labrador Arts Council
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Lawnya Vawnya

Location: St. John's, NL
ArtsNL Program Funded Under: Annual Operating Program for Professional Arts Organizations
Amount Funded: $9,600

Lawnya Vawnya logo


Festival Dates: May 10 to 13, 2017
Festival Contact: Bryan Power and Chrissy Lee
Festival E-mail:

Founded in 2010, and going into its seventh edition this year, Lawnya Vawnya: An Exposition of Independent Art and Culture is a non-profit music and art festival that merges some of Newfoundland and Labrador’s strongest artistic talent with national and international acts.

The aim of the festival is to celebrate multidisciplinary work, along with the ideas of independence, experimentation, humour, and “good times.” The festival supports local artistic endeavours, particularly music, and is involved in facilitating the exchange of skills and knowledge between artists and audiences through performances, workshops, panel discussions and cultural events in diverse environments.

The organizers recognized that St. John’s was a somewhat difficult place for emerging artists to travel to, and it was their hope that by establishing Lawnya Vawnya, it might make it easier for them to make the trip.  The festival also seeks to bridge connections between artists in the province and those from away, to facilitate networks of professional artists who are getting things done for themselves, for the love of the work they create.


Lawnya Vawnya got its name from an old Newfoundland and Labrador expression meaning “to have a good time at a dance or a party with plenty to eat.” It is a good time by the sea. The festival is organized entirely by a small board, with the help of a number of others. The festival has grown considerably over the years, initially starting with very little funding, to now having the support of many public funders (including ArtsNL for a number of years) and private sponsors.

This year, the festival is set to feature musical acts like Wolf Parade, Steve Maloney, AE Bridget, Jenina MacGillivray, Krystle Hayden, and more.  These artist’s performances will have readings peppered in between them from the likes of authors such as Eva Crocker, George Murray, and Craig Francis Power.

Some of the talks, panels, and fairs that will be ongoing during the festival are the downtown and Quidi Vidi music crawls, a Record and Press Fair on Friday, May 12 at Rocket, and a session called Strength in Numbers: How Collaborative Culture and Collectives Help Shape the Way Music is Made – also at Rocket, Thursday, May 11 at 2pm.

The festival is a past recipient of the Best Music Festival on the Avalon award from The Overcast’s People’s Choice Awards for the last two years, and was nominated for Outstanding Company of the Year at the 2016 MusicNL Awards.

In our latest feature, we chat with Bryan and Chrissy to learn more about the festival, which takes place from May 10 to 13, 2017…

Q and A with Bryan Power and Chrissy Lee...

ArtsNL: How did the initial group come together to plan the first edition of the festival? Is it still the same folks, or how has the planning board grown/changed?

Chrissy: April 2011 was the first installment of the festival and it was run by a small board of four directors: Mathias Kom, Ariel Sherratt, David Lander, and Andrea Vincent. They had a vision and a handful of dedicated volunteers and managed to pull off the first festival without any public financial support; it was a huge success. Lawnya Vawnya was born!

In year three Bryan, Ross, and I joined the team and we said goodbye to Mathias, Ariel, and Dave who moved out of province to pursue other projects. Our organization is comprised of a small but mighty staff, a volunteer board of directors, and so many incredibly hardworking volunteers who help out leading up to and during the festival.

ArtsNL: We covered a little bit about why the festival came into being in the preamble, but can you provide a little more information/detail about how the discussions happened, and why the group really wanted to create a festival like this?

Bryan: Newfoundland and Labrador has a vibrant musical culture built around traditional music but there’s also a world of amazing independent musicians playing rock, pop, punk, electronic, and other genres. The idea was to foster that scene and promote it to the rest of Canada.

We bring in bands from away and pair them with similar local artists so that, when the band is ready to tour, they have some friends that might be able to help them book and promote shows across Canada. The bands fly in on the Wednesday and stay until the festival is over. Both locals and visiting bands eat together at a communal dinner every night, they go out to see bands together, and at the end of the weekend, some amazing friendships are formed.


ArtsNL: How has the festival grown or evolved since the previous editions?

Bryan: I feel we’ve developed a reputation as a festival at which people really want to play. We’re able to book bigger bands and offer a more diverse musical range for the audience. Plus the audience has really grown to trust us. They usually know only a handful of the bands we bring in but they purchase full weekend passes knowing that the shows are going to be great. They generally walk in blind and walk out with a new favourite band or at least an experience to share with their friends.

ArtsNL: What are some of your most favourite memories/highlights from previous festivals?

Bryan: There are so many. Kid Koala at the Rock House has to be one of the best live shows I’ve ever seen. He’s a DJ who mixes on vinyl. He trains a camera on the turntables and plays it on a big screen behind him. So you’re listening to this incredible music and watching him work. It’s absolutely mesmerizing.

