“I’m scared...I don’t like change”
This comes from an 18 year old SCENEfest’r as he surveyed the big stage at Montebello Park and the mass of people in the park this weekend. Not even drinking age yet, he is was casting doubt about this change in venue for the annual music festival, now in it’s 19th year. He is not alone. There are many who feel the big stage and the mainstream , mass-appeal lineup was at odds with the festival's traditional indie spirit. This wasn’t the post-hardcore / punk festival it once was. The thing is, SCENE was always about change.
S.C.E.N.E. (St. Catharines Event for New music Entertainment) started out decades ago with the co-operative spirit of the local clubs, booking agents, bands and their fans to celebrate and promote a very decent local music scene. It was small but vibrant. As it grew it expanded its scope to include both Canadian and international artists. Fans pay one price and could go to any club. One day, hundreds of bands on over a dozen stages. It has always been a day for music discovery. For me It was here that I first discovered the Arkells, Lights and (finally) saw Cancer Bats, The Constantines and Alexisonfire in their hometown.
This year, enter some new partners and a commitment to turn this from a little festival with it’s main stage in the city hall parking lot (with it’s cruel acoustics and ridiculous taped off drinking zone) to something bigger and better.....and didn’t this city’s elders owe us one after closing down the bars in Port Dalhousie for a hole in the ground and sucking all the fun out this town. This year SCENEFEST was 2 days long, the big stage now at Montebello Park with Saturday’s lineup skewed louder and rockier from Sunday’s. Matthew Good, Sheepdogs, Monster Truck, The Glorious Sons, Marianna’s Trench, The Arkells, Lights & Shad were the headliners on the big stage supported by many emerging local artists. This year there were people there that never would have come to SCENE in years past. It reminded me a lot of those Event-In-The-Tent shows in the past except that the crowds were young and the event, more inclusive . There were more people in the park this year for SCENE than there’s been for free events like RibFest and the Wine Festival. This is retribution and something to celebrate!
Back to that 18 year old kid and the old SCENE. I’m hoping that at some time he went back to the clubs where the old SCENE spirit was very much in play. I saw at least half a dozen bands I’ve never seen before and will spend this day hunting down their music online. I stepped into the Detour Music Hall to catch the wild finish to Rich Aucoin’s set; then across the street to Fiddler’s Pour House to catch the frat house pop of Fast Romantics. I’ve always loved the way the way in which SCENE “pours” out of the clubs and on to the streets. It’s where all the bands, their crews and SCENEster’s all hang out together and this year it seems that nothing had change. Yes, SCENE has a bigger mainstream lineup on a bigger stage but the indie spirit was still thriving in the city core.
There is still room for improvement: water refill stations would be good and a return to a more open merch zone where buyers can browse amongst the merch rather than stand on one side of a barrier. A thunderstorm and downpour forced the The Arkells to shut down their set and the promoters had to clear the area in front for safety reasons. Most people were concerned less about the thunder and rain and concerned more as to whether the event would continue after the danger had passed or if it would continue at all. It sucked the life right out of the park. Many clubs, previous supporters too, noticeably opted out of this year’s festival. They are active the other 51 weekends of the year and it would be great to see their support again. This year was a huge leap forward. Hopefully next year’s anniversary festival will include the return of some of the bands that made it famous!
Ring ---ring----”Hello. Could I please speak to Mr. Green?”