Canadian Artists Share Their Favourite Stories from Music Festivals
Featuring Sloan, Cadence Weapon, Lido Pimienta, Dan Mangan and more
Published Jun 27, 2022Many Canadian artists will be sweating it out on stages all summer long, so we asked some of our favourites to share their most inspiring festival moments that they'll be looking to channel through their performances this season.
Check out all of Exclaim!'s festival coverage here, and see Canadian summer music festival listings and ticket links here. (Have an event to add? Email email@example.com.)
Jay Malinowski of Bedouin Soundclash
Rogers Picnic 2007
One of my most memorable and random festival moments was the Rogers Picnic at Fort York in Toronto! We were approached to curate the lineup, and originally we had the Roots headlining, plus ourselves and Bad Brains. Later on, more acts were added. We go way back with D [Bad Brains bassist Darryl Jenifer], and I was just talking with him last week about the bill. "Wasn't that where [Bad Brains vocalist] H.R. was wearing a life preserver under a Talking Heads khaki suit?" Yes, I replied. Also, Questlove missed his flight and so Maseo from De La Soul played drums. Beyond the chaos, one of my all-time favourite memories was standing side-stage as Bad Brains played and having this wave of gratitude that I got to see these legends play and wondering if it was all a dream.
Performing at: VCBW Craft Beer & Music Festival (Vancouver, BC, July 9–10), Revelree Music Festival (Sarnia, ON, July 22–23), Canmore Folk Music Festival (Canmore, AB, July 30–August 1)
Primavera Sound 2012
Playing Primavera Sound in 2012 was memorable. Barcelona is probably my favourite city in the world. I was on tour with Japandroids at the time. Their tour manager Melissa and I went to see Buffy Sainte-Marie, and we were sobbing by the end of the show. Grimes and Dirty Beaches were at the festival that year too, and we hung out a bunch. It felt like we took a party from back home and transported it to Spain.
Performing at: Winnipeg Folk Festival (Winnipeg, MB, July 7–10), Festival International de Jazz de Montreal (Montreal, QC, July 8), Calgary Folk Music Festival (Calgary, AB, July 21–24), Hillside Festival (Guelph, ON, July 22–24), Regina Folk Festival (Regina, SK, August 5–7), Festival de Musique Émergente (Rouyn-Noranda, QC, September 1–4)
Photo: Atsuko Kobasigawa
Pride Toronto 2016
Black Lives Matter "interrupted" the parade — my white gay friends became super upset (and so naturally racist) while I was over the moon that we finally reclaimed Pride as a political festival. I remember feeling all the drumming, even some Brazilian drumming, and seeing the faces of people who looked like me, who perhaps faced the same everyday struggles of being BIPOC and queer, and it felt so special. I will never forget the summer of 2016.
Andrew Baena of Carcosa
Loud as Hell 2018
One memory that stands out is playing at Loud as Hell in our previous band, Galactic Pegasus. Due to circumstances out of our control, we were forced to play as a four-piece for the first time, with [bandmate] Johnny [Ciardullo] and myself forced to do vocals for the set. This was the first time we had performed that way, and would end up being a pivotal moment that led to us deciding to start a new band altogether. This became the foundation of Carcosa, and led us to where we are today. For those who know our name's origin, culled from the masterful first season of True Detective, it's all too appropriate that we're headlining Night 1 of the same festival this year. Time proves once again that it is a flat circle.
Performing at: Armstrong MetalFest (Armstrong, BC, July 15–16), Loud as Hell (Drumheller, AB, July 29–31)
Melanie St-Pierre of Casper Skulls
River & Sky 2011
One of the greatest takeaways for me from River & Sky 2011 — other than experiencing one of the greatest weekends of the summer, of course — was spending it with [future Casper Skulls bandmate] Neil [Bednis]. At the time, we were just friends. We got to know each other a lot better on the Saturday night of the festival. We immediately started dating after and, in the 11 years that we have been together, we started Casper Skulls, bought our first home together and are getting married in August. It's truly wild.
