Summertime is upon us once again and it feels great; it also means it’s time to start planning your musical itinerary. Akin to America and the rest of the world, Canada possesses several music fests, that are held in both indoor clubs and outdoor fields, from British Columbia to Quebec. Some of these festivals have been around for decades, while others are newly formed. Music festivals take place anywhere from two days to ten days, so be prepared for the long hours running through days and nights. Because music fests sometimes host up to 250 acts during a three-day period, people can see live performances of many acts in one time frame and multi-day passes allow entry into most events. Indie rock fare dominates a lot of the these fests, but there’s also jazz fests, electronic fests, rock fests and folk fests; in other words, basically something for every music lover to enjoy.
10. Digital Dreams Music Fest, June 28-29: Toronto, Ontario, Canada
EDM (electronic dance music) has become more and more popular in the past decade, so in response to the demand, Toronto’s ‘The Flats at M.C.A’ (Ontario Place) hosts a two-day fest dedicated to the best electronic artists. Beginning in 2012, Digital Dreams has rapidly become Canada’s largest electronic fest. In its inaugural year, the fest drew 24 acts like Richie Hawtin and Major Lazer. This year, Digital Dreams’ performances almost doubles in size to include international sensations Tiësto, the Crystal Method, Paul Oakenfold and French duo Justice. Those willing to spend some extra cash can opt for the bottle service package, which includes V.I.P. tickets, premium bottles of liquor and plush couches for viewing all the action.
9. Craven Country Jamboree, July 10-13: Craven, Saskatchewan, Canada
The longest running multi-day music festival in Canada has been located at the same site for 30 years—which is a 15-minute drive from Regina. With its verdant rolling hills, Qu’Appelle Valley is an ideal setting for a country music fest. Over 23,000 fans a day come to watch 15 acts perform, over three days. Originally named The Big Valley Jamboree, the festival went through a couple of other names before landing on the Craven Country Jamboree name, in 2005. Acts like Willie Nelson, Garth Brooks, Taylor Swift and Garth Brooks have made memorable appearances throughout the years, and this year looks to also be an unforgettable one, with country stars Dierks Bentley, Keith Urban and Luke Bryan visiting the valley.
8. Toronto Urban Roots Fest, July 4-6: Toronto, Ontario, Canada
Last year was the inaugural TURF, held in Fort York Garrison Common, in downtown Toronto. Acts like She and Him, Neko Case and Belle and Sebastian played to such great success, the festival organizers are doing it again. In its second year, the fest expands to over 44 acts gracing three stages, including Wilco’s Jeff Tweedy, Gaslight Anthem, Andrew Bird, Neutral Milk Hotel, punk veterans Violent Femmes, soul singer Gary Clark Jr. and folk star Joe Pug. In the past decade, Toronto’s been a hotbed of up-and-coming musicians, which is why both TURF and Field Trip Music and Arts Festival, also in its second year, are held in proximity to Toronto’s vast downtown nightlife.
7. Montreal International Jazz Fest, June 26-July 6: Montreal, Quebec, Canada
Even though the U.S. has its share of well-attended jazz fests, Montreal’s 10-day jazzathon is the world’s largest, as anointed by the Guinness Book of World Records. The fest hosts over 2 million visitors, who check out hundreds of concerts containing a total of 3,000 artists from 30 different countries. The festival began in 1980 and has been going strong ever since. Additionally, it is not only for jazz music fanatics, the fest also features blues, R&B and Big Band acts. This year’s lineup includes recognizable heavyweights like Michael Bublé, Diana Ross and Beck to the Glenn Miller Orchestra and Toronto blues group MonkeyJunk, all of whom will unleash their jazzy riffs to the masses.
6. Squamish Valley Music Festival, August 8-10: Squamish, British Columbia, Canada
Over 50 genre-busting bands and artists will perform in Squamish, a mere 45-minutes north of Vancouver. Centennial Field, Logger Sports Grounds and Hendrickson Fields will showcase an array of mainstream and indie talents during the three-day fest. Founded in 2010, the fest’s attendance has increased from 13,000 per day to over 30,000 fans per day, making it the largest contemporary music fest in the Pacific Northwest. Last year, rock bands Queens of the Stone Age and Vampire Weekend treated fans to their hits, but this year’s lineup is even bigger: Montreal supergroup Arcade Fire, hitmaker Eminem, crooner Bruno Mars, L.A. pop stars Foster the People and rapper Danny Brown will take the stages.
