An order of soul with funk on the side: Garden City Grooves: a review

CUL_Garden City GRooves_Melisa Reid_webLast weekend marked the second annual Garden City Grooves music festival, celebrating three nights of soul, funk, and groove music. The two masterminds behind the festival are Nathan Ambrose and Groovin’ Reuven Sussman, both active members in the Victoria arts community. Working with local organizations such as CFUV and the B.C. Ska Society, they share a passion for soul music and integrating it into the community.

The festival began Sept. 25, featuring local bands The Leg-Up Program and Downtown Mischief, joined last minute by The Steadies from Vancouver. Ambrose and Groovin’ Reuven wanted to kick off the festival showcasing Victoria’s talented soul and funk bands.

I sat with Ambrose in the Green Room at Lucky Bar while Dutch Robinson’s band began their soundcheck. I couldn’t help but overhear Robinson’s cover of Marvin Gaye’s legendary “Sexual Healing” in the background, which sweetened the experience for me. I asked Ambrose why the festival began with local funk bands.

“We really wanted to start this as something grassroots and try and build it from there. The music is here; it’s already in Victoria. Obviously it’s in Vancouver, but for the size of this city, I think we have something really good going on and we wanted to celebrate that,” says Ambrose.

And celebrate they did. Hosting the festival at three different venues and splitting each night into early and late shows brought a diverse audience in response. At the shows, I noticed a trend in the audience: everybody seems to like soul music—no matter their age.

Before Garden City Grooves began, Groovin’ Reuven, with the help of his friends, put together a  hugely successful show called Funk Fest that left the people of Victoria demanding more. From there, more funk friendships were forged and Garden City Grooves sprang into being. The people of Victoria and the media latched onto the event, giving the humble festival more press than anticipated.

Groovin’ Reuven lives up to his reputation playing percussion in The New Groovement and Masala; the last four digits of his phone number spell D-R-U-M. I caught him on the third and final day, and apart from looking a little fatigued, he was smiling. We talked about the production behind a music festival and how much work it is for two people.

“This is a community and none of us (Nathan and I) don’t make any money—nor do we expect to. We want to showcase what’s happening here and we want people to hear the music. We put it together, but every person and every band that is part of it, has contributed,” says Groovin’ Reuven.

Garden City Grooves exceeded my expectations. Dutch Robinson’s performance blew my mind—never before have I seen a vocalist with so much control over such a wide range. Masala, a Afro-Latino style marching band, played through the crowd at Distrikt creating an inclusive environment. This trend continued at the after party jam sessions held at Copper Owl.

What better way to connect to your community than dancing with your neighbours to the soul musicians of Victoria? For those curious, Garden City Grooves will continue for many years to come, bringing only the most soulful and funkadelic music to our shores.

“It doesn’t matter what we bring—and we’ll bring music that we know is awesome but you might not have heard of it. And even though you haven’t heard of it, you’ll wanna come and see it,” says Groovin’ Reuven.

Soul music feeds the soul and keeps our demons at bay. It is something everyone can enjoy, where, for a second, you forget your troubles and let the music move your feet. Ambrose and Groovin’ Reuven live up to the soul legacy by hosting the Garden City Grooves festival. They create a safe space within the community where people can let their inhibitions go and surrender to the groovy realm of soul music.

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