For all the hype, 2021 never turned out to be the Hot Vax Summer we were promised. What was missing? All the festivals and fun of the season. But as more and more events announce their return for 2022, Canadians might be feeling cautiously optimistic. Will we get the chance for a do-over?
CBC Arts reached out to folks in cities around the country, artists we haven’t checked in on since the days when Purel was liquid gold: Zoe Si, Simone Elizabeth Saunders, Emmie Tsumura, Diana Reyes and Mollie Cronin. Back then, this lot was settling into the forced introversion that is the quarlife. But now, they’re ready for real live Zoom-free entertainment.
What are the things they’ve been waiting all pandemic to do again? We’ve compiled their picks. Even if it’s just a fraction of what’s going on this spring and summer, fill your to-do list with these eclectic events happening around the country.
Drop by this free two-day event, and you’ll have the chance to meet hundreds of comics creators. It’s a great place to just wander, says local artist Zoe Si, whose cartoons regularly appear in the New Yorker. And though she’s had a table at Vancaf for years, this’ll be the first time in forever that she won’t be working the show. Still, you can’t keep her away from this gathering of the city’s indie-comics scene now that it’s back.
“The comic community in Vancouver is not the hugest. It’s definitely not the same as in Toronto or New York,” says Si. (Incidentally, the Toronto Comic Arts Festival — TCAF — also returns this spring; circle June 17-19 in your calendar.) “But I’ve always met the loveliest people there, and everyone is super talented. It’s cool to see what other indie artists are coming up with.” (This year’s exhibitor schedule is still TBA.)
When: May 22-22
Where: The Roundhouse, Vancouver
The Vancouver edition of the comedy festival was originally scheduled for February. Omicron, however, had other plans, and the schedule’s been bumped until May. But Si’s hung on to her tickets, and she especially can’t wait to see John Mulaney. (The stand-up is also set to appear at Toronto’s JFL and the O.G. festival in Montreal later this year.)
Toronto’s Emmie Tsumura is another comedy fan, and she’s been back at Yuk Yuk’s this spring to catch her favourite monthly event, a roast battle hosted by Danish Anwar (CBC Radio’s Because News). “I used to go to comedy maybe once a week pre-pandemic. It was one of the things I fell in love with about Toronto when I first moved here,” says Tsumura. “Comedy on Zoom just does not hit the same,” she laughs.
When: Monthly (next show: April 29)
Where: Yuk Yuk’s Toronto
A global pandemic will make a person realize what matters most, and for illustrator Mollie Cronin, seeing live music is a top priority. The Halifax-based artist is actually working on a new graphic novel about the east coast scene (Swamp Girl), its many music festivals included — and Newfoundland’s Lawnya Vawnya is among her personal faves.
“It’s sort of my big trip every year,” says Cronin, who’s missed crawling across St. John’s to catch shows in cafes and record stores and “the best bar in the world,” a Quidi Vidi institution known as Linda’s. “One year they had a kind of oompa brass band walking with us to make a literal parade through the streets,” she recalls, and while this year’s line-up is TBA, past acts have included pretty much anyone who’s ever made the Polaris Music Prize short list, including past winners Cadence Weapon, Haviah Mighty and Backxwash. “I especially love a small city or small town music festival because I think it really enlivens those places,” says Cronin. “It gives everyone a chance to see the hidden gems of those places, the hidden gems of St John’s.”
When: June 8-11
Where: Multiple venues, St. John’s
If you love discovering new music, there’s nothing like a festival, and according to Cronin, this four-day event (formerly known as Obey Convention) has always packed a few surprises. “I think people often have expectations of what Halifax music is going to sound like,” says Cronin. (Read: “Celtic bar fare.”) But experimental sounds are Every Seeker’s specialty, she says. “[It’s] a really great opportunity to expose yourself to a more diverse kind of music scene in the city.” Set up in small venues, the event has a feel that’s “a little scrappier, a little cozier, a little more intimate,” she says.
When: June 9-12
Where: Multiple venues, Halifax
Is it even summer in Toronto if you haven’t been to NXNE? For Emmie Tsumura, the city-wide music festival’s given her a few brag-worthy tales to tell. There was the time she caught a booze cruise with Future Islands, and she was one of the thousands of fans who smashed into Yonge-Dundas Square for a (free) face-melting show from St. Vincent. (Heck, that was all in the same weekend.) This year’s schedule is still a mystery, but there’ll be 20+ venues to hit when the action returns this June.
When: June 14-19
Where: Multiple venues, Toronto
Over in Calgary, Simone Elizabeth Saunders is pumped for that city’s own indie extravaganza: five days of art, film, comedy — plus loads of music — that will occupy venues around town. (Past locations range from Studio Bell to a legion basement.) “I just love — I love — the energy that festival brings to the city,” says Saunders. (When the 2020 edition was forced to scale back, a storefront exhibition of Saunders’s tufted portraits was part of the Sled Island art program.)
