REVIEW: Wolfe Island Music Festival – Highlights

k os 1Top 10 Reasons the 2014 Wolfe Island Music Festival Was a Can’t Miss Event

By Savoula Stylianou

Having interviewed several musicians in my occasional jaunt as a journalist, one notion is shared across the board: Kingston is a fantastic music hub. When small indie bands go to plan the Ontario legs of their North American tours, Kingston is a must visit tour stop, known for the enthusiastically receptive crowds, burgeoning musical talent, and unique music venues. Kingston has one major event differentiating it from other music-loving college towns – the Wolfe Island Music Festival. In its more than ten-year existence on the largest of the Thousand Islands, WIMF (as it is affectionately known) has consistently managed to bring a perfectly juxtaposed lineup of bigger music names that draw you in and smaller music names that will take you by surprise and have you asking for more. Musical mastermind Virginia Clark is responsible for the fest and its continued success throughout the years, as her passion for music is so clearly the driving force behind both the musicians and the festival goers wanting to be part of this event every single year. A huge festival fan myself, my WIMF experiences have been nothing short of the single highlights of my Kingston summers.

Here are my 10 favourite memories from this year’s musical madness, in no particular order and with my adulations condensed for brevity.

It’s almost as if Wolfe Island was made to hold music shows. This is especially true of the Friday night lineups. While the main stage is extremely impressive, and has more than enough space for standers, sitters, and dancers all, it is the venues that house Friday night’s small showcase lineups that always impress me. Playing outside on a beautiful summer night? Nothing could be better, and musicians from the Paper Bag Records showcase were afforded that opportunity at WIMF this year. The Island Grill is a fantastic place to have the sensory experience of the sweet sound waves hitting your ears as the cool wind hits your face. The General Wolfe Hotel is the ideal spotlight for budding musicians who love the spotlight. While there is seating available, the best seats in the house are mere inches away from the stage where you can feel the sweat of the musicians in front of you. It was the scene of this year’s arguably most energetic show from PUP who tore the proverbial roof down. Finally, St. Margaret’s Hall is a colourful and vibrant space with a square footage of empty space that allows for optimal dancing like no one’s watching, which was exactly what went down went Toronto natives The Wilderness of Manitoba rocked out on Friday night.

(Photo by Matt Forsythe)

(Photo by Matt Forsythe)

The Wild Wilderness of Manitoba
With Kingston’s mild summertime temperatures this year, the sweatiest time to be had was in St. Margaret’s Hall during the first day of WIMF 2014. The room was packed wall to wall with people rocking out to the sweet tunes of The Wilderness of Manitoba. Will, Amanda, Wes, and Sean brought their A-game for the WIMF goers, eliciting the cheers and woops of a crowd in love with the animated vibe the band was giving. Even DJ for the weekend Paul Saulnier was head bopping along to the astounding power vocals from the band’s female lead. With songs like “Echoes” and “Morning Sun,” it was hard to stop smiling at the enthusiastic feeling of the band members and the organic energy in the room that night.

wilderness of manitoba

Local talent
While WIMF never disappoints with its headlining acts, it also manages to find the best of Kingston’s own musical gems. I loved seeing names like Rueben deGroot and Luther Wright on the lineup for Friday night, as they call Kingston and its water-side wanderlust home. It was also great to see the 90s throwback stylings of Sweet Jets and the soulful, haunting sounds of Will Hunter Band appear at the festival, giving bands that got started in Kingston a chance to shine on their way onwards and upwards in the music scene.

sweet jets

Finding New Favourites
Going into the fest, it was safe to say that a good chunk of the band names were new to me – and that was the most exciting part. In Virginia Clark I trust to find my new favourite musicians that I should have been listening to ages ago, but am happily on board with now. Two years ago I discovered a deep passion for Yukon Blonde, and this year I found a new love for Vancouverites Zerbin. Their snappy, beachy sound with hints of an Imagine Dragons vibe had everybody dancing early in the afternoon on Saturday with songs like “Desire” and my new 30-second dance party song “New Earth.”