Performing at: Northern Lights Festival Boréal (Sudbury, ON, July 7–10), River & Sky (Field, ON, July 21–24)
Photo: Stephen McGill
Mostly Jazz, Funk & Soul Festival 2018
July 7, 2018. Me and my band are in Birmingham, England, to play the Mostly Jazz, Funk & Soul Festival that Craig Charles hosts. Craig has been a big supporter of my music on his BBC radio show, and this was our first time meeting in-person. The festival was in a beautiful park right in the middle of the town. We were all very excited to be there, and the weather was absolutely perfect. The only problem was that I had an afternoon set… at the exact same time as the England vs. Sweden FIFA World Cup quarter-final match. Just before I took the stage, the audience quickly thinned from 2000 to a couple hundred. It was hilarious. We finished up just in time to catch the end of the game in the tents behind the stage. England won and everyone was in a great mood. They said we were great background music!
Performing at: SaskTel Saskatchewan Jazz Festival (Saskatoon, SK, July 7), Calgary Folk Music Festival (Calgary, AB, July 21–24), Salmon Arm Roots & Blues Festival (Salmon Arm, BC, August 18–21)
North by Northeast 2014
I've played NXNE in multiple capacities over the years, but perhaps none more memorable than the festival-within-a-festival Tim McCready used to throw, 159 Manning BBQ. I was fortunate to be booked by Justin Peroff to DJ for a couple hours during the 2014 edition. The festival was essentially a house party with three stages (living room, basement, and backyard), while I DJed from a window facing the backyard, and Smoke Signals provided their legendary BBQ! It was a perfect way to spend an afternoon, taking in music from cool local artists (some of whom were already my friends), catching a vibe with fellow music heads, and connecting with new friends over the tracks I was playing.
Danielle McTaggart of Dear Rouge
SKOOKUM Festival 2018
One of my favourite festival experiences to date was a festival they had in Vancouver once called SKOOKUM in 2018 — the locals will remember because it only happened once!
It was such an incredible slot; the sun was going down right when we started playing. The festival was located in Stanley Park in Vancouver, which was a gorgeous setting. And because it was a hometown show, there were a lot of family and friends hanging around. Met Owen Wilson backstage, too; he said he liked my jacket, and I died. Then my brother embarrassed me when he drunkenly asked in front of Owen if I had met him yet. He was gracious but walked away right when that happened. I punched my bro in the arm and we moved on.
I'll never forget walking on stage and feeling overwhelmed by the amount of people in front of me, and they were ready to have a good time. It was something I had dreamed about. I think there were around 15,000 people there. Our set felt like magic. I'll always be so thankful for that opportunity and can't wait to get back on a stage like that soon. All around, a beautiful experience. After the show, crowds of people walked along the seawall path back to their cars and homes. I fell in love with Vancouver that night. I hope I can fall in love with a festival like that again.
Performing at: Laketown Shakedown (Lake Cowichan, BC, June 30–July 2), Because Beer Craft Beer Festival (Hamilton, ON, July 15–16), Squamish Constellation Festival (Squamish, BC, July 22–24)
Photo: Amus Osaurus
Le Festif! 2021
One of my dearest memories playing at a festival has to be our outdoor shows at Le Festif! in July 2021. Hot summer afternoon, on a small wooden stage made to look like a nest, we had two shows with an hour between each. Nature all around adding its music to ours made everything feel more complete. Even the rain made sure to water the plants solely between the two shows, so the sun would be right back on time for the second set. From the public to the staff and location, nothing but warm good vibes all around.
Performing at: TD Ottawa Jazz Festival (Ottawa, ON, June 27), Festival International de Jazz de Montreal (Montreal, QC, July 3) and Regina Folk Festival (Regina, SK, August 5–7)
Mark Sasso of Elliott BROOD
Dawson City Music Festival 2004
Dawson City, YT
The Dawson City Music Festival has everything, from the way you travel to get there by flying in with all your fellow musicians on what feels like a 70-year-old prop plane to the sights and smells of this historic town. Every time you step into Dawson City, it feels like a throwback to the turn of the 19th century.
My most memorable time there was our first time performing at the festival in the summer of 2004. We played the Pit in the Westminster Hotel to crazy wild crowds for two nights. We followed that up by opening the festival stage and, finally, we played a set in the beautiful Palace Grand Theatre. Our stay in Dawson was topped off by singing Bob Dylan's "I Shall Be Released" with the wonderful Constantines as they closed out the festival, and all this while under the constant threat of evacuation from wildfires.