The first wave of 2022 performers has already been announced, with Princess Nokia and (festival guest curator) Sudan Archives among the top acts on the bill.
When: June 22-26
Where: Multiple venues, Calgary
As a born-and-raised Calgarian, Saunders has been doing folk fest since she was a kid, and though she put it off last year (the festival returned in 2021 with a few COVID-era tweaks), she’s finally feeling ready to break her tarp out of storage. “It’s my favourite festival in Calgary of the year. It’s just such a vibrant place to spend a weekend, to meet friends, to discover new music. It’s like fuelling the soul here, and it’s right in the middle of summer so it’s a very welcomed event.”
On April 27, this year’s line-up will be revealed. Meanwhile, in Alberta’s capital city, the Edmonton Folk Music Festival has already announced a few headliners. The National and Buffy Sainte-Marie are among the big names playing Gallagher Park Aug. 4-7.
When: July 21-24
Where: Prince’s Island Park, Calgary
After a two-year hiatus, this outdoor festival near Guelph, Ont., is primed to return. The full details are still TBA, but passes are already on sale, and Emmie Tsumura is definitely getting one. A trip to Guelph Lake has been a summer tradition of hers for a decade. “They’ve had some amazing artists the last couple of years,” she says. (Acts at the 2019 edition included Orville Peck and Snotty Nose Rez Kids.) “It’s great because you’re camping and just listening to music outside all weekend.”
When: July 22-24
Where: Guelph Lake Conservation Area, Ontario
“Sappyfest feels like adult summer camp in all the best ways,” says Mollie Cronin. “The streets are just crawling with artists and musicians and dogs and kids for a weekend,” she says, and it’s that sort of giddy and wholesome scene that has brought her back every July … save for the last two years, of course.
For the 2021 edition, Sappyfest went online, producing a 28-hour variety show that was broadcast live from Struts Gallery. Cronin, though, misses the inimitable vibe of the real-live thing. “Interesting musicians and artists have made their home in Sackville,” says Cronin, Julie Doiron being the most top-of-mind example. “It’s an atmosphere that’s hard to capture.”
When: July 29-31
Where: Multiple venues, Sackville, N.B.
While Pride celebrations are expected to return to cities across Canada this year, to Zoe Si, there’s something extra special about Vancouver’s festivities. It all comes down to timing. “Vancouver in the summer is such a special place. I feel like every winter, everyone who lives here is shocked at how horrible it is during the winter, just how dark and rainy it is. And then when the summer rolls around, like specifically those few weeks at the end of July, beginning of August, everyone remembers why we live here because it’s so beautiful. And the vibe on the streets, it’s like a street party for a whole week and everyone just feels really liberated and happy and carefree.”
Si will be at the Pride Parade July 31 — and she’s been going as long as she can remember. This year’s theme is Together Again, and if it’s anything like the Before Times, it’ll draw some 400,000 visitors to the city’s downtown.
When: (Pride Parade) July 31
Where: Starts on Robson Street. Route ends beside the Sunset Beach festival site, Vancouver
Toronto’s Caribana Festival might get all the attention (and yes, it’s returning for 2022), but when summer hits, people in cities all over Canada come out to celebrate Caribbean culture. In Calgary, Carifest is a must-do for Simone Elizabeth Saunders, an artist with family roots in Jamaica. “It’s a place where the Black community really feels at home and really supports Black entrepreneurs and artists and restaurateurs. And so I’m very excited that that will be happening again.” Its annual parade takes place on Aug. 13.
When: Aug. 12-13
Where: Shaw Millennium Park, Calgary
For some 1.4 million people, the summer’s not over until they’ve filled their bellies with funnel cake — and whatever else you can scarf on the midway. So here’s some good news: the CNE will return this summer after a two-year hiatus. Diana Reyes will be there with her nephews in tow. “It brings me back to my childhood growing up in Toronto,” says the artist, a dancer and DJ who now lives half the year in Montreal. “I’m excited to bring them and show them what we used to love doing when we were kids.”
“Obviously, there’s the food hall” — and the games and the rides and a million gaudy sights. “Even as a like-40-year-old, I can’t wait to go.”
When: Aug. 19-Sept. 5
Where: Exhibition Place, Toronto
Art in the Open
On the East Coast, there’s another way to mark the end of summer. Art in the Open is Charlottetown’s answer to Nuit Blanche, says Mollie Cronin, who makes a pilgrimage to P.E.I. every August. An all-night art crawl caps this summertime festival, and Cronin can never predict what she’ll discover on the street. One year, for example, she was chilling at a cafe when the annual March of the Crows breezed by. (Get a load of it yourself.) “I think festivals are one of the things I’m most excited about coming back. It’s such a great opportunity to meet new people, and for artists, especially, to gather together,” says Cronin. “It’s very much the kind of artistic food for the soul that I’m really craving these days.”
When: Aug. 27, 4 p.m. to midnight
Where: Multiple sites, Charlottetown