By Kristin Archer
Photos by James Miike
The Royal Mountain Records crew has one heck of a roster, so it’s a logical step for them to host a giant summer festival featuring a stacked bill of their stellar Canadian bands. With so many summer festivals in Southern Ontario, it can be tough to choose one to invest in and travel to. Having one right in my own backyard of this scale was such a treat.
It was a picturesque setting on September 2nd in the Arboretum at Royal Botanical Gardens. The fenced off area for the festival was just right – not too overwhelming, with the stage set against a gorgeous backdrop of trees. Food vendors, Collective Arts tents, and merch booth lined the borders in a semi-circle, with (limited) shade with some trees scattered about. I also appreciated the efficient transportation to the festival – parking either at the Arboretum, or parking at the RBG Rock Garden and taking a quick shuttle to the concert site.
The day was a scorcher, but we needn’t complain, since it was the last long weekend of the summer, and no rain! Sprinkles and clouds in the morning quickly dissipated before the 2pm showtime. Montreal’s Everett Bird had the honour of kicking the day off and now I’m bummed I missed them – because their recent record People Person is really rad and up my alley with its psychedelic rock. Their set was followed by Little Junior who played to an already eager crowd. Young Calpurnia fans went crazy when the band invited up guitarist Ayla Tesler-Mabe for a song, who would go on to take the stage later that night.
TUNS were up next who half joked with the young audience to follow them on Instagram. Veterans of the Canadian music scene at this point, they held it down with their tried and true musicianship. A highlight for me was hearing “When You’re Ready” off their new 7-inch, released last month.
One of my favourite music discoveries of the year is Oshawa’s Dizzy. Their debut album Baby Teeth was just released last month and has already been on steady play since I first gave it a spin. When introducing them, one the day’s MC’s, Annie Murphy said that if we like to feel as if our “hearts burst open into a million pieces because of the beauty of someone’s voice,” than we would be very into what was about to hit the stage. She wasn’t wrong. Singer Katie Munshaw sounded just like the record with the added advantage of seeing her emote and bring the lyrics to life. It was a joy to hear these tracks live, and I ended the night by picking up a copy of Baby Teeth on vinyl (now playing on my turntable!).
As with any festival, you’ve got to pace yourself! During the moody set of Montreal’s Ought, it was time for a food break. Kitchener-based mobile food vendor Bread Heads was to the rescue, hitting the spot with their wood fired pizzas. My hat’s off to staff working all day in that heat. Ought soundtracked our snack with their dark, Joy Division-esque 80s vibes. The album art of Room Inside The World is a pretty accurate colour palette for what their music sounds like.
When our beloved Baltimore House closed, U.S. Girls was the very last live music act to perform in the space, days before the venue closed for good. To say I was sad to miss it due to being sick is an understatement – I can only imagine how much fun the band would be in a small club space. Nevertheless, I was redeemed when getting to see them now and they did not disappoint. The instrumentation was so sultry, sophisticated, and groovy, with Meg Remy’s unmistakable vocals both sweet and commanding at the helm. It really broke up the day with something else entirely. Highlights were hearing “Mad As Hell” as the second song in their set and a dreamy, danceable breakdown jam at the end of their set.
It was also nice that the festival was all ages. I saw all stages of life, from pregnant women, to toddlers, to teens, to their concerned parents checking up on them in the front row. The main draw for the tween folk was no doubt Vancouver’s Calpurnia – band on the rise fronted by 15-year-old Finn Wolfhard, notably from the massively popular Netflix show Stranger Things. Fans knew every word off Calpurnia’s debut EP Scout, released this past June.
The band also filled their set with some fun covers including The Beatles’ “Don’t Let Me Down,” a tune by Twin Peaks (frontman Cadien Lake James served as executive producer on the EP), and Pixies’ “Where Is My Mind,” which Finn described as a song they’ve been playing since the start of their careers. Ayla Tesler-Mabe took the lead on one song and sounded absolutely beautiful – her vocals and guitar skills really impressed.
Last by not least, quirky frontman Mac DeMarco took the stage with his band in tow. He said at the start of the set that he estimates it has been 10 years since he played Hamilton last. Let’s not make it another 10, Mac! The band closed out the festival in their carefree fashion; Mac always seems completely unfazed by anything and as if he gets a kick out of it all.
The crowd’s energy didn’t wane one bit – we couldn’t have asked for a better day as the sounds of Mac DeMarco drifted up through the trees toward the clear, starry night sky.
Cheers, Royal Mountain, and I hope this is the start of a brand new tradition!
Thank you Royal Mountain Records and Lower Level for providing me with a ticket giveaway and our media passes to attend the event.