There was also the year that The Burning Hell’s flight got fogged out and so the bands in town formed a super group and performed a Burning Hell cover show in their slot. Magic.

ArtsNL: What are some of the highlights of the one that’s about to take place?

Chrissy: Wolf Parade will be a definite highlight. This is by far the largest act we have ever booked for the festival and will be our largest audience to date.

For us one of the highlights is watching local and visiting artists meet and play together for the first time. Special connections and friendships and connections happen every year.


ArtsNL: Can you share a little more about the two walks or ‘crawls’ that will happen?

Chrissy: During the music crawls, participants are invited to spaces that are not usually music venues- they are restaurants, clothing stores, book stores, coffee shops. At each stop there is a brief 20 minute musical performance by a Lawnya Vawnya artist.

This year the Downtown Music crawl is happening Friday, May 12 at noon. It starts at Model Citizens on Duckworth Street and moves on to about four other venues. The Quidi Vidi Music Crawl is happening Saturday, May 13 at 2pm and starts at the Quidi Vidi Village Artist Plantation. This crawl will also hit the Inn of Olde, Mallard Cottage, and the Quidi Vidi Brewery.

What we like about the crawls is that it encourages the audience to engage with music in a new and interesting way, not just in a late night bar setting. The crawls are free of charge and all ages. They are a highlight of the festival for sure.

ArtsNL: What kinds of partnerships exist for the festival?

Chrissy: As a multidisciplinary festival with a strong focus on music, partnerships with likeminded arts organizations make sense to us. Last year we partnered with Riddle Fence for the first time and presented a reading series during the festival. The aim was to merge our audiences and create a new and exciting experience for festival goers.

Readers in this year’s series include Craig Francis Power, Katie Vautour, Eva Crocker, George Murray, Matthew Hollett, and Carmella Gray- Cosgrove. Readings will take place between musical performances at Rocket Room, the Ship, and during the downtown and Quidi Vidi music crawls.

We are also partnering with the St. John’s International Women’s Film Festival this year with a screening of Sonita, an award-winning feature documentary by Rokhsareh Ghaem Maghami. This will be our first year including a film in the schedule and we are really looking forward to it. The screening will take place on opening night in the Rocket Room. Doors are at 6:30pm and the screening starts at 7pm.


ArtsNL: How does it feel to have the festival recognized in the last few years with some awards and nominations?

Bryan: In a province with some of the most unique festivals (The Gathering, Writers at Woody Point, NL Folk Festival, etc.) it’s honestly an honour to be recognized along side of them. We work really hard to put this together for the audience and the bands so it’s nice to feel that people appreciate the hours, days, months that go into making it something special.

ArtsNL: What lasting affect do you hope the festival has, now that it’s been on the go for a while?

Bryan: I hope it drives local bands to challenge themselves with the music they write and encourages them to get in the van and go share their music with an audience that would love to hear it across Canada, Europe, anywhere. The music being made here is incredible. We’d like to evoke the confidence to think bigger than selling out the Ship. Sell out Massey Hall. See where these songs can take you.

ArtsNL: What are some of the challenges that are overcome each year to make the festival happen and be a success?

Chrissy: Living on an island has proved to be challenging when trying to get artists in from away; especially in the spring when the weather can be unpredictable. Each year we usually have one flight cancellation where an act may be delayed or doesn’t make it at all. As organizers this is when we have to step up to the plate and make quick decisions. We are fortunate to have such a strong music scene here that local bands are always willing to fill in and put off an incredible show.

ArtsNL: How can people get involved with the festival, and where can they learn more about it?

Bryan: We’re always looking for volunteers. Anyone can pop by our website – all the info is there. Or they can just drop us an email with questions. We’d be happy to answer them.

This year the festival has also been selected as one of the beneficiary organizations of the Timeraiser 150 event happening in July 2018. People can attend that event and bid on artwork by professional and emerging artists in volunteer hours as currency. So that’s another way you can get involved with the festival, and earn some lovely artwork (that the Timeraisers organization has pair fair price for) at the same time.


ArtsNL: How does the ArtsNL funding from the Annual Operating Program for Professional Arts Organizations help you develop the festival professionally and achieve your goals?

Chrissy: The funding we receive from the AOPPAO through ArtsNL is integral to the growth of our festival. Our annual grant goes directly to professional fees for visiting and local artists. The generous support we have received over the years from ArtsNL and other funders has allowed us to program a festival with strong artistic merit. For that we are truly grateful.

ArtsNL: Is there anything else you would like to add?

Chrissy: We encourage everyone to come check out the festival this year even (and especially) if you haven’t heard of any of the performers. Grab a festival guide, plan your own adventure and take in as much as you can!