Your Friends are Coming Back to Town
Fans of the yearly Festival of Friends were upset when organizers announced in 2011 it would no longer call Gage Park its home. It was packing up its three-day music, food, and art extravaganza and moving to the Ancaster Fairgrounds. Now, eight years later, the Festival of Friends is returning to its original location in 2017 – and Hamiltonians couldn’t be happier. Festival organizers announced the return through a short video published on their Twitter account in October and the reaction online was both immediate and positive.
Approaching its forty-first year, the festival was a huge part of Gage Park’s history, but over time the issues it faced made it impossible to stay. “We never wanted to leave, [but] we had to leave,” explained Festival of Friends director Loren Lieberman.
With evening crowds of up to 30,000 people, the issue of parking and safety were the largest roadblocks for the Festival of Friends to hurdle. Moving it to the Ancaster Fairgrounds was an attempt to alleviate those problems, although it created a large backlash amongst downtown Hamiltonians who were used to walking to the festival, plus a sizable traffic jam on Highway 403 the first year in Ancaster. Displeasure amongst festival fans continued to grow over the years. In 2015 an online petition gathered nearly 17,000 signatures to bring the festival back to Gage Park.
Now Lieberman says “a lot of those restrictions have been eased or changed,” thanks to renewed desire from the city to bring people back downtown. “A lot of impetus has [been] the city staff,” Lieberman says.
While more information on who will be performing at the festival is still to come – “it’s just too early to say,” Lieberman says – with weather permitting, festival organizers expect the crowds to return to Gage Park in 2017.
The Festival of Friends is a free three-day music, art and food festival held in the first weekend after the Civic Holiday. The event was founded by Bill Powel Jr. in 1976 as an independent folk festival. In their first year, the Festival drew a crowd of 100,000 people to Gage Park. Over 40 years it has become an iconic part of Hamilton’s summer events and the largest festival of its kind in Canada. Over 800 performers and musicians have graced the FoF stage including but not limited to Bruce Cockburn, Jackie Washington, City and Colour, the Sheepdogs, and Randy Bachman.
While Hamilton may not be considered as legendary a music city as an Austin or Nashville yet, Lieberman feels “in a Canadian perspective we’re … important.” The Festival of Friends is “an anchor” in Hamilton’s music scene. Along with September’s annual Supercrawl, the Festival of Friends is one of Hamilton’s coolest tourist draws and a major economic influence. Having the Festival of Friends back in Gage Park just feels right.
Welcome home, Friends.
Quick Facts about the Festival of Friends
- Founded in Bill Powell, Jr in 1976
- It’s the largest event of its kind in Canada
- Weekend attendance exceeds 250,000 people
- Over 800 bands and performers have played the Festival over the past 4 decades
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