5. Amnesia RockFest, June 20-21: Montebello, Quebec, Canada
The largest rock fest in Quebec takes place in the sleepy small town of Montebello, an hour from Montreal. Situated on the Ottawa River, the city harbors an idyllic location for 150 rock bands to descend upon the town of 900 residents for one very loud summer weekend. Amnesia is all things rock, including bands like Blink 182 and Fear, indie rock group Weezer, metal band Megadeth, proto-hardcore band Black Flag and female rocker Joan Jett. Bands from U.S., Canada and France promise to rock their fans’ faces off during the two-day fest. If that’s not enough rock for you, there’s always Heavy Montreal in August, with nothing but heavy metal bands.
4. North by Northeast, June 13-22: Toronto, Ontario, Canada
This one’s the North’s answers to the U.S.’s South by Southwest music fest/conference, NXNE hosts hundreds of musical acts, an interactive conference, comedy acts and film screenings during the ten-day festival. Founded in 1995 and now in its 20th year, the fest’s mission is to introduce people to emerging musical acts, aka buzz bands, but also to feature established acts from U.S., Canada, Europe, Australia and even Costa Rica. Akin to SXSW, bands perform in various venues throughout the urban core of the city. Despite the fest lasting ten days, the music portion only runs June 18-22. In previous years, Devo, Iggy and the Stooges and De La Soul have headlined the fest and played to tens of thousands of people; this year pop acts like Spoon and Sleigh Bells, Toronto punk band METZ and American rapper Juicy J are set to wow the immense crowds.
3. Winnipeg Folk Fest, July 9-13: Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada
There are several folks festivals scattered throughout Canada during the summer in cities like Edmonton and Regina, but Winnipeg is one of the oldest and most revered. Held in Birds Hill Provincial Park near the city of Winnipeg, the location sees over 80,000 folk fans during the five-day festival. Winnipeg Folk was founded in 1974 as part of Winnepeg’s centennial and features an eclectic blend of bluegrass, world, folk and singer-songwriters. This year folk troubadours Sharon Van Etten, Bonnie Raitt, Joan Baez, Amos Lee, Shovels and Rope and many others will perform on 10 different intimate stages throughout the park, a location where fans can literally camp out. The fest also supports environmental initiatives in serving local and organic food on reusable plates, and composting all waste materials.
2. Sled Island, June 18-22: Calgary, Alberta, Canada
Founded in 2007 by music venue owner Zak Pashak, Sled Island has become Western Canada’s largest indie arts fest. For five days, hundreds of bands perform in over thirty different venues throughout downtown Calgary. As Sled Island’s website states, “The goal is to open up as much of the downtown core as possible and fill it with as many types of people as possible.” So far their mantra has worked as each year the festival has grown in size, with the exception of last year when the fest was canceled because of flooding. The lineup consists of an admixture of established veteran artists and up-and-coming rock artists, but most artists have a unique artistic bent, such as Spiritualized, St. Vincent and Mission of Burma. Art installations and film screenings also complement the fest.
1. Osheaga Festival Musique et Arts, August 1-3: Montreal, Quebec, Canada
Montreal’s premier indie rock and electronic music fest, Osheaga, started almost ten years ago near downtown Montreal at Parc Jean-Drapeau on Ile Ste-Hélène. The fest runs concurrently with Chicago’s Lollapalooza, which makes Osheaga Quebec’s answer to the big, mainstream behemoth fests. Last year, acclaimed international acts like Mumford and Sons, Phoenix, Capital Cities and Alt-J played to over 40,000 concert-goers each day. This year, the fest will be even bigger, with award-winning acts Jack White, the reunited hip-hop group Outkast and UK import Arctic Monkeys headlining each night. Pop princess Lorde, EDM maestro Skrillex, Montreal’s Chromeo and rapper Pusha-T will hit up one of the five different stages over the course of the three-day bonanza. Osheaga’s so impressive that for the past two years the Canadian Music and Broadcast Industry Awards has named it the Festival of the Year.
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