It can become more challenging to get out to see the latest bands at certain stages of life. Young children, a demanding job, a tight budget — it’s all too easy to have reasons to miss the incomparable thrill of hearing live music. And when nights out are fewer and farther apart, do I want to commit to hearing an unfamiliar band? This is why festivals have such an important role to play in giving fans their fix. They provide a curated lineup, sometimes with some familiar names, but they usually present a number of lesser-known acts. While the allure of international performers is attractive, it is often emerging homegrown talent that provides some of the best surprises. Experience has proven that its always worthwhile to plunge in and trust that the mix will be rewarding, and all of the following festivals will prove that live music is the way it is best heard.
Stratford Blues & Ribfest kicks off the summer in earnest June 24–26. While the food is never far away, Stratford being Stratford, there’s free live music at the Veterans Drive Band Shell under a canopy of trees in the park. www.stratfordbluesandribfest.ca
The Trackside Music Festival offers country music fans a strong lineup July 1 and 2. Headliners include Florida Georgia Line, Chris Young and Randy Houser, Cole Swindell, Brett Kissel, Jess Moskaluk and Chris Lane. A “Homegrown Spotlight” includes a second stage showcasing up-and-coming Ontario country music acts. The Western Fair Racetrack infield has undergone extensive renovations to accommodate events such as this. www.westernfairdistrict.com/tracksidefestival
London’s Sunfest has earned deserved accolades for bringing some of the best of the world’s music to London. Sunfest presents Canadian Emilie Claire Barlow at the Aeolian Hall on May 27, part of their ongoing year-round concert series, and the Juno Award-winning “jazz jewel” will present her creative arrangements of both classics and new music. These Sunfest concerts have been an important contribution to London’s live music scene. But the big event runs from July 7–10 in Victoria Park.
Now with five performance stages, it’s literally impossible to take in the complete TD Sunfest, but multiple appearances by most acts helps. Admission is free, but vote with your wallet and donate if you appreciate this sort of event. One of the headliners this year is Afrikalia — African Heart Beats, a recipient of recent additional funding from the Ontario government sent to London to promote festivals. The lineup, from every corner of the globe, marks the return of some now-familiar faces, but some surprises are sure to emerge. www.sunfest.on.ca
Home County Music & Art Festival has the distinction of being London’s longest-running festival, celebrating 43 years and counting. Running July 15–17, this year’s edition marks the return of alt-country rockers The Sadies, who will headline the Friday evening lineup. Retro-rock trio The Northern Pikes top the Saturday evening schedule. Cape Breton Celtic sensation Còig will make their Home County debut by closing the festival on Sunday night.
“We are excited to bring a lot of fresh, new faces to perform at Home County 2016,” says Artistic Director Darin Addison. “We are also welcoming back and number of festival favourites this year. As always, local music is well represented at Home County.”
Named one of the top 100 Festivals in Ontario for the past six years, Home County has evolved from its years as a purely folk festival and has grown into a six-stage affair with something for everyone. A juried craft show adds another dimension to the event, but the music rules. www.homecounty.ca
Chris McDonell is the publisher of eatdrink. Want to write about our region’s popular music scene? Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org with a brief description of your qualifications and a writing sample.