If Ontario’s onslaught of summer music festivals can be compared to an overcrowded wave pool, one event might be the big kahuna. That 6/10 wordplay is my not-so-clever way to introduce Strangewaves, crashing in for its inaugural year on August 21-23.
The festival’s camping-friendly setting of the Rockton Fairgrounds, just a shuttle ride away from Hamilton, first hosted the Beverly Agricultural Society Fair in 1852. One hundred and sixty-three years later, it will open its gates to an impressively diverse line-up ranging from soft (Jennifer Castle, Fiver) to heavy (WTCHS, TV Freaks), electronic bangers (Lido Pimienta, Tenderness, HVYWTR) to the less classifiable (Shalabi Effect, Wicked Rot, The Pucumber Sasssquash Family Band). Hamilton locals Jessy Lanza and Jeremy Greenspan of the Junior Boys hit the decks for some ‘Late Night Dance Explosions’ while TV Freaks have programmed their own ‘Freak Show’ stage featuring Mick Futures, The Famines, and Kappa Chow (full disclosure: plus my band Century Palm).
A varied selection of visual artists, comedians and filmmakers (including a screening of Shayne Ehman and Seth Scriver’s twisted TIFF-winning short Asphalt Watches) will help the 80-acre fairgrounds “be transformed into a mystical wonderland” (Strangewaves’ words). I’ll let co-founder Becky Katz continue to speak for herself in the interview below.
AUX: On the festival website, you describe yourselves as “three naive music fans” but otherwise leave things pretty mysterious. Can you give us a brief intro on yourselves and your musical backgrounds?
Becky Katz: My name is Becky. I’m 1/5 of the magical, titillating team of diligent people working strenuously to pull off this very special music festival called Strangewaves. Our team consists of my friends Ken Inouye, Dallas Walzak, and my sisters Sasha and Laura, the latter of whom is very pregnant.
The festival website has A LOT of information on it, probably more than most festival websites, and the reason for that is because it was my final project for a Building a Website course I took at McMaster. So we had Dallas, who is our master writer, jot down the History of our Festival. “Three naive music fans” is a bit of a misconception, as it was merely the brainchild of Dallas, our friend Victoria and I. When we decided to take our idea to the next level by incorporating a non-profit organization called Shush Inc. and then procuring a Board of Directors which originally consisted of nine people. Slowly, but surely, four of those people stepped off the board because they knew how crazy this was going to get.
The key component that brings us all together is our lust for novel, exciting music, which helped guide us when we were curating the program. We essentially have put together our dream festival and just hope that everyone else will enjoy it (especially if we can’t, haha).
You’ve also described your motivation behind Strangewaves as “a mission to create an atmosphere akin to an all-ages summer camp.” What does that mean exactly?
The Katz sisters were lucky enough to attend summer camps growing up, and know them to be a truly magical experience. However, last summer Dallas experienced summer camp for the first time while attending a wedding that took place at Camp Gesher in Cloyne, ON. After thoroughly enjoying his time spent there, we discussed how awesome it would be to have our festival in a camp-like setting to provide artists and attendees a sense of summer camp goodness.
Why did you choose the Rockton Fairgrounds as the festival venue? Can you share any info about its history and how you’ll utilize it?
Finding a venue to host our inaugural festival was rather a challenge, especially finding one that fit all our criteria; for example, camping was a must. We threw many ideas back and forth (including camp settings) during our Board meetings this past winter. One evening, someone (I think it may have been me, so I will take the credit) suggested Rockton Fairgrounds. Growing up in Dundas, ON lends itself to being familiar with the Rockton World’s Fair, which takes place every Thanksgiving weekend. We simply went to their website, shot them an email and they got back to us right away. We went and met Don Pede, the General Manager of the grounds, who has been incredibly generous and open-minded throughout this whole process. They seem to be almost as excited as us about the festival, and its potential of being a yearly event on the grounds.
The grounds themselves are quite large, taking up a vast 80 acres. There is plenty of room for camping, which is key. We also have access to large buildings, where the Freak Show and Late Night Dance Explosions will take place. The biggest saving grace could be the fact that we are able to move things indoors if the weather isn’t cooperative.
I’m really impressed by the strength and diversity of your line-up, especially for a festival in its first year. Can you name a few artists you’re especially excited about?
I have the sneaking suspicion that us festival directors will be doing a lot of running around and may not get to take in most of the acts. HOWEVER, I have requested that Lido Pimienta calls me out during her set, so that I have no choice but to come and dance my ass off for at least one of her songs. I’m extremely proud of our lineup and its diversity. Our only criteria for programming was that both the performers and artists have to qualify as special people, which truly does capture our bill. If I was going as an attendee, I would be most stoked to see Wicked Rot (from Massachusetts), Shalabi Effect, Barbara, Crystal Journey, and Jennifer Castle. And Pucumber, because they are basically my favourite band ever. I would also try and get a sneak peek at the Freak Show to see Strange Attractor, Lizzy Boredom, and Flesh Rag.
I’m also so stoked for the visual artists. All of them. They truly are a blend of the most special people.
Why did you choose TV Freaks as guest programmers? Did anyone else land a hand in the booking?
TV Freaks were one of the first bands we programmed. In June I spent an afternoon getting tattooed by Dave O’Connor, and we were discussing the idea of a punk stage. The idea was quickly realized through the Freaks’ enthusiasm and stubbornness. Aside from the “Freak Show” the programming was done by Ken, Dallas, and I.
How wild do you expect things to get around the campfire after the music ends?
We are thinking that the campfire will be more tame than the late night indoor dance party. Well, at least we’re hoping that, so that the village of Rockton doesn’t hate us by weekend’s end.
Last question: Teenage Head vs. Simply Saucer. Who wins?
FORGOTTEN REBELS!!! Although Jack Pedler might be my favourite Hamiltonian.