Festival of Friends

Sunday 18 August 2013

Nearly thirty years ago, probably before I could talk and probably before I could walk, I got my first taste of Hamilton's music community. Each August, without fail, with coolers and folding chairs slung over our backs, my family spent an entire weekend at Festival of Friends, which for decades took place nestled under the escarpment at Gage Park. We found bits of shade at the festival's workshop stages, over the years seeing Jackie Washington, Brent Titcomb, Paul Langille, Ken Whitely, Willie P. Bennett, and dozens, maybe hundreds more. When day became night, we made our way to the main stage, spreading out the red plaid blanket I still keep in the backseat of our car. We ate ice cream and listened to bands, while I read books by flashlight and dreaded the beginning of the school year that was just around the corner.

As often happens when artists gather together for a weekend to share music and ideas, there was a feeling of community at Festival of Friends, and at times it was even politicised, as when Tom Wilson took to the main stage to protest the Red Hill Valley Parkway. Festival of Friends was full of familiar faces and a sameness that was somehow comforting. No matter how busy our summers were, we returned to the festival every year. But last year, after a string of bad experiences when the festival moved to the Ancaster Fairgrounds, making it inaccessible from the core, we decided not to return, which I thought might be a permanent decision.

This year, with the lure of an alumni stage and a festival museum, we reluctantly returned to see Brent and Liam Titcomb. But instead of feeling welcomed to the festival, I was asked to open my bag so security could look inside before allowing me to walk into the sea of fast-food vendors and retailers selling belt buckles and pleather purses — far different from the local artisans who were once part of the festival. We found the museum and alumni stage, both hidden indoors. I can't help but wonder how the artists who helped build the festival felt about being minimised to memorabilia at a festival that is so drastically different.

I don't think I'll go back, and I'm not under the impression that anyone who runs the festival will care. It's clear that those of us who spent one weekend every August in bits of shade, listening to Jackie Washington, Brent Titcomb, Paul Langille, Ken Whitely, and Willie P. Bennett are no longer the festival's target audience. The nostalgic sap in me is sad that something that was so important to my past no longer exists, but it's Hamilton, and with this city's sense of community, I'm sure it's just a matter of time before something else fills the gap.

August Art Crawl Snapshots

Friday 9 August 2013
Somehow, it's August, and with it came another art crawl — the last one before Supercrawl takes to James North on September 13th and 14th.

Hillside Festival 2013

Saturday 3 August 2013

“Sentimental music has this great way of taking you back somewhere at the same time that it takes you forward, so you feel nostagic and hopeful all at the same time.”
Nick Hornby, High Fidelity

I've been lucky this summer. In the span of just a few weeks, I've seen Belle and Sebastian, Yo La Tango, Animal Collective, Neko Case, My Morning Jacket, Wilco, Bob Dylan, and most recently, a handful of new discoveries and old favourites at the Hillside festival in Guelph. There have been downpours and blistering heat and yet each of these shows has reminded me that there's no feeling more powerful than standing outside, in an open field, hearing a musician belt out a favourite song.

Clad in ponchos, with greasy hair, and the smell of campfire clinging to our clothing, we leave Hillside every year feeling a little calmer. A little happier. There's something about gathering, thousands of us, to listen to good music, to eat good food, to meet new people, and to leave our cell phones uncharged and work emails unanswered, for just a few days. Despite the leaky tents, the outhouses, and the line ups for beer, there's something therapeutic in the simplicity of it all.

Quotable: Tuck Everlasting

Thursday 1 August 2013
"The first week of August hangs at the very top of summer, the top of the live-long year, like the highest seat of a Ferris wheel when it pauses in its turning. The weeks that come before are only a climb from balmy spring, and those that follow a drop to the chill of autumn, but the first week of August is motionless, and hot. It is curiously silent, too, with blank white dawns and glaring noons, and sunsets smeared with too much color. Often at night there is lightning, but it quivers all alone."

— Natalie Babbitt, Tuck Everlasting
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