PHOTO: Michael Legault
Although it might be hard for you to separate the idea of music festivals from lazing in the sun, drinking out of fruit, and just generally basking in the hazy, bliss that comes with summer, Canada more than holds its own when it comes to festivals in the colder, more wintry months.
Although they’re usually more subdued and intimate affairs, Canada has a host of long-running and celebrated music festivals that are wonderful ways to break up the bleak monotony and slushy purgatory of the Canadian winter. So if you’re looking for a reason to brave the cold air and hunker down somewhere cozy with friends, these festivals ought to warm your heart like a cup of mulled wine with a sneaky snap of brandy.
In the Dead of Winter
Halifax, NS – January 19th – 22nd
In its 12th year and still going strong, In the Dead of Winter brings out some of the best independent talent from Atlantic Canada and beyond, and strips them down to the bare essentials.
A far cry from the hectic hopping around of Halifax Pop Explosion, In the Dead of Winter takes place in a few cozy spaces around the city that seem to change each year. This year, the Timber Lounge, the Seahorse, and Good Robot Brewing Co. will play host to stripped-down sets from artists like local swoon-inducers Loveland and Kurt Inder, the sultry tones of Toronto songwriter Jennifer Castle, and the captivating poetics and presence of national treasure Julie Doiron, in addition to songwriting circles, and a bluegrass brunch at Seven Bays Bouldering.
Fredericton, NB – January 19th – 22nd
In the last couple of years, Fredericton’s music scene has grown by leaps and bounds, and so has its ability to attract high-profile, groundbreaking artists. While festivals like Harvest Jazz and Blues, and the Shifty Bits Circus always bring people out in droves during the warmer months, it’s the contemplative wintertime hug of Shivering Songs that helps the university town get through the cold.
Beloved locals like Cellarghost and Sentimentals hold down the fort for Fredericton, while out-of-towners like Ottawa singer-songwriter Jim Bryson, Guelph psychedelic doom folk revellers and all around best people, WHOOP-Szo, and the unbridled, captivating miasma of sound-tinkerers JOYFULTALK round out the rest of the festival.
Sackville, NB – January 19th – 22nd
Like the little sister to big sis SappyFest, Stereophonic – run by local radio station CHMA – is the much needed boost a tiny university town needs to keep it going until things start to thaw.
While not as grandiose or sprawling as its summertime sibling, Stereophonic transforms places like the Struts Gallery and Thunder and Lightning into even friendlier, more welcoming haunts than they usually are. Plus you can expect to see at least a couple of pals from the surrounding areas make the trek out as well, peppering the monochromatics of winter faces with a sweet sparkle of change.
Hometown heroes past and present are, as usual, well represented, as the recently relocated Klarka Weinwurm makes another appearance at this year’s festival with a tightly-coiled, wonderfully wiry full band, as does soba noodle salad savant and sludge-rock king Jon McKiel, and the up-and-coming Flour. As if that weren’t stacked enough, imported talent includes Haligonian hellraisers Nightbummerz, Saint John sordid soothsayers Right Shitty, and Fredericton’s finest fortune-tellers, Cellarghost. With such a bold, bountiful and eclectic lineup, this year’s Stereophonic is shaping up to be one of the most exciting and challenging iterations in recent history.
Ottawa/Gatineau – February 1st – 3rd
Mainly a chance to celebrate the music of the Ottawa-Gatineau region, and of Eastern Ontario, but including artists from all over, MEGAPHONO invites a whole bunch of industry professionals as well as a hungry music-starved public to descend on the area and devour a weekend of intimate and explosive performances.
This year’s lineup is especially stacked, with Constantines frontman turned dour singer-songwriter Bry Webb, ethereal Peterborough elegists Lonely Parade, Ottawa-based bastions of chaotic and cathartic jams (and clarinets) Pony Girl, Montreal’s arboreal electronic duo Best Fern, and Montreal-via-Fredericton soul-searcher Cedric Noel.
Montreal, QC – January 12th – February 4th
While you may think that summertime is the only time to grind to EDM bangers until dawn, Montreal’s Igloofest ensures that everyone wilds out until the sun comes up all through the winter.
Turning 11 years old this year, Igloofest unites celebrated DJs with talented visual artists and VJs for an immersive, arctic electronic experience that will make you forget all about the harsh and bitter Montreal cold.
Taking place in Montreal’s Old Port area, this year’s lineup includes DJs like Laurent Garnier, Miss Mee, Moody Jones, and Sonic Crew, as well as visual artists like Data Dada, Video Girl, O\ and Myriam Boucher.
If you want to throw yourself into a fugue of furious electronica this winter, there’s no better escape.
Frostbite Music Festival
Whitehorse, Yukon – February 17th to February 19th
While I can’t imagine that being in Whitehorse in the dead of winter is necessarily warm and cozy, the Frostbite Music Festival has been going since 1979 (with a couple of hiccups…), so the warmth and cheer it generates (most likely with a fair amount of liquid assistance) must make it one hell of a good time.
Although this year’s lineup has yet to be announced, past years have included acts like Ukes of Hazard, Yukon singer-songwriter Patrick Jacobson, the Salty Dawgs, and more.
Artists for the 2017 iteration will be announced at the end of January.
Toronto, ON – November to March
Now in its fifth year, Long Winter is an inter-arts festival run by Mike Haliechuk of Fucked Up, and has been gaining notoriety over the past few years for its carefully curated lineups, use of non-traditional venues, mixing art disciplines, and championing of underdog artists.
A monthly event running from November to March, the festival’s next event of the year happens on February 4th and includes musical artists like Germaphobes, Off World, L Con, and Vibrant Matter, as well as multidisciplinary artist Faye Mullen, community organizer and media artist Ella Cooper, and Heretical Objects collective member and visual artist Jennifer Warne.
It’s a wonderful celebration of Toronto’s underground art scene, and a breath of fresh air in even the almost asphyxiating winter months.