From Toronto, just down the QEW is a breeding ground for art and music amidst streets lined with trendy restaurants and places to rent for cheap. In this magical land, an entire weekend is dedicated to the appreciation and cultivation of the arts every September, where creators and consumers fill the streets to shop, dance, and celebrate together. Yes, this place exists, AND you can get there on the GO. It’s a city called Hamilton, and last weekend the heart of it was shut down by the now-annual Supercrawl. This multi-day festival spawned from the popularity of shops and galleries in the James St North neighbourhood staying open on the second Friday of every month for late-night “art crawls”. These monthly events eventually compounded and expanded into Supercrawl, now in its 7th year and bigger than ever. Here are 7 of the best things about this year’s festival:
1. It’s Free!
Despite an attendance of more than 150,000 last year and performances in 2015 by big names like Sharon Jones, Daniel Lanois, and Fred Penner, the festival is 100% free of charge. An abundance of public transit and parking downtown makes getting to Hamilton easy and cheap.
2. Musicians LOVE Hamilton
Bands from Hamilton are proud to call it home, and visiting musicians have a soft spot for it. Seeing an artist in a city they feel affection towards makes a big difference, influencing both their performance and the way they connect to the crowd. Toronto’s own Hayden (whose debut album was released on Hamiltonian record label Sonic Unyon) confessed his fondness during his set on Sunday. On Saturday evening, Sharon Jones used her time on stage to talk about her recently-reopened battle with pancreatic cancer.
3. Playing with Fire
As dusk settles, the inverse occurs when one of Supercrawl’s most-revered repeat acts lights up the sky with flames. Hamilton-based performance company Circus Orange is a unique combination of spectacle and pyrotechnics, combining stunts and special effects with dance and aerial acrobatics. It may be the closest thing to Burning Man that Southern Ontario will ever see.
4. Food Trucks
Feeding everyone from vegetable lovers to those drawn to a neon sign that says “MEAT”, 40 trucks serving curry, doughnuts, and deep-fried everything kept everyone satiated and satisfied in a miniature food-festival. Also worth mentioning are the surrounding bricks-and-mortar restaurants that have been popping up all over the Steel City, a few of which aimed to open especially for the big weekend – like new crowd-funded taco joint The Mule.
There’s a brand new dance and we DO know its name. Three full days of fashion programming from independent designers and vintage curators filled their own Fashion Zone, sponsored by Mohawk College. From cosplay to high-profile, the looks displayed and local fashion houses included are as varied as the population of downtown Hamilton and just as diverse – and all are available to purchase in the surrounding area.
6. Art. Period
Supercrawl is, by definition, a “super” art crawl. Inspired by the creative underbelly of Hamilton’s growing and changing art scene, 13 large-scale art installations ask viewers to draw their own meaning from big visuals. While curated exhibitions make their way onto the schedule, smaller, unsponsored displays also crop up in streets and alleyways.
Standing in a Supercrawl crowd for an afternoon is a perfect activity for people-watching enthusiasts. You’ll make friends – Hamiltonians are down-to-earth, friendly, and more than excited to talk about their city and the creative blood flowing through its veins. They’ll even let you call it the Hammer. Potential setbacks are ignored, and hurdles like rainy weather are overcome with rain jackets, umbrellas, and dedication. Homegrown talents like Terra Lightfoot and Monster Truck joined the crowd before and after their performances, standing alongside fans to celebrate Canadian culture, art, and music in this uniquely Hamilton way.