It’s always a good idea to spend your money locally.
The music scene in Edmonton is deceptively vibrant. Under its seemingly lackluster persona is a swathe of talented musicians putting out incredible music to rival any city.
But what if local talent isn’t enough for you? What if the bands you’d kill to see live think going to Vancouver and Montreal constitutes a “cross-Canada tour”? That’s where you, as a listener, need to put in some work to make YEG* an alluring place to tour. And the best way to do this is by supporting the many, many music festivals in this goddamn city.
If capitalism is going to ultimately kill or enslave all of us, we might as well exploit it for entertainment purposes. That is, musicians, and their labels, want to make money. They don’t come here for the sentimental value, or the river valley, or craft beer, or whatever. They won’t come to Edmonton unless you make it worth their time by yielding a profit. Music festivals, if run properly, have the capital and far reaching influence to make it happen, and they jam pack acts into a weekend. Which is great because who the hell wants to wait weeks or months between seeing bands they love? Fools, that’s who.
A great example of money talking to the music industry is Rogers Place — Edmonton’s modern-day shrine. With a capacity of 20,743 and state-of-the-art facilities, it’s a goddamn beacon for any notable touring act. In contrast, Calgary’s decrepit facilities (see: Scotiabank Shitdome) have led many artist to say, “Fuck you, you cow-loving losers” and skip Calgary entirely, with many of these tours opting to do two or more shows in Edmonton instead.
If there is an entire art-loving community ready to throw down their money, all kinds of shows will follow. Not just Kanye or Arcade Fire-sized sets either. Maybe the indie-pop band from Chicago you and your friends love will get booked for next year’s UP+DT festival (shameless plug for the band Varsity). Or maybe that Norwegian folk guitarist gets nabbed for Interstellar Rodeo. Or maybe you’ll go to one of these things and stumble one the set of your new favourite band.
So why should you ditch your Coachella plans next year? Well, you won’t die in desert. But the benefits of the money savings alone should convince you. At a local festival, you can buy legitimately good food that isn’t inexplicably four times more expensive, you won’t take any flights or crammed car rides, and best of all, you won’t pay for a place to stay (namely no hellish campgrounds, which is huge). Think about it: you finally leave the last set of the night. You’re all gross and sticky because some dude spilt his cider on you, yet the thought of going to your own house and sleeping in your own bed keeps you going. But if you’re camping at a big music festival? Then welcome to the Refugee Camp Simulator where everyone is either drunk or crying.
Local festivals can survive the mishaps and downturns because of their small scale. When shit goes awry, the terribleness is amplified in big festivals. Let’s not forget the hilarious real-life beach apocalypse at this year’s Fyre Festival, complete with rampant looting, fires, and emergency shelters. Interestingly enough, this wasn’t even a festival for rich people. Tickets for Fyre Festival were selling for around $500, so that shit could happen to anyone.
Bad weather can just as easily trash an event. And while this is inevitable, it can be prepared for. Derbyshire’s Y NOT festival was cancelled in July because of heavy rain, wind, and flooding, leaving concertgoers stranded in carparks and forcing artists to call off performances. Turns out getting 25,000 people out of a floodplain is a logistical nightmare. But this year’s Edmonton Folk Festival, when high winds cut one of the days short, leaving the grounds was a matter of everyone walking to downtown Edmonton and that was that.
Canadian music fans aren’t strangers to getting ripped off through poorly planned events. This year’s famously scuzzy Pemberton festival abruptly declared bankruptcy just a couple months before the event date. As an added bonus, no refunds were issued. Pemberton’s downturn was a long time coming, having lost money in its previous three years of operation. With the added loss of Squamish Music Festival in 2016, the big-ticket choices are dwindling.
How should we look at these festival disasters and bankruptcies? Gary Bongiovanni, editor of trade publication Pollstar, says that “Well-produced and curated events at a site the public loves will continue to do well.” And that is just the thing the Edmonton festival scene excels at, with niche festivals that cater to their respective audiences. These are festivals like the alternative and indie mix of UP+DT, the outdoor amphitheater loveliness of Edmonton Folk Fest and Interstellar rodeo, or EDM-centric Northern Lights Fest. They’ve each found their rhythm and are sticking to it.
Even if you’re not as crazy for the bands here as the ones at Osheaga or Sasquatch, you should make a point of checking out local events regardless. They’re remarkably cheaper, way less of a headache, and I guarantee you’ll find new music you’ll love in an intimate and non-hellish venue. If you don’t, you can find me on campus and beat me up or whatever.
*Just kidding, saying “yeg” is gross. If you say “yeg” unironically you are a bad person. Or the mayor of Edmonton and you have to because it’s your job.