Performing at: Greenway Jam (Kingsville, ON, August 12–14)
Rocky Mountain House, AB
We had such a ridiculously good time hanging in the bush with our friends in the Shiverettes, crammed into the worn-out screen tent that our drummer Lenore trucks to every camping festival — affectionately called "the chill tent," it often becomes our makeshift green room. At the time, FrogFest's stage was on this elevated barn/treehouse thing, with the band playing overtop a big bonfire that the audience could dance around. It was so cool to rush the stage and scream "Dead Men Can't Cat Call" alongside the Shiverettes in a real fucking awesome "girls to the front" moment. There was no merch table, so after our set our guitarist Erica took a Cuties orange box filled with T-shirts and CDs, strung it around her neck, and went around the audience selling merch like an old-time-y cigarette girl. One guy mistook her beer for a collection cup and dunked a $20 bill into it.
Performing at: Gateway Festival (Bengough, SK, July 22–24), Purple City (Edmonton, AB, August 26–28)
Brighid Fry and Pascale Padilla of Housewife
Winnipeg Folk Festival 2017
The summer before Grade 10, we got into the developing artists program at the Winnipeg Folk Festival. We were 14 and 15 and couldn't believe we got the chance to see Leslie Feist, Big Thief, Margaret Glaspy and so many more cool artists that we look up to! The drive from Toronto was three days, and we slept in tents every night. Naturally, we decided to stay on the campgrounds as well, but we were shocked when we got there. People were sleeping in art installations and coffins, someone was setting up a life-sized Trojan horse — 14- and 15-year-old Brighid and Pascale couldn't believe it. The next day, we saw Big Thief play a round with Margaret Glaspy and we both cried because it was so beautiful. We cried again when Feist played "Any Party" and decided it was our friendship song forever.
Performing at: Vancouver Folk Festival (July 15–17), Springtide Music Festival (Uxbridge, ON, July 21–23)
Happy Valley, OR
One of my favourite festival memories was when I performed at the Pickathon festival in August of 2017 just outside of Portland Oregon in a town called — no joke — Happy Valley. I played a set on the Woods Stage on Saturday morning. It was not so much a stage as a sculptural feat: a wooden fort straight out of the Shire that blended into the forest environment around it. The branches of the stage arched over us as we played a quiet, sleepy set — just banjo, voice and upright bass. People who had partied hard the night before were unzipping the flaps of their tents and poking their heads out to listen. It was high summer, but we were all shaded in the forest. Without sounding cheesy — I felt deeply connected to the audience and the environment. A classic festival memory.
Photo: Lillie Louise Photography
Vancouver Folk Music Festival 2009
I played the Vancouver Folk Festival in 2009, just one month before my album Nice, Nice, Very Nice came out. At that time, I was playing to about 150 people at hometown shows. I played workshop stages on the Friday and Saturday mornings, and it felt like there was a buzz brewing. We played our headline set on Saturday afternoon at the furthest away stage, but it was absolutely packed and I couldn't believe it. Then we got asked to do a "tweener" set on the main stage that night. And then Shari Ulrich asked me to sing a verse of "Hallelujah" to close down the entire festival late on Sunday evening. It was the making of me in Vancouver. The next hometown show we played was at the Vogue.
Performing at: Hillside Festival (Guelph, ON, July 22–24)
Penelope Stevens of Motherhood
Snowking's Winter Festival 2020
Each winter, the Yellowknife community comes together to plow a gigantic snow pile into the middle of Tıdeè (Great Slave Lake), which they then carve into a gigantic snow castle, governed by a surly old man known simply as the "Snowking." When the castle is complete, they spend an entire month partying in it, and we were fortunate enough to fly in to play their opening weekend. Of course, the pandemic shut it all down only a few days later, but we figured if that was the last live show we ever got to play, at least we went out in style.
