Edgefest: A Definitive History
By Adam Morrison with contributions from Sean McNamara
About fifteen years after the lights of the 1960s music festivals had started fading, and years before the “on and off” North American showcases came about, the idea for a very special festival was conceived.
I: Just Getting Started
It was the spring of 1987 and CFNY FM had been on the air for almost 10 years. Some felt that a celebration was in order, so a lunchroom discussion began about maybe throwing an outdoor party with a few bands. It was initially intended to be a one-off event, but things didn’t go quite according to that plan.
In North America in 1987, there was nothing like Edgefest going on. Nowadays, with the likes of Ozzfest, Warped, and Family Values, it’s strange to think that holding an all-day outdoor summer show would be thought of as a money burner. To organize a festival is not an easy task and back in ’87—when stadium concerts were the big thing—-it was a wild idea. And maybe just a little stupid.
Nevertheless, we made it happen.
First, the acts — Canadian bands like Blue Rodeo, the Pursuit of Happiness, The Northern Pikes, Teenage Head, Images In Vogue, and Australian band The Saints were onboard from the get-go. Secondly, there was the issue of the venue. There was nowhere in Toronto that was both appropriate and available, and farmers’ fields and racetracks would present too many practical problems with everything from sewage to security. Eventually, Molson Park in Barrie was agreed upon, even though it was far away, and no one at the station had heard of it. To avoid a complete no-show, tickets were sold through Pizza Pizza locations for the budget-friendly price of $1.02. The ticket price was later reconsidered when Molson Park was host to 25,000 concertgoers on a sunny July 1st. Fireworks ended the evening that was the station’s ten-year anniversary, and the first “CFNY Canada Day Party.”
II: Canada Days in the Park
July 1st fell on a Friday in 1988, and the festival sold out (32,000 tickets for $5 each) for the first time. 54-40, who would play our event many times in the future, were there. So were The Parachute Club, and The Razorbacks. Underworld (yes, them) was also in the lineup. Underworld was the first of several bands to prove that it wasn’t only the main stage acts who would gain massive popularity after an Edgefest performance.
The third annual show was another sold out affair. The Jeff Healey Band (RIP, Jeff), National Velvet, and The Spoons were among the bands that drew the crowd (in the middle of a long weekend, no less). Also on the main stage were Sarah McLachlan, and the first CFNY Canada Day Party appearance by a Kingston band that we liked called the Tragically Hip.
A change in station ownership made the summer of 1990 an awkward time for CFNY. New policies and formats were being proposed, and no one, including the station’s announcers, was thrilled about it. Still, it was a full house on Canada Day once again. The lineup featured the return to the festival of The Tragically Hip, The Northern Pikes, 54-40, The Pursuit of Happiness, National Velvet, and The Satellites, plus newcomers The Box, Crash Vegas, The Skydiggers, The Grapes of Wrath, and Lava Hay. There were a few crowd members protesting the station’s changes, but it was clear that nothing could stop the party’s momentum.
By the summer of 1991, CFNY was under new management. Having survived the transition period, everyone was ready to make the fifth annual celebration one to remember. The show was sold out again, needless to say, and saw the likes of Blue Rodeo, Teenage Head, and The Skydiggers return. Spirit of the West, The Dream Warriors, Crash Test Dummies, and Bootsauce rounded out the lineup, and Violent Femmes were the first foreign band to appear in two years.
Just when we were getting the hang of planning for Canada Day, Molson decided that they were going to need their park in Barrie for part of their coast-to-coast “Great Canadian Party.” One unique scenario came out of the situation: half of the bands were booked by Molson; the other half were booked by CFNY. Our bands included The Tragically Hip, 54-40, Sons of Freedom, and The Leslie Spit Treeo. Molson came up with Sass Jordan, Amanda Marshall, Slik Toxik, and the parody metal band Spinal Tap. Go figure. We didn’t share the festival with Molson again.
III: Edgefest is Born
The following year saw the event in a new place with a new name: Edgefest was held in The Ontario Place Forum, on the round, rotating stage, amidst a lot of trees. The setting was more intimate, and 1993 was the first time that Edgefest was extended to two days. Rheostatics, The Odds, The Watchmen, hHead, Lowest of the Low, Corky and the Juice Pigs, Crash Vegas, Sarah Craig, and Shadowy Men On a Shadowy Planet made up the Day One lineup. On Day Two, we welcomed an English group, Radiohead, on their first visit to Canada. It seems that we’re very hospitable, because they’ve been back a number of times since.
