Hamilton's Supercrawl Art Festival Scores Big (pt. 1)

Hamilton’s sixth annual street festival Supercrawl came as advertised: a celebration of art, food, fashion, and music in the heart of Hamilton. Last year the festival drew a reported 100,000 people over three days, and expectations were high for the latest edition. The format for the festival is simple: close down James Street to car traffic from King Street to Barton Avenue (pretty much the main stretch of downtown), build four stages along it’s 1km span, fill the streets with local artist exhibits, food trucks, and vendors, and offer visitors three days of roaming, exploring, laughing, eating, and dancing to music. Did I mention that it’s all free? 

The primary draw is obviously the musical line-up, and there was no shortage of amazing internationally known musicians to fill all the timeslots. The festival kicked off on Thursday night with Polaris Prize winners A Tribe Called Red playing their electronic Native-inspired set, followed by Halifax indie-rocker Rich Aucoin. Both events were on the Supercrawl schedule, but were in fact paid entry at venues around the main Supercrawl strip. Friday night launched the outdoor program with local darlings The Arkells headlining the main stage, and drawing arguably the largest crowd of the entire festival. Some notable Saturday daytime acts included Operators, headed by the former frontman of Wolf Parade, and How To Dress Well, both who just released some great new albums.

Saturday evening is where I start my personal review of the event, and it really is a story of two parts for me. Upon arriving, the first order of business was to walk the entire festival ground to find my bearings, and generally plan the walking route for the rest of the event.

How To Dress Well play to a sparse audience on the main stage

The very back of the event ground was where I first parked myself, at the Exclaim! Stage which was being taken over by the UK label Hyperdub, bringing some of their trademark sounds and beats to a small, yet very appreciative, North American audience. I arrived as Ikonika was making her way on the stage to take over the decks from Scratcha DVA, they seamlessly exchanged the controls, and she proceeded to drop some heavy beats that quickly turned the parking lot into a pseudo-rave. I had never heard of her before, but I knew that I was hearing quality, and made a note to explore her catalogue a bit further at some point. I probably would have enjoyed the set a bit more if not for a group of 'woo girls' that seemed determined to "woo!" there way through the as if they were at a Taylor Swift concert. They rightfully annoyed the generally hipster/raver crowd that was trying to enjoy the mood. 

One of the art exhibits was crowdsourced

The main draw for me on this stage was a personal favourite of mine Four Tet, who unfortunately had to cancel at the last minute due to a family emergency, so that was a big letdown, and required me to rejig my planned itinerary for the evening. Towards the end of Ikonika’s set I decided to take a walk around and make my way to catch Kevin Drew (Broken Social Scene) on the main stage. In order to get there I needed to make my way through the throngs of people that for some reason got denser as I progressed back up James Street towards the main stage.

At one point I realized that I was not going to make it to the main stage, as the people grew into a crowd, which grew into an immovable wall that was standing still… it didn’t take long for me to see why. Out of one of the intersections a giant steampunk tricycle emerged, spewing flames, flanked by several acrobats, and followed by various freaks. The Circus Orange had arrived. 

Steampunk trikey

I will pause the review at this point so that we can all catch our breath. More to come soon, including show reviews of Kode9, Spoon, a wild Sunday, and more about these clowns.