Performing at: Sweltering Songs (Fredericton, NB, July 15), Distorsion (Montreal, QC, July 24)
Chris Murphy (Anyway Gang, Sloan)
Sloan played across the country (but not the territories or Atlantic provinces) on the Edgefest 1998 tour. That was our commercial and cultural high point. We had a new record that came out a few months prior and our latest single at the time, "Money City Maniacs," is probably the biggest single we ever had. We thought we were so cool. We didn't even want to do the tour. Too corporate, man! The coup for us was that we were able to strong-arm the festival into having the Inbreds and Local Rabbits on some of the shows. I can hear our agent saying, "We'll shove the fuckin' Local Rabbits down those promoters' throats." I'm paraphrasing, of course. Foo Fighters and Green Day were the big bands of note. Dave Grohl fell in love with the Inbreds. Green Day set their drums on fire every night. Someone had the idea that all the bands should set their drums on fire on the last night to upstage Green Day. It might have been Patrick Pentland's idea. It might have been the Foo Fighters' idea. We certainly couldn't afford to do it. Foo Fighters may have done it. Andrew Scott reminded me that we started our set in Ottawa with "Over the Top" by Motörhead, and the most ominous grey cloud formation headed right for us and then insane rain, thunder, lightning and hail ensued. I remember we got invited to an after-show hotel party but none of the other bands seemed to be there. Just crew people. We realized there was some kind of party within a party to which we were not invited. "Hey, I didn't want to go to your dumb party anyway," he sulked. Anyway, then Sloan released and toured eight more records including two double records and have another record in the can — at least partly because we didn't get invited to that party.
Performing at: Hillside Festival (Guelph, ON, July 22–24, with Anyway Gang)
Photo: Atsuko Kobasigawa
Sarah Dion of NOBRO
It was our first festival and we were opening for Death from Above 1979. Needless to say, we were super stoked and pumped. Our prior guitar player had just left the band and we managed to find someone else to fill in on three weeks' notice. Fast forward to the day of the show, we get there and it's the biggest stage we've ever seen or been on. Our set starts and there's only, like, 100 people on that huge field, but it didn't really matter to us — we still slayed the songs and had a great time. We for sure made the most out of it and partied side-stage during Royal Blood. My favourite memory of that night would be seeing Charles Bradley play an amazing set. Unfortunately, he passed away just a couple months later. We ended up returning to the hotel, forgot pieces of gear in the shuttle, lost our roadie along the way only to find him outside under the trees. [Bandmate] Lisandre [Bourdages] fell off the bed, and we actually paid for another night at the hotel because we just couldn't drive back the next day. Classic first festival.
Performing at: Born & Raised (St. Catharines, ON, July 2), Festival d'été de Québec (Quebec City, QC, July 15), Hillside Festival (Guelph, ON, July 22–24), La Grosse Lanterne (Béthanie, QC, August 19–21)
BRIC Celebrate Brooklyn! 2021
New York, NY
My best experience was when we played a show at Central Park in Brooklyn. It had been raining all day, but no real warning of thunderstorms or anything of the sort. We usually kid about the fact that at most shows or cities we play, it starts raining right before we have to go on. But this show took it out of the park… proverbially and physically. It's finally our turn to go on stage, we had the honour of closing the festival. It was also one of the first shows back, after not playing for nearly a year and a half or more. Mind you, we released Miss Colombia right at the beginning of the pandemic, so we were elated to be there.
The rain started getting more fierce, but people did not want to move. Organizers had it all under control, we felt safe and went on to do the first song, and suddenly it went from raining to pouring, but the crowd seemed to feel the music even more intensely in the rain. I cut the intro short and went to the second song and could feel the organizers growing increasingly worried about the rain, so I did what anyone in the situation would do: I kept going. We kept playing. We went straight to the next song, and people were singing with such fervour, in the rain, water up to their waists — and this is New York, this is not regular water, this was a rain and sewage river — but we did not care. It was right at this point when I saw one of the stage managers walking towards me. Their face told me they were going to ask me to stop playing. Oh yeah! There was an emergency/evacuate alarm going off! But I knew it was better to at least give the crown one more song and end in the most post-apocalyptic roar, and that is what we did. The stage manager followed me across the stage, I was holding my skirt up, doing a cumbia dance and pretending I could not see or hear them (as I had my in-ears). We finished and then the sound stopped. I addressed the audience — luckily my mic was still on — and told them to wait for me, that I would be back, to stay safe and that we all know what it's like to dance and live in the floods, in our countries back home. It was poetic and still the fondest memory of a live show that we have experienced.
