More apparent in August than any other month, the city of Edmonton transforms into one festival weekend after another. Seemingly, nothing else happens but festivals: everything is either closed or in-between. Everyone is out of town or taking a serious stay-cation to enjoy the one month of pure bliss. It's hard to complain about the umbrella mentality of festivals when everyone is out in the sun and having so much damn fun, but it's hard going if you're just trying to find something new to write about. As a result, here is all that I can surmise from this past month as organized per weekend festival:
By far my favourite festival of the summer, Heritage Days is the ultimate conglomeration of cultures, where each nation's best exports in the smells and sights of food and dance fill out all of Hawrelak Park. A friend and I used to take the festival extremely seriously, mapping out countries explored and yet to explore, and charting an ongoing rating system of places visited. Pressed for time this year, I bypassed the line-ups for tickets and food and just took in the performances. With the highlight of an all-female Cuban band just in town for the festival and sporadic performance pavilions showcasing hokey to brilliant ensembles, it's really the only place I can think of where anyone and everyone can watch dance from Uganda to Bolivia, eat gelato, tamales, pick up a Nikola Tesla t-shirt and devour meat and mangoes on a stick—often all at once.
Edmonton Folk Music Festival
A reunion occurs every year at Folk Fest as you run into those good people that you only ever see on Gallagher Hill. As the mecca of volunteers descend for Folk Fest with people streaming in or coming back for the sole purpose of the festival, Folk Fest is and always has been a great extended long weekend spent catching up between the beer garden and a tarp.
Missing it this year, I felt the constant stream of texts, mobile uploads and Facebook/Twitter updates kept me more than-in-the-know of what was going on from one end of the hill to the other. Although the music should be primary, my clearest memories from Folk Fest exist in moments where everything comes to a meeting point: often sitting on the hill, looking towards the downtown skyline as you feel completely engulfed by the people, the music, and you're happy.
Edmonton International Fringe Festival
Rarely a Fringer, this August week is often spent staying clear of the Strathcona area. Catching only one or two theatre shows a season, the Fringe has become increasingly overwhelming for someone who just wants to drop in and take a chance on a random show. With no more tickets at the door, it's not really a fringe environment, but with Bring-Your-Own Venues sprouting up across the river, North America's oldest and largest Fringe looks to be gaining back some of its grassroots practice.
Deciding to catch just one show this year, I went to Grandma Rosie and Lily's Grandpa Sol on its opening night at Acacia Hall. I first heard about the show earlier this summer in Winnipeg, where individuals I just met raved about this one-woman puppet show. Then a friend in Saskatoon e-mailed, saying that I should really go see this show that's coming to Edmonton, this puppet show by her old friend Lana Schwarz from Melbourne.
Charming, funny and just twisted enough to be slightly magical, the one Fringe show I saw this year was worth it, but leaving the theatre at 12:30 pm on a Thursday night, I realized that I only go to support the people behind the show and that I'm not there because I'm interested in the form or art of theatre.
*First published in Vue Weekly, August 20 - 26, 2009