Fes­ti­val of Friends 2017 comes to­gether with a stel­lar lineup of per­form­ers

The Hamilton Spectator - - FRONT PAGE - GRA­HAM ROCK­ING­HAM grock­ing­ham@thes­ 905-526-3331 | @Rock­atTheSpec

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 fes­ti­val­of­ 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.

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