THREE DAYS, 27 MUSICAL ACTS, ALL FOR FREE
THE MAIN STAGE features an assortment of local bands, including Goodnight Sunrise (1:30 p.m.), a melodic-rock outfit from Toronto fronted by the snarly Vanessa Vakharia, followed by Coyote Black, a four-piece pop-rock Hamilton group that’s been making waves in the local club scene. The highlight will be a rare appearance by Hamilton roots rockers Huron (4:30 p.m.), fronted by the twin guitar attack of Aaron Goldstein and Cam Malcolm.
The secondary stage — located at the bandshell — features four “alumni” acts with a decidedly older sound, including Richard Keelan (12:45 p.m.), one of the founders of Canadian folk legends Perth County Conspiracy (Keelan maybe the only bona fide folk artist in the lineup). Don’t miss highland-funk band Taxi Chain, fronted by notorious bagpiper Grier Coppins (3:45 p.m.). From Hamilton there will be veteran rocker Tim Gibbons (TG and the Swamp-busters (2:15 p.m.) and boogie and blues stalwarts Trickbag (5:15 p.m.).
Note that the timing of the two stages has been staggered to avoid sound bleed and allow festivalgoers to catch every act.
THE THREE MAINSTAGE acts come courtesy of the provincial government’s On tour program to help celebrate Canada 150 — and the Festival of Friends should be eternally grateful. First, there’s Scott Helman (7:15 p.m.) — a 21-year-old Toronto pop singer with the infectious hit “21 Days (’til the zombies come).” Warner Canada has the kid marked for future stardom.
Next up is Kathleen Edwards (8:30 p.m.), one of Canada’s top songwriters. She’s one of those artists who can make you laugh and cry at the same time. This is a rare performance for Edwards, who now runs a coffee bar in her hometown of Ottawa, and it could be an emotional one. Edwards spent five years living in Hamilton and wrote many of the songs for her critically acclaimed “Voyageur” album here. Her band will include local pedal steel maestro Aaron Goldstein and longtime collaborator Jim Bryson.
The festival headliner is July Talk (9:45 p.m.), a Toronto band fronted by gravel-voiced Peter Dreimanis and the always surprising Leah Fay. July Talk 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.
THE TWO STAGES are presenting a mishmash of country and rock Sunday afternoon. The mainstage opens with two rock bands from the Hamilton club scene — Quarter in the Bag (noon) and The Red Decade (1:30 p.m.). They are followed by Barbara Lynn-Doran (3 p.m.), a country rocker from Whitby and Late Night Conversations (4:30 p.m.), an intriguing laid-back fusion band with some fairly riveting guitar interludes.
The secondary (bandshell) stage is pretty much devoted to country, with four up-and-coming Ontario independent acts, including Burlington’s Rich Cloke (2:15 p.m.), Waterdown’s Emma Elena Grace (3:45 p.m.) and the folkie multi-instrumentalist Benjamin Dakota Rogers, of Mount Pleasant, Ont.
SUNDAY NIGHT is for indie-rock fans, with the two main acts providing a strong contrast. Hollerado (8 p.m.) is more of a conventional garage band originally from Ottawa with a gift for writing cheeky inyour-face rockers. They’ve been touring North America for the past 10 years and have developed a strong following in the Hamilton area.
The Sunday headliner is Stars, an electro-pop band that grew up in the Toronto art rock community with Metric and Broken Social Scene. Stars is a rare treat as a freebie and still big with the skinny jeans set. Expect the band to perform a couple of songs from its upcoming album “There Is No Love in Fluorescent Light,” which is scheduled for release in October.
NEED TO KNOW: The return to Gage Park also brings some limitations, some brought about by construction around the park’s greenhouse. Expect a more tame midway than the one in Ancaster, as well as far less on-site parking, restricted to about 1,000 vehicles at $10.
THE REDHILL VALLEYS