Focused almost exclusively on discovery, Sunaana is certainly aiming to be a huge platform for rising talent across multiple genres. In it’s second year, The Portland, Maine festival grew substantially from it’s humble beginnings in 2017, stretching across two official days at Thompson’s Point. The plan is to pull the festival into downtown Portland and use the city as a canvas in a similar way as Iceland Airwaves uses Reykjavik, and curation of quality live music is going to be essential in that goal. Here are five of the best acts we discovered at Sunaana’s recent second edition, and hopefully strong indicators of what we can expect from the festival moving forward.
Though they’ve gone through different permutations over the years, this Icelandic band seems to have found comfort in it’s three-person set-up. Originally conceived as a solo project from vocalist and guitarist Hafsteinn Þráinsson, CeaseTone is now a dynamic, incredibly focused band who performed twice during Sunaana (once at Liquid Riot for “Sunaana in the City” and the other as part of the official festival at Brick South), both times highlighting a penchant for building rich soundscapes and filling them with the tougher textures of indie-rock while Þráinsson’s dynamic voice tied it all together. Simply put, they were one of the most arresting bands across the two-day festival and once again spoke highly for the uniformly excellent live music scene coming from Iceland.
The American Classic
Having just released their EP, Blossom, that day, The American Classic were evidently in high spirits as they took one of the early slots on the Friday. Energetic, vibrant punk-rock bled from the stage as soon as the first note hit, and while the showcase set was short it didn’t stop them from putting on an impressive performance. I don’t think there was anyone who used to stage for a more physical performance that weekend then the irrepressible lead, , who would stomp around the small stage at the head of this confident, never-miss-a-beat local band. The Portland crowd sure loves their in-your-face punk and all-American rock, and while there were plenty of bands to fill that demand through the weekend, few could outshine these guys.
Lights for Landing
This bright Boston pop duo of Courtney Reid and Michael Tulimiero showed a lot of potential on-stage, showcasing their debut EP with some nice, catchy tunes that would break up the rougher-edged rock of the day. Back by a playful bounce, both vocalists complemented each other well and highlighted a sharp sense for catchy hooks and pointed refrains, driven mostly by Reid’s floaty vocals which danced across Tulimiero’s very of-the-now productions.
This local four-piece were an impressive discovery on the first day, proving Friday’s most dynamic act with all four musicians and vocalists shuffling around on-stage, each bringing their own distinctive voice to the group with beautifully written songs wrapped with cutesy, heartfelt lyrics. Rendered with tender, real emotion, their songs struck a chord with the crowd and managed to draw quite a few people away from the crowded Maine Beer Box, if only for a moment. Good music is magnetic after all.
JFDR with MYRO
Icelandic singer Jófríður Ákadóttir took part in one of several “Sunaana in the City” events prior to this performance, participating in the festival’s grand scheme which is when Sunaana finally snakes down from Thompson’s Point and threads through the city of Portland much like Iceland Airwaves does with Reykjavik. She performed at the The McLellan House, a historic house museum that forms part of the Portland Museum of Art complex. A vastly different setting to the small stage at Brick South, although that wasn’t the most substantial difference; at Sunaana in the City it was just JFDR stripped back, sitting at the top of a staircase with her guitar. On stage, she was joined by members of the Maine Youth Rock Orchestra, who helped enhance her soft, ethereal soundscapes by filling the air with music that added a bit of drama to her songs, but only just enough to allow her to dominate with those evocative vocals. It’s pretty much a given that Icelandic artists will have a unique and distinctive quality about them, imbued with their country’s otherworldly setting, and JFDR is certainly no exception.