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A love letter to Hamilton from the Arkells

September 8, 2014

The Arkells curated a local lineup for their namesake stage at this year's Supercrawl festival.

Hamilton’s annual Supercrawl festival kicks off its 6th year this Thursday, September 11, with live shows from A Tribe Called Red, River Tiber, and Rich Aucoin. The free event (which an estimated 100,000 people attended last year—monumental growth from the 3,000 attendees at its inaugural year) kicks into high gear for the weekend, putting global talent such as Spoon, Charles Bradley, and Four Tet alongside locals like Harlan Pepper, legends Teenage Head, and, of course, the Arkells, who not only headline the Hamilton International Airport Stage this Friday, but have this year have even had a stage named after them.

“When Supercrawl asked us to headline, we asked if we could sponsor our own stage with our favourite local bands as a way of giving back to the Hamilton music scene that’s been so supportive of us,” Arkells singer Max Kerman says. “This is the first time a Hamilton band has headlined the festival and Supercrawl were really keen to collaborate with us on this project. From there, the band and Supercrawl teamed up together to curate the line-up.” (The full Arkells-curated Arkells Stage schedule is at the bottom of this post, or over at the Supercrawl website, with the rest of the weekend’s schedule.)

Here, Arkells’ Max Kerman talks hometown pride and validates your suspicion that downtown Hamilton is going to be your new favourite neighbourhood.

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One of the great privileges of working as a touring musician is getting to see and experience places I might not otherwise have a chance to visit. Big or small, booming or troubled, I’ve always been interested in the cultural makeup of cities.

The clubs we play are often in city centres or interesting neighbourhoods, and between our early afternoon load-in to the midnight load-out, I’m able to get a unique snapshot of what life must be like for the locals. On some tours we’ve brought folding bikes so we could get more bang for our buck while in town.

As someone who is surrounded by people in music and the arts, the appeals of Hamilton seem obvious and are routinely discussed. A lower cost of living, a nurturing creative community, and a modest but proud history of the arts are all things that my community celebrates. Tangible examples of progress and change abound. New restaurants are opening weekly and the monthly Art Crawl on James Street North attracts thousands to the downtown core to take in galleries, food, and music. New hotels are being built while old ones undergo major renovations. All of these coalesce into a city that feels young, welcoming, and vibrant.

The rhythm of a dynamic city is invigorating. Opportunity seems endless. Cities like San Francisco or Berlin have well earned reputations for offering a rich assortment of walkable entertainment: coffee shops, restaurants, and nightlife are plentiful. There are good reasons these cities are internationally revered.

Beyond these famous place names, visits to less well-known cities have also been extremely gratifying. Spirited neighbourhoods in places like Louisville, Kentucky, and St. Paul, Minnesota are clearly cherished by locals and worthy of admiration from visitors like myself.

For those unfamiliar with the city, the attraction of Hamilton isn’t always as immediately apparent. While the excitement that’s growing in the core of the city is real, it’s not quite as shiny and recognizable as established communities and neighbourhoods in other places. At least not yet.

In writing this, I know I risk sounding like yet another grandstanding musician. The righteous artist can be a little much – I get it! Beyond a culturally rich environment, a wide array of employment opportunities is going to be central to the rejuvenation of Hamilton. Mohawk and McMaster provide the city with a keen and capable workforce of graduates who have already formed relationships with the city. With every passing month, there are even more reasons for these people to stay here.

What’s encouraging to me about Hamilton is that the city is naturally equipped for growth and renewal. We’re located in the centre of the Golden Horseshoe, our historic neighbourhoods provide housing that’s both beautiful and plentiful, and amenities are already reachable by foot or public transportation. These are key ingredients to the social makeup of proud cities.

While people in the arts are often the first to embrace a neighbourhood in transition, I am particularly encouraged when other local industries begin to see the appeal too. Regardless of your line of work or lifestyle, what is not to like about affordable housing, walkable amenities, and a community outfitted with diverse entertainment? Queen Street West in Toronto – near my childhood home – has witnessed this transition over the past 20 years.

I am grateful and take deep pleasure in the relationships and experiences this city has offered me over the last ten years. Since moving here to attend McMaster, I have chosen to live downtown for a number of good reasons that anyone looking for a good home could easily relate to.

From advocates for city-wide bike lanes, to the organizers of the monthly Art Crawl on James Street North, to the small businesses who are investing their time and energy to set up shop in the city, people in Hamilton have countless reasons to be excited.

We’re coming up on Supercrawl, taking place on the second weekend of September. In its sixth year, the annual culmination of the James Street Art Crawl has already grown to attract over 100,000 people annually for incredible free music and art. We’re thrilled to be getting back on stage at home as this year’s headlining band. Arkells are also sponsoring and curating our own stage at the festival featuring our favourite local bands as a small way of giving back to the music scene that continues to foster us.

So I write this, primarily, as a fan of Hamilton. I’m not a small business owner here, and surely there are others who have been here much longer than me. But perhaps more than anything, I have the privilege of advocating on behalf of my home and my view of everything happening on the ground.

When I come home from a tour, I get to experience and benefit from the efforts that people on the local level have created for all of us. These people deserve all the credit and our sincerest thanks.

I’ll end with a list of things I like to do in Hamilton:

– Live music at The Casbah, This Ain’t Hollywood, Hamilton Place

– Lunch on Locke Street: Bread Bar, Chuck’s Burger Bar, and NaRoma Pizza Bar

– Dinner and drinks on James Street North: Pho Dau Bo, WORK, and The Brain)

– Dinner and drinks on Augusta: The Ship

– Bicycling to and from McMaster University through Westdale

– Coffee at Mulberry, My Dog Joe, Jonny’s Coffee, and Democracy

– Go Transit service to and from Toronto every 30 minutes all day long

– Hamilton Sport and Social Club adult sports leagues

– Pickup basketball at Westdale Collegiate

– Bicycling to Dundas to take in the natural beauty and enjoy a coffee at Detour

– Ticats football games

– Max Kerman, Arkells

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Check out the schedule for Supercrawl’s Arkells Stage:

Sept 12:
Lindy – 6:00
The Zilis – 6:55
Illitry – 8:05
The Beaches – 9:15
Harlan Pepper – 10:15

Sept 13:
Simon and The Alexanders – 12:00 pm
Live How You Live – 1:15
Tongue Fu – 2:45
WTCHS – 4:30
Hamilton Philharmonic Orchestra with Thought Beneath Film – 6:15
Canadian Winter with The Snow Beach Players – 7:45
Teenage Head – 10:15

Sept 14:
Bill and the Art Crawlers – 12:00 pm
Lori Yates – 1:30
Katie Bulley – 3:15
Jeremy Fisher – 5:00

And get the full festival schedule here.

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