Cool Crafts and Fabulous Food
One of the best parts of smaller music festivals is the niche items you can find outside of the stage area. At WIMF this year, there was every booth from custom leather ware to baked goods being sold by donation for the Kingston Humane Society, and of course an eclectic vintage dress area, where even some of the musicians from the bands came to have a look around. And of course, it was all local! What rocked my world on Saturday, other than the bands on stage, were the awesome fish tacos we got from the onsite food trucks. However, it might have been more prudent to visit the stall next door, which boasted divine looking plates that were available for every kind of food sensitivity – from meat free to dairy free to gluten free. It was just another example of how WIMF so easily caters to every kind of person who wants to attend the fest.

Reminiscent Vibes

When we were sitting in the park on Saturday afternoon and the first sounds of the dreamy indie band Alvvays came through the speakers, my ears were thrilled. It felt like being transported back in time or maybe just to an extremely cool dance club. Songs like “Archie Marry Me” and “Adult Diversion” had me tapping my toes and fingers simultaneously as the music continued.A huge smile was on my face as the indie band crooned on stage on Saturday and the audience easily fell in love with the sound. The beautiful vocals from Molly Rankin, almost like a great mix of Pat Benatar and the Cranberries, made Alvvays a real treat to discover at this year’s fest.


Family Friendly Atmosphere

The potential issues of bringing kids to a music festival are something of a non-issue at the Wolfe Island Music Fest. Thanks to the location of the main stage on the island, parents can take a load off as there is a great park directly next to it. Midway through the day on Saturday, we retreated to the park to take five, and we saw the smartest of all the festival goers – the families. It was easy to still get a good view of the stage from the park and with the kids playing on the playground; parents could easily enjoy the show. Small touches like these make WIMF a stalwart on the summer calendar of a lot of Kingstonians – students and families alike.

WIMF Darling Shad

Having interviewed Shad earlier this year, I experienced firsthand his genuine charisma and humble attitude – two things he definitely brought to his set this year. Talking to other people at the festival, there was definitely a consensus that they had made the trek to the island firstly to see music hero Shad, someone who has been inspiring audiences for years with his brand of music that makes you bob your head but also use it to think. There was one Kingston fan who could not wait to see Shad at this year’s fest – medical student/rapper extraordinaire Egyptian Prescription, who opened for Shad at his Grad Club show in January. He was one member of the solid crowd who gathered at the front of the stage awaiting Shad, and the artist did not disappoint. Guitar in one hand, microphone in a solid grip with the other hand, Shad had the audience on its feet and dancing with hits like “Rose Garden” and “Rock to It.” He ended his set with the danceable track “Remember to Remember,” his collaboration with Lights. It’s no wonder that Shad is the undisputed festival darling of WIMF and there’s no man better for the job.

Post-Fest Dance Party

If WIMF didn’t give you enough with two great music-filled days on a beautiful island with great weather this year, there was more to come. Once the final notes of K-OS’ set were sung, the festival goers were invited to an after party at the Island Grill. Having a close knit festival after party is a unique feat, providing a potential opportunity to share a drink and a laugh with some of the musicians from the weekend’s events. Cue DJ Paul Saulnier and his 70s funk inspired tunes and what you have is a guaranteed night of madness and fun. Taking a break from being one of the greatest guitar players I’ve ever heard, Saulnier proved to be a talented DJ as well, picking songs that were easy to groove with. The WIMF after party was casual and relaxed, and a wonderful setting for debriefing the festival with friends over drinks, or dancing until way past the time the last ferry leaves the island.

Music for Music’s Sake

For a minute comparing WIMF to other popular festivals in fellow music meccas like Toronto and Montreal, it is glaringly obvious why Kingston’s own music festival is so different. K-OS said it best during his set on Saturday: Shad had told him backstage just why Wolfe Island Music Fest is so great; it’s because people are there for the right reasons and he fully agreed. When people buy their tickets for WIMF, they don’t plan to be intoxicated to some degree the whole time in order to have fun. Instead, people who come to WIMF are altruistically there to hear the music and to see the musicians on stage doing what they do best. It’s not about the popularity of the headliners and supporting acts, but rather the support of the music scene, and the local Kingston music scene as well. Going to WIMF is a way of showing appreciation for all that Kingston has to offer its music aficionados and that is why musicians and fans continue to take that ferry back for WIMF every single year.

k os 2

And like them, so should you! If you’ve never been to WIMF before, you’re missing out. WIMF 2015: I’ll see you there.

Photos by Tiffany Lam


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