Edmonton’s streets and avenues prepare for the last music festival of the season
Thanksgiving weekend, in all its wondrous gluttony, is upon us. But, another much newer tradition is hitting the city this weekend to tip the scales. In its fifth year, Up + Downtown Music Festival (UP+DT) is bringing big names to finish Edmonton’s music festival season.
After Jason Flammia and Allan Harding took a trip to Calgary’s Sled Island music festival, the pair decided it was time to do something similar in Edmonton. The difference was that they wanted to keep the travelling distance in check, which is why they created the up-downtown concept.
“There’s tons of festivals that happen in Edmonton throughout the summer months, and after the end of August there were no music festivals taking place,” executive director Flammia says. “There was no multi-venue music festival happening at the time.”
The festival has never lost money in all five years and manages to continually stay in the black, something rather impressive for a not-for-profit festival. While they benefit from private sponsors, the festival organizers have now built a trifecta of financial sources to pull off the festival every year.
For one, with artistic director Brent Oliver’s experience as an agent, they’ve always known what their acts are worth.
“I said to Jason and Allan, ‘can I help out?’ and they said, ‘Sure—a lot of agents are telling us that this band is worth this much money, and I went, ‘No!’ So basically, my job the first two years was to tell agents I had worked with in the past to fuck off and not rake this new not-for-profit festival over the coals for money—and we’ve survived!”
Oliver says this is not entirely to his credit, but that there have been many instances of booking prices that were dealt with carefully amongst board members, which led to the festival’s continued success.
Their second weapon is executive director Flammia, who works with the Alberta Foundation for the Arts, where he sees what a good grant proposal looks like, which Oliver says has also contributed to the festival’s success.
While those two resources worked well to keep the festival in the black, business sponsorships have also held the festival afloat. When Sonic Boom closed, Sonic 102.9 jumped on contributing to be able to book big names.
“Their partnership is the reason we’re able to book a band like Wintersleep this year,” Flammia points out.
“We all have other jobs, we do this simply for the downtown community, and because we wanted to go to a festival that we wanted to go to,” says Oliver. “Which is why it’s such an eclectic mix.”
Each year they work to hold at least one show of each genre or criteria, anchored by a headliner. For example, they have Sister Nancy headlining a Friday reggae-rooted show at Freemason’s Hall and DIIV headlining an indie-rock show at The Starlite Room that night.
The board is made of different local promoters who help to book their own genre specialties, which works to get more people involved and create less competition overall.
UP+DT also takes applications from local acts, which closes in early June. This year they received almost 200 applications, choosing about 45 to play the festival.
“We do want to keep it relatively local,” Oliver says. “Last year we had 60 percent that were western Canadian acts, and we’re about the same this year too.”
Something the festival has always managed to accomplish is being as accessible as possible. One of the ways this is done is by using a portion of venues that are open to all ages, something Oliver enjoys so he can bring his son.
This year’s festival will also have two free outdoor concerts in the park, made possible by corporate sponsors. Both will be held Saturday afternoon, one at Beaver Hill Park and the other at Michael Phair Park.
Fri., Oct. 6 – 8
Up + Downtown Music Festival
Passes available at updt.ca