You might not travel 266 kilometres from Edmonton to see your favourite local band, but you may make the trek to see 26 of them over three days – at least, that’s what the organizers of the Golden West Music Fest (GWMF) have been counting on for the last three years. The festival, hosted on a private piece of land outside of Ardmore, Alta., has been drawing crowds of 400 to 500 – most of them Edmontonians – since its inception in 2013. The three-day event is equal parts music festival, comedy show, art installation and rustic camping trip for fans and bands alike.
“It’s like going to summer camp for these bands,” says AvenueTop 40 Under 40 Class of 2010 alumnus and GWMF visual art director Fish Griwkowsky. “We thought we would try it just once. In my heart, it was always going to be Star Wars, Empire and Jedi – you know, just trying to make it bigger and better for three years.”
The lineup for this year’s festival – which runs from July 31 to Aug. 2 and includes installations from local artists and bands such as Switches, the Betrayers, the Wet Secrets and Mitchmatic, as well as out-of-town acts like Vancouver’s Bison b.c. and Saskatoon’s Shooting Guns – looks to be one of the most ambitious in the festival’s history. But now that it has entered its third year, its future is uncertain.
According to Griwkowsky, the GWMF society is comprised of a dozen or so musicians, writers and artists of all kinds. So the challenge, as he sees it, is that, despite the love organizers have for the festival, many personal projects are put on hold each summer while the festival takes precedence.
Amelia Aspen, the festival’s music artistic director (and member of one of the Edmonton’s mainstay bands, The Lad Mags), is one of those organizers. This year will be her last, as she is moving to Paris in the fall. But she warns that, as far as the festival is concerned, nothing is set in stone. “We’ve had a bunch of people say that they want to be involved next year, so if people wanted to take over the reigns, I’d be happy to hand them over.”
Aspen imagines the enthusiasm for the festival originally came from a lack of showcases for local indie-pop, psychedelic, punk, garage, metal and noise-rock bands. “When we started, unless you were a jazz festival band or playing folk music or something, there wasn’t really a chance for you to get any kind of festival exposure,” she says.
That spirit, along with visual art and performance art components – such as this year’s installations by AJA Louden, Blair Brennan, Tandie McLeod, Blake Betteridge and Lyle Bell – make for a party-like long-weekend experience that includes camping, a massive bonfire, music, art and the uncommon experience or rubbing elbows with the acts you may have seen on stage only minutes earlier.
“We just want to throw the biggest, most intricate party possible,”Griwkowsky says. “A lot of the people in the crowd are other musicians, and so they are shoulder-to-shoulder with everyone else, which, if nothing else, is really cool.”