By MAGGIE M, Wedgee-in-Chief, Editor, theWedge.LIVE ❤️ TO SHARE click icons at story’s end
Emotion sets in when you cover an event of this scale–including regret that you could not experience it all. Three days with over countless segments–26 performances, 22 artisan vendors and exhibitors, 12 food vendors, 8 unique workshops, 4 wellness exhibitors, a puppet show, a duck parade and a pancake breakfast–throughout the downtown core of Perth were expertly managed by 120 cheerful volunteers.
The Stewart Park Festival in Perth ranks among the biggest in the nation, smaller than Ottawa 2017, but dwarfing most other town events in East Ontario. As summer plans go, this one is an annual, “must attend.”
“Somewhere between 15,000 and 20,000 people attended,” Kari Clarke, head of Perth BIA says. “Visitors came from as far as Calgary and U.S.” Perth’s annual marquee event outdid itself in 2018.
Festival and Events Ontario has given the Stewart Park Festival the designation of being one of the “Top 100 Festivals in Ontario” for the past several years.
“For the first time in ten years we chose to attend another festival over our usual–run like a corporation. The Stewart Park Festival is run like a family,” Clarke beamed, quoting a visitor’s words. This writer experienced the same camaraderie : Perthians are like old friends.
MUSIC MUSIC MUSIC
Three stages in the day and three stages in the evening for a total of six stages over three days–that’s an impressive undertaking. This does not include the smaller stages performing on Gore Street and the Wine Bar on Mill Street–music oozed from many places Downtown Perth.
Among several headliners Ariana Gillis struck a chord. She hails from Vineland, wine country Niagara and describes herself, a “folksinger” and songwriter. Gillis is quite a storyteller on stage, setting up her song, “Nathaniel,” with the challenges of writing love songs. This performer ingratiated herself to the festival audience with ease. A rich, soulful voice kept everyone’s attention.
Gillis is making an album with Buddy Miller in Nashville, an industry force with names like Robert Plant, Emmy Lou Harris and Dolly Parton in his co-productions, and many AMA and Grammy Awards.
Gillis is a Canadian artist to watch. You can catch her again in Westport this August.
Mama’s Broke, a folk duo performed at the Perth Brewery Patio, Crystal Palace. Their performance was unique juggling fiddle, banjo, guitar and mandolin and genres–blues, Celtic, metal. These two are a way out-of-the-box–without constraint. This is artistry in motion.
After the music finished in the park between 8 and 9 p.m., three “After Hours” stages opened-up at the Perth Tea Room, The Studio Theatre and the Perth Brewery Patio.
“Three elderly ladies from Kingston staying at the Best Western Parkside Inn loved The Commotions. They danced up a storm till 11:00pm,” Clarke shared as the highlight of her weekend. “This is what the Festival is all about.”
The King of the Swingers filled in the Northwest corner of Town Hall on Gore Street. “Strange dixie” is reportedly their genre. They were outstanding–and literally on the curb. The main intersection ambience was positively “Nawlins.”
HOT AND HYDRATED
It seemed the temperatures flirted with over 40 degrees–humidex. The climate was severe–searingly hot and humid–but there were plenty of spots to cool off and hydrate. It was a preferred alternative to the threatened thunderstorm at peak hours, mid-afternoon Saturday.
St. John’s Ambulance were in stand-by mode to resurrect any visitor succumbing to the heat–including yours truly. An ice pack and few more bottles of water kept me going.
The Festival had many legs, some really long. A group of lanky stilt-walkers, Tallbeat, roamed the festival without stepping on us pygmies. I witnessed one spread his stilts for a young boy to drive through on his bicycle. There was a collective guffaw from those who spotted this well-timed stunt.
I unwittingly passed through their staging area and learned they climb on their stilts from a raised surface–chairs on a table. The first steps are wobbly–I came close to a melee with a 12-foot pirate. Among them, a Brazilian mad scientist and a Kashmir merlin-of-sorts, meandered solo into the crowds.
Pivoting, a beautiful couple “dressed to the nines” added entertainment fodder to the event. The Town Crier, Brent McLaren, and his wife Shelley, were a sight for sore eyes.
McLaren is a card-carrying member of a guild, 67 town criers in Ontario, namely the Ontario Guild of Town Criers.
“Does your wife cry with you?, I asked. “No. I cry alone,” McLaren replied (crier humour.)
The beautiful and brand new Legacy Bridge is a permanent stone structure recently constructed without the use of mortar. It was built to commemorate Perth’s 200th Anniversary. It was the sole access to the festival’s wine bar and its musical performers across Mill Street, and quite a sight with kayakers flowing though.
Kids were covered at the festival for two full days. “MOO MOO” and “Meeow” were many of the howls from both stage and audience as Splash ‘n Boots performed–including not a few adults.
The Stewart Park Festival wrapped up at around 5:00 pm on Sunday. Our story is barely a glimpse of a well-organized event–pure art in motion.
A few more glimpses: