Wolfe Island Fest bigger than ever

Kingston’s off-shore music festival gets ready to rock to an all-Canadian line-up

Holy Fuck are Graham Walsh, Brian Borcherdt, Loel Campbell and Mike Bigalow. The lo-fi electronica outfit played the Wolfe Island Music Fest last year and are returning on August 11.
Holy Fuck are Graham Walsh, Brian Borcherdt, Loel Campbell and Mike Bigalow. The lo-fi electronica outfit played the Wolfe Island Music Fest last year and are returning on August 11.
Credit: 
Supplied photo by James Mejia

The worst-kept secret of Kingston music events will be taking place next weekend, as the Wolfe Island Music Festival rolls into its ninth year.

The music festival started as an informal concert and party between friends on the docks of Wolfe Island, founded by island resident Sarah McDermott. Five years ago, when the festival became a fundraiser for community development—raising funds to build a kid’s playground and a hockey rink—Virginia Clarke became officially involved.

“It’s really changed a lot,” said Clarke, who manages the Grad Club and heads up Flying V Productions. “It started off on a hay wagon on the docks, and now it’s more a showcase of new music [in] Canada. It’s all original artists.” The festival also draws much bigger crowds than it did in the first four years: Clarke estimates that attendance has multiplied by five since the early days.

The large crowds have meant a change in location. Though the docks may have been a quaint location, they don’t have the capacity that either of the two current locations can hold. Friday night’s Hootenanny Revue will perform in the town hall square and Saturday’s performances will take place at the Marysville baseball diamond. Both locations are within walking distance of the ferry.

“Everything is easily accessible on foot,” Clarke said. “We actually discourage cars.”

The large crowds may be drawn by the talented musicians that Clarke, as artistic director, arranges to play at the festival. She finds new and upcoming bands through her job as manager of the Grad Club and by attending music conferences and festivals around North America such as South by South West (SXSW) and Canadian Music Week. The Festival is committed to giving a large part of the roster to Canadian musicians. This year, the lineup is made up entirely of Canadians.

The festival will also feature vendors and artisans selling their wares, after a successful first attempt last year.

Clarke said beyond the music and the artisans, she’s looking forward to taking part in the festival’s spirit and ambience.

“It’s one of the most inexpensive festivals there is around with that kind of talent,” she said. “It’s more like a big party than a big industry festival. It’s very relaxed.”

A festival this good doesn’t happen by accident. Clarke said volunteers are another crucial part of the festival’s success.

“It’s a really invaluable asset that we have volunteers from the community,” she said. “If we didn’t have volunteers, we couldn’t do it.”

Kari Cwynar is the festival’s volunteer co-ordinator. She agrees that, like almost all music festivals, the Wolfe Island Music Fest relies heavily on volunteers for set-up, take-down and everything in between to make the weekend run smoothly. Though spaces have been filling up quickly, Cwynar said she’s still in need of some more volunteers.

“I’m looking for a few more,” she said. “We already have about 40, but we need more for the Friday night. [We need] people to do merch and to help set up mostly, and to set up the stage before the big day.”

This year, the festival is offering an extra-special incentive to volunteers. In addition to free festival admission and free overnight camping, there will be an exclusive after-party on the island—open only to performers and volunteers.

“So you get to party with the band members, which should be fun, and there’s free food and stuff,” Cwynar said. “With just a short, three hour shift, it’s a good deal.”

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Holy Fuck, the lo-fi electronica Kingston favourite, will return this year for their second appearance at the festival. Known for their energetic, one-of-a-kind live shows, Holy Fuck have made their way onto such festival lists as Coachella, All Tomorrow’s Parties, Montreal’s Osheaga, SXSW and more. The band began as a risky project: many of their tracks were worked out and written during live performances. Due to their extensive touring, Holy Fuck was able to achieve a groove and the chaotic improvisation aspect of their shows faded into organic, comfortable arrangements and set lists. Wolfe Island may showcase a new direction for Brian Borcherdt’s experiment in replicating electronic music sans the conventional electronica tools like computers and loops. “We have to think, ‘What are we going to do this time?’ Each time it has to be bigger, larger, crazier. It’s an opportunity to do something new but it’s scary,” said Borcherdt, a main installment of Holy Fuck.

However, audiences can expect to be treated to the band’s usual live shenanigans of “noise and fun” since Holy Fuck are probably best experienced in concert where dancing is contagious.

“From my perspective on stage, we’re not the only people in the room having a good time. Hopefully it’ll be a fun time for everyone.”

Though Holy Fuck has traveled the globe with their experimental improv skills and quirky instruments—a film sequencer and children’s toys—they still welcome the chance to play as part of Wolfe Island Music Fest. The band’s improvisational nature and the members’ commitments to their other rock projects have made for some uncertainty around the band’s status and direction at the moment.

Festival-goers may be treated to something new that even Borcherdt can’t predict at the moment because member line-up is up in the air.

However, what’s definite is the band will arrive at Wolfe Island in some form—probably, in true Holy Fuck fashion, spontaneously and last-minute.

“The show is very important for us,” he said. “It’s something we’re proud to be part of, we’re glad to help out Virginia. [Wolfe Island Music Fest] is a really good show and a very important time, something we look forward to.”

Wolfe Island Music Fest: 2007 Lineup

Friday August 10 Saturday, August 11

8:30 p.m.
Marysville Town Hall Square

Hootenanny Review featuring,
Jenny Whiteley—jennywhiteley.com
Luther Wright—lutherwrightandthewrongs.com/
Julie Fader—myspace.com/juliefader
Jim Bryson—myspace.com/jimbryson

Gates open at 12 p.m.
Marysville baseball diamond

Wolf Parade—myspace.com/wolfparade
Holy Fuck—myspace.com/holyfuck
Apostle of Hustle—myspace.com/apostleofhustle
Weeping Tile—sarahharmer.com
Born Ruffians—myspace.com/bornruffians
Spiral Beach—myspace.com/spiralbeach
Basia Bulat—myspace.com/basiamyspace
The Ride Theory—myspace.com/theridetheory
Nich Worby—myspace.com/nichworby

You can buy tickets for the festival at www.maplemusic.ca. In Kingston, you can buy them at the Grad Club (162 Barrie), S&R Department Store (27 Princess) and Windmills Cafe (184 Princess). On Wolfe Island, they’re available at Fargo’s General Store and the Island Grill. Tickets are $35 for a weekend pass, $15 for the Friday evening show and $25 for Saturday.

Wolfe Island Music Fest: Getting There

A 20-minute, free ferry ride is required to reach Wolfe Island. The ferry dock is located at the intersection of Ontario and Barrack Streets.

From downtown Kingston:

  • Every half hour from 8:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.
  • Every hour from 2:00 p.m. to 10 p.m.
  • 11:20 p.m.
  • 12:40 a.m.
  • 2 a.m.

From the Marysville dock at Wolfe Island:

  • Every hour from 9 a.m. to 12 p.m.
  • 1:15 p.m.
  • Every half-hour from 2:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m.
  • 10:40 p.m.
  • 12 a.m.
  • 1:20 a.m.

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