Review: Friday fun day at Block Heater

From a Toronto home to a pub in Ireland to a Vancouver studio, the fourth night of the sixth annual Block Heater Festival brought the world into your home Friday night.

Breaking stylishly out of the musical starting gate on the ATB Mainstage was Treaty 8 electric cellist Cris Derksen, at times joined by her wife Rebecca Benson, creating mesmerizing, trippy loops, riffs and sounds that ranged from far out to earthy. Playing from the comfort of their Toronto home, Derksen was a tour guide escorting listeners on a memorable journey through the looking glass where gorgeous classical tones occasionally tried on pow wow regalia.

Meanwhile, on the free Festival Hall stage, the straightforward, guitar-and-keyboard spun melodies of brothers Stephen and Paul Van Kampen, familiar to Block Heater audiences as part of SAVK and Magnetic North and now, in this incarnation, playing as Nite Twin, moved through more familiar territory, avoiding looking glass moments while delivering a well-seasoned, melodic set.

As they traded off tunes, impeccable sound (well, they were playing from studios) augmented spare, lilting songs like Holly, an autumnal number that stirred longing for something unnamable and untouchable. Final song Bloodstream was introduced by Stephen as a song about wanting to escape into whatever one does to disappear, be it drugs, alcohol, religion, fitness, or whatever works. Nestled upon an angular lullaby of pretty chords, the lyrics, anchored in the phrase, “I don’t wanna … work, play, go out, stay,” and beyond, provided a perfect soundtrack to the pandemic. If they were making a movie of life right now, this song would roll over the opening credits.

Nite Twin was followed by another set delivered from within a studio, this time coming at us from Rain City Recorders in Vancouver where Parkland Music Project made their last album. Some wore masks or used separate booths; all were socially distanced as they played music that goes the distance. 

While the group hails from Vancouver, they sounded like they got together at a community hall next to a gas station that sells fishing tackle in the bread basket of North America. Throughout the set, lazy steel guitar wandered eerily in and out of chords like a dementia patient lost in a hallway, trying every door, while the songs veered across the yellow line, taking eyes off the road to gaze out of broken, rain-splattered windows. Parkland Music Project blended skillfully crafted songs with some damn fine noodling. Listen: did someone pick up Son Volt faintly playing on a broken radio sometime during that set?

Back over on the ATB stage, and over the ocean in a cozy pub in Ireland that probably had viewers yearning to go to the corner tavern and raise a glass, Saint Sister returned to Block Heater with harp and heart in hand. Their floating, sometimes eerie vocals delivered tunes of sweet love turned messy and loss turned found. In an enchanting set of delights, their song Dynamite was, well, dynamite.

The evening ended with a set from Montreal by Matt Holubowski, who played while the outline of a neon green glowing crescent moon added ambiance and bare, spooky trees watched from outside the windows. Capping a show full of marvellous music is no easy feat, but super-pro Holubowski made it look that way. He traded off keyboards to provide a mellow set with mood setting songs that would blend in on the Heartland soundtrack. Memorable was the cascading musical waterfall of melody he evoked during Around Here from his 2020 album, Weird Ones.

Block Heater wraps up today with a Black Arts Conversation and performances from Maria Mezcal, Valerie June, 100 Mile House and others. For information, go to

Mary-Lynn Wardle is a Bragg Creek writer.