By Carey Langsner, Rock At Night Ontario Correspondent
Festival of Friends 2017–Hamilton, Ontario, Canada-August 4th-6th, 2017
The Festival of Friends is an annual three-day free summer music festival that started in 1976 as an independent folk festival held the first weekend after the Civic holiday in August. In 2011, the Festival of Friends announced that it would be moving from its current home, in Gage Park, to a new permanent home at the Ancaster Fairgrounds as the City of Hamilton had concerns about street parking, as well as possible damage to the trees in the park. After the 2016 festival was over, the new organizers announced that the festival would be returning to its original location at Gage Park. This decision was met with mixed reviews, the public being evenly split between leaving it at the Ancaster Fairgrounds where there is ample parking for everyone and returning to Gage Park where the loyal fans felt it should always have stayed. This year, the Festival was held one week earlier than usual as the park was already booked for another event before the decision to return was made.
This year, being Canada’s 150th birthday, the Ontario provincial government has created a concert series called Ontario 150 that is arranging 23 mini concerts throughout the province with many big names in many different types of music in the Canadian music industry performing. For the Festival of Friends, we were treated to Scott Helman, Kathleen Edwards, and July Talk.
Friday was country day in the park. With heavy rains predicted for later in the day, the festival started right on schedule. Unfortunately, the rains did come and The Redhill Valleys were not able to perform their set; however, the Abrams did bring the Redhill Valleys on stage to have them perform together. After the local country bands finished performing on the main stage, it was time for the headliner Terri Clark, the only Canadian woman to be inducted into “The Grand Ole Opry”.
The festival also ran a secondary stage at the park’s 70-year-old bandshell. On Saturday, this stage featured many local rock bands including the rock’n blues sounds of Tim Gibbons with his band TG & The Swampbusters which consists of many legends of the Hamilton music scene. The main stage did not disappoint with this year’s line-up with the afternoon performances of Off The Record, Goodnight Sunrise, Coyote Black and Hamilton’s own Huron.
After a lengthy stage break to allow for a complete stage change over and for Ontario 150 to have their banners installed in place of the festival banners, it was time for the main acts to take over. First to hit the stage was Scott Helman. As Scott entered the stage, the screams from the teenage to early 20’s female fans pressed up to the barrier in front of the stage was so loud [good thing I wear ear protection] that I could not hear what Scott was saying to the crowd. At one point, Scott did jump off the stage to meet his fans pressed up against the pit fence which reignited the noise from those along the fence.
After Scott was done with his set and left the stage, it seemed that the crowd that was there for him also left. All the younger audience seemed to disappear and an older crowd showed up for the rest of the evening.
Kathleen Edwards was next onto the main stage. Kathleen is a Canadian alternative artist whose music falls into several categories such as country-rock, indi-rock and Americana. As a former “Hamilton girl”, Kathleen would tell stories of her growing up in the city and her interactions with other Hamilton musicians like Tom Wilson of Junkhouse. Kathleen entertained the audience with an eight-song set consisting of songs from her many CDs and “Raised On Robbery” from Joni Mitchel.
By the time July Talk took the stage, the park was completely packed, with estimates as high as twenty-thousand in attendance. As the band started playing “Picturing Love”, Leah Fay and Peter Dreimanis came onto the stage, and the crowd went absolutely nuts. Watching the interaction between Leah and Peter on stage creates an almost play-like atmosphere – you feel like you are watching more than a concert. With Leah posing during the songs and Peter wailing on his guitar, you can’t help but just stand and watch the show looking forward to the next song. During the third song “Now I Know”, Leah stepped a little too far forward and her left leg slipped off the front of the stage; she did not miss a note as she pulled herself back onto the stage using her mic stand for assistance. To show the crowd that she was all right, Leah did an overhead split and then continued to sing and dance around the stage. A couple of songs later, Peter left the stage and crowd surfed as he continued to play his guitar. Throughout the night, July Talk played a fifteen-song set that contained all their hits ending the set with Push and Pull. For an encore, they performed Come Down Champion and Garden. At July Talk’s wishes, all of their pictures are in black and white.
After all the supposed controversy of where Festival of Friends should take place, in the end, it was really all about the music and the atmosphere – as it should be.
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