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  • South for Winter - Gig Review: South For Winter @ The Ministry of Folk, Auckland - 17/02/2022

South for Winter - Gig Review: South For Winter @ The Ministry of Folk, Auckland - 17/02/2022

19 Feb 2022 // A review by Kev Rowland

I knew tonight was going to be a first for me, although in more ways than I originally expected. We had been asked if we were interested in reviewing an American/Kiwi folk duo, South For Winter, who live in Nashville but were in New Zealand for a couple of months and of course I agreed. This meant I was heading into Auckland to attend The Ministry of Folk for the first time. They have been on my radar for a while as they have been having some great bands play, but there has always been a clash so have not made it until now. I knew they operated out of an old church building off Dominion Road, so made my way there, parked up, and only then realised it looked very closed indeed and obviously there was no gig taking place there tonight. I rechecked the gig details, and realised that tonight they were holding the gig down the road at Movespace, and as it was a pleasant evening, I left the car where it was and went for a stroll.

When I got to the right address, none other than awesome photographer Chris Z was stood outside which definitely got the evening off to a good start as not only is he a great guy, but it meant I did not need to worry about taking snaps on my phone. We went in together, and then up the stairs, as tonight’s gig was taking place on the flat roof! I have attended many hundreds of gigs in my time, and have been to many outdoors, but being on a roof was a new one for me. There was artificial turf on the floor, lots of chairs, a small playing area set up at one end next to a stunning wall mural, while tomatoes and other plants were happily growing at the other. Even though this was only a small event, there were two reviewers here tonight, with Marty Duda of The 13th Floor also in attendance, and we were soon chatting to the incredibly friendly and amiable Dani and Nick Stone. Soon, however, it was time for music and first up was Hoop.

They are the people behind The Ministry of Folk, so they get to invite the musicians they want to hear as well as provide the support themselves. The band comprise Al Baxter (vocals, guitar, harmonica, banjo), Nick Edgar (vocals, guitar, harmonica), Emily Allen (violin), Glenn Coldham (bass) and Rusty Knox (drums, vocals). Al and Nick are the songwriters, and the set alternated between the two of them on lead vocals as each sang their own material. What was also interesting was the way the two of them kept swapping instruments depending on the song, which meant they could change their sound considerably during the performance. The night was still, the sun was setting on the horizon throwing the sky into shades of red and orange, and it was all set for a great gig and Hoop certainly got things off to a wonderful start.

We kicked off with As Good As It Gets, which had Nick on lead vocals playing acoustic guitar while Al was on banjo. Relaxed singer/songwriter with hints of Americana, this laid-back number featured some wonderful harmonies and great violin with nice interactions between the different players. The relaxed arrangement was the perfect introduction as the crowd mellowed into the show, with the ambient night sounds adding to the feeling of togetherness. Al took over for Devil’s Choice, a song about a family caught in a Victoria bush fire, switching his banjo for acoustic while Nick picked up a flute. This has far more drive to it with a very strong bass, making me think very much of Mundy-Turner.

With two quite different but related songwriters, both of whom are multi-instrumentalists, meant the set tonight had a great deal of change and dynamics. One of the highlights was Rabbithole, a new song about conspiracy theorists, and a chuckle went through the audience when Brian Tamaki was mentioned, while David Icke being described as “the lizard king” certainly made me laugh (he was a well-known sports broadcaster in the UK until he joined the crazy train). Nick was on electric guitar for this one, and Al back on banjo, and their ten-song set certainly set the tenor for the evening. Before tonight, Al had sent me a Spotify playlist of some of their material and it is certainly worth checking out.

By now it was getting really quite dark, so some lighting was hastily arranged for Dani and Nick so we could see them a little better (and Chris was able to take some photos). It looked like they were using a condenser microphone, as they shared it between them but were able to stand quite a distance away from it so they were not crowding each other. At this point I had not heard the album, so was not really sure what to expect, but had noted a couple of different guitars and a mandolin on stage and whenever I see a mandolin my interest always picks up.

They kicked off with Ten Black Crows (which along with much of the material tonight can be found on their album Luxumbra), and I was immediately taken by the vocals and harmonies. Dani has a very clear voice with wonderful range, at times throwing in emotion and at other being very pure and clear while Nick can sing in more supportive role or at times throw in some operatic style baritone, which gives the sound a very different feeling indeed. Here the guitar was being picked yet it felt raw and distorted, quite at odds with the vocals over the top which became increasingly passionate. They describe their music as being comprised of two different entities, either murder ballads or fun folk, and this was one of the former.

How did an American and a Kiwi get together? Well, they met in South America of course, and the first song they ever wrote together was Fallen Seeds. As with much of their material the songs rely mostly on Dani as the lead, with Nick providing harmonies and contrast, here doing quite deep at times and others into falsetto. They also have supreme confidence in their vocals and are not afraid to let the accompaniment drop away and let them shine. Nick took the lead on All I Wanna Do, which had much more of a jazz feel and Thirties-style to it and was absolutely perfect for a night on a roof.

I was just blown away by the two of them, and the enjoyment of the night was tempered with the knowledge that they were flying back to America at the end of February, but hopefully they will be back again next year as they indeed Fly South For Winter. We were spoiled with seventeen numbers showing their versatility, with Dani playing mandolin or guitar at times as well as singing, Nick giving us a driving instrumental (more about that in the next review), but they were not allowed to leave without an encore, for which we got Black Widow. This is another of their murder ballads, telling the story of Lavinia Fisher, often described as the first female serial killer in America. This had a rocky accompaniment against those delicate vocals, and the night ended on a real high.

I can certainly see me going back to The Ministry of Folk again in the near future (follow them on Facebook for their gig announcements), while Fly South For Winter were a real revelation. Now if only I could see them playing live again…

Photo credit: Chris Zwaagdyk / ZED Pics


About South for Winter

With a blend of dreamy acoustic duets, foot-stomping folk and bluesy murder ballads, New Zealand-born and Nashville-based South for Winter’s sound is as eclectic as their origins. The band is composed of New Zealander Nick Stone, Colorado native Dani Cichon, and Michigander Alex Stradal, and together the three multi-instrumentalists and songwriters combine elements such as cello, guitar, mandolin, and three-part harmonies into a genre-bending sound described by American Songwriter as “impeccable”.

South for Winter recorded their debut album Luxumbra in Nashville with Grammy award-winning producer Matt Leigh, and crowdfunded its independent release in 2020. Luxumbra has landed the band accolades such as a 'Most Wanted' Emerging Artist at Falcon Ridge Festival, 'Top DJ Pick' by NYC’s DJ John Platt in 2021, and official showcase artist at Folk Alliance International in 2022.

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