As the Edgefest concert series kicks off today—with an appropriately alterna-rock radio lineup headlined by Sheepdogs and Monster Truck—it’s worthwhile reflecting on how ingrained the summer festival has become with Canadian culture: Like Canadian Tire, it’s an institution. Perhaps not the most glamorous institution, but we’re glad to have it nonetheless. See, when you need to buy hockey gloves, a hibachi barbecue, and drywall compound in one go, you go to Canadian Tire. And when you need to get a Cancon fix, a sunburn, and a tall bottle of life-saving water from hose, Edgefest will always be there for you. Always has. And, we suspect, it always will.
Still, it’s easy to take the fest for granted. But the fest has come an incredibly long way, in festival terms: It came of age in an era where Snow Job, Lilith Fair, and the Hip’s fabled Another Roadside Attraction dominated the summer-music-fest landscape. And while those festivals faded as poorly as an ankh tattoo on your upper shoulder, Edgefest—partially due to its allegiance to the ever-changed CFNY-Edge 102—morphed into something else entirely.
I can’t say I’m old enough to have witnessed the earliest events, but they seem incredible: CFNY started the thing in 1987, and the concept seemed novel: Transport Toronto’s music scene up into the sticks—namely, Barrie, ON, a locale that’d eventually become home to countless festivals (Warped Tour, anyone?). Its Wikipedia page claims 25,000—a damn good number—attended the initial Edgefest, which claimed names like Teenage Head, Blue Rodeo, and the Pursuit of Happiness—a bill that sounds vaguely like the Videoflow of my childhood memories. That’s a damn decent show, even today.
The fest would eventually shapeshift throughout the ’90s: It moved to, and from, its historic home in Barrie’s Molson Park. At its 10-year anniversary, it became synonymous with the Cancon that we view as perfectly nostalgic—according to archives, 1995 was headlined by the Lemonheads, but was also bolstered by Wedge-riffic acts like the Killjoys, Our Lady Peace, Glueleg, and 13 Engines. It even, for a short period, attempted to become Canada’s top national festival: In the late ’90s, Edgefest was taken across Canada. Like, for example, here’s an Edgefest that shockingly made its way to Vancouver.
Alternative music, however, was soon reaching its middle age: Lest we forget, Creed and Nickelback were distant cousins of grunge. Edgefest realized this, and by the 2000s, the fest had been splintering—one one hand, those two headlined Edgefests (in Y2K and ’02, respectively). On the other, the fest was become acquainted with alternative’s alternative: The fest would dabble in turn-of-the-aught indie rock (Hot Hot Heat, anyone?), Warped Tour runoff (see: Gob, Closet Monster, et al.) and even post-Ozzfest nu-metal (a la Sevendust).
In other words, it evolved as the term “alternative” did.
And aside from one year—2007, when the fest didn’t occur—the fest continued on, whether Rise Against or the Sheepdogs were headlining. And the show, as on every Canada Day, will go on. So, for Canada’s hardiest festival, we salute you. Happy 27th, Edgefest.