STARS SHINE ON GAGE PARK
Festival of Friends 2017 comes together with a stellar lineup of performers
WITH LESS THAN THREE WEEKS TO GO before the much-anticipated return of the Festival of Friends to its Gage Park home, a lot of holes remain in the lineup. As of Tuesday, 17 of the 27 time slots for the three-day musical bash were listed as “TBA,” as in, To Be Announced.
But newly appointed festival general manager Rob Rakoczy is confident the announced headliners — alt-rockers July Talk, indie-rock darlings Stars, acclaimed singer-songwriter Kathleen Edwards and Alberta country star Terri Clark — will draw strong crowds for the free event which takes place Friday, Aug. 4 to Sunday, Aug. 6.
“We fully expect to have as many as 30,000 people in the park when July Talk takes the stage on the Saturday night,” Rakoczy told The Spectator Tuesday.
RAKOCZY IS PROBABLY right. These are quality acts, all Canadian, that any festival would be happy to have.
July Talk, a Toronto band fronted by gravel-voiced Peter Dreimanis and the provocative Leah Fay, is one of the hottest acts in Canada, recently sharing a sold-out bill with the Arkells at Toronto’s Budweiser Stage and on its way to selling out three shows at Massey Hall in December. July Talk is not a band you’d expect to be playing a free festival at this stage in its career.
Edwards, an Ottawa native who lived in Hamilton for several years with former husband Colin Cripps of Blue Rodeo, is huge among rootsrock aficionados, while Clark, the only female Canadian country member of the Grand Ole Opry, is a sure winner with country fans.
Stars, which grew up in the Toronto art rock scene with Metric and Broken Social Scene, is also a rare treat as a freebie and still big with the skinny jeans set.
Other announced acts include Toronto pop singer Scott Helman — the 21-year-old with the infectious hit “21 Days (‘til the zombies come)” — and up-and-coming country duo The Abrams.
Still, there are those holes in the schedule (see the website festivaloffriends.ca). Rakoczy says they will all be filled, mostly by local acts and probably by the end of the week. He’s just waiting to finalize the contracts.
Part of the delay, he explains, is the result of an otherwise fortunate partnership with the Ontario government’s ONtour program, which is providing free concerts to more than 20 communities across the province this summer to help mark Canada 150.
ONtour provided the entire Festival of Friends Saturday-night lineup — Helman, Edwards and July Talk — free of charge. It also had a say in the selection of the acts (July Talk wasn’t confirmed until late last week) and how the announcement would be made (late Monday through the office of local Liberal MPP Ted McMeekin).
Festival organizers were also late getting off the ground themselves. This is a major transition year for the festival, not only in venue, returning to Gage Park after six years at the Ancaster Fairgrounds, but also in leadership.
Rakoczy, a longtime festival board member, only took over as general manager in April following the departure of Loren Lieberman who had been at the helm for 15 years.
Festival organizers have been scrambling ever since, booking acts, finding sponsors, marshalling volunteers, signing up vendors and consulting with city staff over use of the park.
The task was made even tougher by the fact that the festival isn’t being held on its traditional date, the second weekend in August. That date had already been booked by a ribfest, so the Festival of Friends was forced to switch to the August long weekend, leaving some vendors, who tend to book summer festivals as much as a year in advance, in the lurch.
The return to Gage Park also brings some limitations. Expect a more tame midway than the one in
“We fully expect to have as many as 30,000 people in the park when July Talk takes the stage on the Saturday night.” ROB RAKOCZY FESTIVAL GENERAL MANAGER
Ancaster, as well as far less on-site parking, restricted to about 1,000 vehicles at $10 each.
There will also be some surprises for long time fans of Gage Park.
The main stage is being moved from the bandshell to the area in front of the fountain, facing the escarpment. Rakoczy says this will allow for a larger viewing field as well as avoiding a construction area around the park’s greenhouse. A beer garden, sponsored by Moosehead, will be located to the side of the stage.
The second stage — there will only be two this year — will be located at the bandshell featuring “alumni” acts … still to be determined.
If things aren’t quite up to the festival’s Gage Park glory days, remember this is a transitional year. Find a shade tree and chill. It is, after all, a free concert.
Toronto alt-rock band July Talk perform Saturday, Aug. 5 at 9:30 p.m.
Stars is on stage Sunday, Aug. 6 at 9:30 p.m.
Singer-songwriter Kathleen Edwards performs Saturday, Aug. 5 at 8 p.m.
Canadian country music star Terri Clark performs Friday, Aug. 4 at 9 p.m.
The Abrams perform Friday, Aug. 4 at 7:30 p.m.