In 1994 Edgefest was back at The Ontario Place Forum with international acts The Lemonheads, The Proclaimers, and Toad the Wet Sprocket, as well as homegrown bands Head, The Watchmen, King Cobb Steelie, 13 Engines, The Wild Strawberries, The Killjoys, One, The Breit Brothers, and The Lost Dakotas.
The Ontario Place Forum was a great venue for Edgefest; however, we decided that it wasn’t our best option anymore, as it had been bulldozed in the autumn of 1994. Luckily, the Molson Amphitheatre was built in its place and the summer of 1995 saw three full-blown Edgefests there
The first was on May 21, and featured Blur and Elastica during the height of Britpop popularity, as well as a then unknown Toronto band, Our Lady Peace. Ned’s Atomic Dustbin also played their last show in Canada, in front of the crowd of over 9,000. On the July 1st show, 20,000 turned out to see the all-Canadian lineup: 54-40, hHead, The Watchmen, The Odds, and Crash Vegas returned, and were joined by Junkhouse, Treble Charger, and The Headstones. The third and final Edgefest of 1995 took place on August 5, and featured almost 30 bands, including Sugar Ray, back when they were playing that funky alternative stuff.
In 1996, we took our show back to Molson Park in Barrie for the first time since 1992. The tenth annual Edgefest was not on Canada Day, but rather on June 30. The crowd was 35,000 strong to see I Mother Earth, The Tea Party, Big Sugar, Ashley MacIsaac, Rusty, Limblifter, Glueleg, 54-40, 13 Engines, The Killjoys, and Our Lady Peace. V: The Travelling Show
1997 was a landmark year, as it saw Edgefest on the road for the first time. The trek began on June 28th in Barrie, and hit Montreal, Ottawa, Vancouver, Calgary, and Edmonton, before finishing up in Saskatoon. Our Lady Peace, Econoline Crush, Holly McNarland, The Verve Pipe, BTK, Collective Soul, Finger Eleven, Age Of Electric, and I Mother Earth (fronted by Edwin for the last time) did the run. The second stage featured Silverchair. Admit it – we know how to pick ‘em.
There were eight sold out Edgefest shows across Canada in 1998. Mainstays of the tour included The Tea Party, Econoline Crush, Holly McNarland, Sloan, Moist, and Bif Naked. We let American groups Green Day and Foo Fighters play with us too, because we’re equal opportunists. The second stage featured the Matthew Good Band, Rusty, The New Meanies, The Killjoys, and Tripping Daisy. Also on the second stage were Creed. Remember them? They had a few hits. VI: Cementing Our Status
Canada Day, 1999, saw a surprising amount of people (considering the rain) turn out to see Edwin (now solo), Widemouth Mason, Big Wreck, Treble Charger, Eve 6, Silverchair, Hole, The Rascalz, and Moist. The second day of Edgefest 99 was warm and sunny, attracting another 20,000 people.
The Y2K edition of Edgefest found Creed (on the mainstage now, of course), The Tea Party, The Headstones, Matthew Good Band, Goldfinger, Serial Joe, and Filter, playing to a crowd of over 35,000. Joining the ranks of second stage Edgefest acts on the verge of exploding were Nickelback and 3 Doors Down
3 Doors Down moved up to the mainstage of Edgefest in 2001, joined by Finger Eleven, The Tea Party, Big Wreck, Bif Naked, and GOB. By Divine Right, The Deers, Mudmen, Sevendust, and hip hop act Project Wyze showed up, too. Billy Talent made their first Edgefest appearance, and Tool, who flew down in the middle of a European tour, closed the show with a short set for all those who waited through the miserably cold weather. VII: Amidst Incidents
Molson Park was unbearably hot in 2002, and those who could avoid heat exhaustion, dehydration, and sunstroke, had the chance to see 3 Days Grace and Theory of a Deadman on the side stage. Silverchair couldn’t make it due to Daniel Johns’ arthritis, and Cake had to cut their set short due to being pelted with bottles, but luckily Finger Eleven, Goldfinger, Default, Jerry Cantrell of Alice in Chains, A Simple Plan, and headliner Nickelback graced the mainstage. Also present were 30 Seconds To Mars, Custom, indie fave The Deers, Joel Plaskett, Montreal’s GrimSkunk, and many others. Edgefests didn’t always go as planned, but they always went right… except for the bottle-pelting incident.
