Westfest is taking it back to the street.
“I missed being a part of my party,” says Elaina Martin, founder and producer of Westfest. “I direct the main stage and I’ve been stuck back in that parking lot for four years, directing the mainstage and getting it all ready for the crowds.”
At the festival launch on March 12, Martin announced Westfest will be slightly shorter this year, taking place on the weekend of June 13 and 14. Returning to its street party roots, the concerts will take place on Richmond Road. During the four previous years, the main stage was on private land near the Real Canadian Superstore, but whether it was the fencing or just being off the main road, the crowds weren’t the same, Martin says.
Putting it back on Richmond Road isn’t the only reason she’s excited about this year’s Westfest. The lineup boasts Lynn Miles, Sarah Harmer and Rae Spoon.
“I’m a big fan of their work,” Martin says of Rae Spoon. “They’ve done a lot to be progressive, not just with Canada’s queer community but with the literary community and the music community. Rae has a lot to teach people. Westfest is about inclusivity and accessibility and it’s 100 percent Canadian and to me there’s no one who represents all of those things more than Rae Spoon.”
Kris + Dee, a folk-pop duo from Kingston, brings together the talents of Kris Abbott of The Pursuit of Happiness and Dee McNeil of The Strap Ons.
“Kris and Dee are like the next Indigo Girls,” Martin says. “They are talented, outrageous. They played our launch to howls I’ve never heard at this event. I’m very, very excited about them. They’re also partners. They met 10 years ago, started playing music and became partners. It’s a beautiful story.”
As always, Sundays are dedicated to featuring local artists, which includes Yo Mama.
“Shelley Montreuil is really exceptional,” Martin says of Yo Mama’s lead singer. “If there was a reincarnation of Janis Joplin it would be her. She also plays sax and has a killer band.”
This year there’s a new addition called Westfest Lit: Adults Only Soiree. Curated by Sylvie Hill, the lineup will include Danniel Oickle and Martin says to expect the exotic and erotic.
“We’ve done Westfest Lit for 12 years and it’s always been kind of all ages, all families and we’ve never really stepped out of that box and I wanted to this year,” she says. “I wanted to do that kind of dark, beatnik, underground New York nightclub lounge where there’s artists talking about provocative things. We have lots of things that are just for kids at Westfest, but we don’t have anything that’s just for adults — well, now we do.”
In addition to showcasing first-rate Canadian talent, the most amazing thing about Westfest is that it’s completely free, which its producer has no intention of changing.
“Everyone is welcome,” Martin says. “Everyone is invited and everyone knows that. It’s a really important part of our mandate and it’s reflected in our audience. There’s nothing more exciting for me than to go down the street in my golf cart when there’s 100,000 people in every colour, every shape and every type of person there is in this city.”