Performing at: Winnipeg Folk Festival (Winnipeg, MB, July 7–10), Mariposa Folk Festival (Orillia, ON, July 8–10), Regina Folk Festival (Regina, SK, August 5–7), Festival Musique du Bout du Monde (Gaspé, QC, August 11–14), Festival de Musique Émergente (Rouyn-Noranda, QC, September 1–4)
Photo: Stephen McGill
Serge Nakauchi Pelletier of TEKE::TEKE
Exit Festival 2010
Novi Sad, Serbia
I have many fond memories of music festivals around the world, big and small, but the first one that always comes to mind is Exit Festival in Serbia, where I had the chance to perform as a hired gun with a now-defunct Montreal band in 2010. Set in the 17th century Petrovaradin Fortress on the Danube River in Novi Sad, this is by far the most mind-blowing location I've ever seen for a music festival, not to mention the average 100,000 attendees coming from all over Europe and the craziest, most eclectic line-up performing on 40 stages spread out on the site. Insane!
Serge Nakauchi Pelletier
Performing at: Winnipeg Folk Festival (Winnipeg, MB, July 7–10), Festival d'été de Québec (Quebec City, QC, July 13), Hillside Festival (Guelph, ON, July 22–24)
Photo: Kyle Laurin
Kamilah Apong and Jamie Kidd of Tush
River & Sky 2019
Just after midnight, Tush took the stage, which was a sandy beach. The crowd surrounded us in a circle. At times they screamed so loud, we could not even hear ourselves. It was a full moon that night, which was arresting, but in a gentle way. Midway through the set, a spider spun a web down to Kamilah's microphone and hung out with us. There was no cell phone service, so everyone was completely present and locked in! Not a phone in sight! Afterward, we sat by the lake. Kamilah went for a post-set swim. The water was the perfect temperature, like the moon prepared it for us.
Performing at: Mixto (Toronto, ON, July 8), River & Sky (Field, ON, July 21–24)
Dawson City Music Festival 2018
Dawson City, YT
I was the Dawson City Music Festival Songwriter in Residence in January 2018 and coming back to play with a full band at the festival later that year felt really special. DCMF has a super unique setup where, due to there being so few flights into and out of Dawson, all the musicians on the lineup stick around for the entire weekend. They all hang out in the same small — but amazing — backstage area. They all collaborate and perform in new band configurations drawn from a hat. It made for a rare opportunity to get to know other people playing the festival that you wouldn't necessarily get otherwise. Snotty Nose Rez Kids, Elliott BROOD, Les Deuxluxes, Goodnight Sunrise, Yamanataka // Sonic Titan and many other amazing acts all blew my mind with their performances, but were also incredible hangs. I made some long-term friendships that weekend under the midnight sun.
Performing at: Bluewater Borderfest (Sarnia, ON, July 21–23), Springtide Music Festival (Uxbridge, ON, July 21–23), Squamish Constellation Festival (Squamish, BC, July 22–24)
James Younger of Yukon Blonde
Pemberton Music Festival 2015
I can think of a lot of memories from festivals that probably aren't fit to print in this fine establishment! But a couple of things top my list. I remember being backstage at Pemberton when Kendrick Lamar and Soundgarden were playing, but being genuinely starstruck by the Trailer Park Boys walking around the catering tent. (Still have the photo to prove it.) And finally, we had this extremely long evening post playing a great show at Tall Tree Festival in Port Renfrew on Vancouver Island. In the morning we had to drive three hours to get a plane and fly to Toronto, from there we drove to WayHome Festival, a couple hours away, to close down the festival. Hungover, exhausted, but in good spirits, needless to say, it was the best show of the year. Ryan Gullen from the Sheepdogs came to our aid when I broke a bass string (think it's the only time I've ever had that happen), and Hey Rosetta! tagged along in our van back to the hotel for a party — not before being stopped by the RCMP for looking a li'l freaky with no idea where we were driving.
Performing at: Squamish Constellation Festival (Squamish, BC, July 22–24)