The Tragically Hip played Edgefest at Molson Park in 2003 (their first time since 1992), along with Our Lady Peace, Sloan, Thornley, Fefe Dobson, and The Stereophonics. Due to the SARS epidemic, the Edge had to be patient and wait for everyone to feel comfortable in joining the celebration again, so September 6 was the festival date that year. VIII: Recent Years
Edgefest was back at Molson Amphitheatre in 2004. Billy Talent (on the mainstage), Finger Eleven, Good Charlotte, Alexisonfire, Something Corporate, Jersey, The Salads, and Australian rock giants Jet, filled the venue on Friday July 1st.
We needed three stages for the party in 2005. The mainstage lineup was headliners Billy Talent, Alexisonfire, Story of the Year, Coheed and Cambria, Rise Against, Boy, Kill Radio, and Jakalope. Underground Operations had their own stage, where the T-O punk label showcased their bands Closet Monster, Hostage Life, Dead Letter Department, Brat Attack, and Bombs Over Providence. The Edge’s “Next Big Thing” stage featured The Waking Eyes, Social Code, Out Of Your Mouth, The Reason, and The Junction.
At the Amphitheatre once again, the twentieth Edgefest featured Hot Hot Heat, Keane, Story of the Year, Yellowcard, Tokyo Police Club, Attack in Black, Neverending White Lights, Mobile, All-American Rejects, Ill Scarlet, Johnny Truant, Hawthorne Heights, and Evans Blue, all on the mainstage. Headliner Our Lady Peace invited fans onstage, where much (usually prohibited) audio recording ensued. The “Next Big Thing” stage on that July 1st showcased Magneta Lane, Die Mannequin, Jets Overhead, now defunct Toronto favourite Illuminati, Pedestrian, and Dearly Beloved. Once again, there was a stage devoted to a record label. This time out it was Bedlam Society/Dine Alone. IX: The Missing Festival and The Plan
In 2007, the Edge faced a problem. It was difficult to make festival plans, for reasons including the availability of artists. American festivals were booking bands more aggressively than usual, and July 4th celebrations in The States made it hard for bands to make it here on July 1st. Also, House Of Blues, Edgefest’s usual promoter, was in the process of being taken over by Live Nation, So they weren’t prepared to make any long-term plans by then. 2007 was the first year since its inception that Edgefest did not take place, but plans were already being made to make Edgefest ‘08 one of the best years for Edgefest ever. X: The Return
On July 12th, 2008, the longest-running rock festival in the country came back in full force. The new venue of Downsview Park made it easy to get to, and anyone who saw the beer tent and washroom lineups will attest to the fact that the fans turned out en masse for Edgefest’s comeback. Stone Temple Pilots headlined the event on one of their first Canadian dates since reuniting, along with Linkin Park—whose vocalists entertained the crowd until the rest of the group overcame flight delays. Sam Roberts Band, The Bravery, Attack In Black, and the buzz-generating Ubiquitous Synergy Seeker (USS) also graced the mainstage, and the second stage lineup included homegrown talent The Flatliners, Arkells, and Hostage Life.
XI: The New Model
After a successful return the previous year, the Edge was looking to grow Edgefest while improving the experience of all festival-goers. On Saturday, June 20th at Downsview Park, a line-up that featured some of the biggest and brightest stars that Canada has to offer hit the stage. Headliners Billy Talent (with their esteemed co-star torrential rainfall) rocked the main stage, with help from honourary Canadians for the day AFI and the always exciting Alexisonfire. Indie superstars Metric also graced the main stage with a career spanning set that set the tone for the rest of the evening, while K-OS, The Stills and Arkells rounded out a very formidable line-up. The 2nd stage was no slouch, as it featured Moneen, The Waking Eyes, and The Cancer Bats. At the end of the day, even buckets of rain couldn’t dampen the spirits of those in attendance. However, some would say the party was so wild that we needed to rest for the next year, in order to make sure Edgefest would be bigger and better in 2011!
XII: Edgefest Gets Bigger
Faced with the challenge of booking a festival big enough to keep Edgefest headed in the right direction, the promoters came through big time in 2011! Chicago-based headliners Rise Against headed up the bill, with hard rockers A Perfect Circle and Winnipeg’s own The Weakerthans rounding out the top 3 very nicely, and giving fans of all music tastes something to be excited about.
The sunny afternoon featured stellar main stage performances by Tokyo Police Club, Arkells, The Reason, and emerging Dinosaur Bones. Side stage headliner and Edge heavyweight Hollerado rocked the side stage, and Rolling Stone cover contest winners The Sheepdogs, played a set that was easily one of the highlights of the day.