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River Fest a total community experience

Annual musical event coming August 19, 20, 21 in Elora

The myriad puzzle pieces of River Fest Elora are starting to come together in a small office space on the main drag of the town north of Guelph.

But organizers of the 8th annual musical/artistic event say there are a great many pieces that still need to be snapped into place leading up the Aug 19-21 event in Bissell Park along the Grand River. It is an entire community effort.

Unlike Guelph’s Hillside Festival, which creates a vibrant music event in an isolated area outside the city, River Fest Elora creates a vibrant musical event in the heart of the community, and is fully interactive with the community.

“We’ve always worked really hard to integrate with the town,” said Jon Ralston, the president and artistic director of River Fest.

 On Wednesday he was sitting at a long, rustic and cluttered wooden table with collaborators Shawn Watters, the site director, and Spencer Shewen, festival manager, grinding out the details.

Shewen said attendees are constantly encouraged to venture beyond the festival grounds and explore the town, which has numerous attractions, many quaint shops, cafés, pubs and restaurants, and the spectacular Elora Gorge, part of the Grand River Conservation Authority park system. Many River Fest goers camp at the park.

Watters said Bissell Park is nestled among the neighbourhoods of Elora, and within walking distance of many residents of the community. The festival has a neighbourhood feel.

Festival organizers work closely with the Town of Elora, with Wellington County, the GRCA and other organizations to ensure that the event is fully integrated into all aspects of community.

“And we have programs where you can get discounts in the shops by having one of the festival wristbands on,” Ralston added. “The festival is directly in the middle of town, which really helps it.”

The party doesn’t stop at the end of each festival day. There is an after festival component, with four or five venues in town offering live music until well into the night.

“The music is 98 per cent Canadian,” said Shewen. “We only have one band from America.”

The almost all-Canadian content wasn’t a goal from the outset, but began to spontaneously go in that direction. Organizers ran with it. They say the line-up is eclectic but integrated in such a way that it all fits together as a piece.

“It speaks well of the healthy state of Canadian music right now,” Shewen said. “We have a lot of great bands.”

Matthew Good, Chromeo, Walk off the Earth, Hey Rosetta, John River, and Good for Grapes are among the Canadian acts. There’s an artisan alley, plenty of food and drink options, free parking and shuttle bus service.

“We don’t really stick to a specific genre,” Ralston said. “We try to stay eclectic, but it all has to work together. You can’t have people that like one thing and hate something else. They may be different stylistically, but they have to mesh somehow.”

Shewen said presenting a lineup of “fun and joyous” music was the goal, and that goal has been achieved.

“The community is very supportive of the festival, and quite frankly we wouldn’t be able to run the event if the community wasn’t behind it,” Ralston said.

Watters said the volunteer base in the community is strong, and indispensable.

“If we run into any major hurdles there is always someone out there to help us get past it,” Shewen added.

The organizers said they are now “in the heat of logistical issues,” with things quickly getting rubbed off the to-do board, but other things being added.

They are expecting about 5,000 visitors on each of the three days of the event.

Visit the River Fest Elora website to learn about the line-up of artists, predominantly made up of solid, well-known Canadian bands.