Sometimes you have to be careful what you wish for. Hamilton spent this summer fighting with the city for a waterslide, but was handed a water crawl.
Hamilton’s Supercrawl has had positive growth since its humble beginnings in 2009, reaching beyond James St. North to Main Street, where the Hamilton Airport International Airport stage was positioned at Gore Park. Previous years featured headliners Broken Social Scene in 2011, K’naan in 2012, Passion Pit, Said The Whale, Joel Plaskett, and LeE HARVeY OsMOND in 2013, and A Tribe Called Red, Spoon and the Arkells in Supercrawl 2014.
Last year, over 160,000 attendees came out and filled Hamilton’s downtown core and set the festival up for an ambitious follow up. This year’s Friday night headliner was Hamilton’s own Monster Truck, followed by Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings on Saturday, and the family fun folk singer Fred Penner (who was also spotted at Burnt Tongue).
With high expectations and a myriad of weather complications, this year’s Supercrawl was abundant in challenges: from bad weather to a lack of last years’ enthusiasm. The Supercrawl might as well have been a water crawl, as the city flooded and various performances were cut short on Saturday. I was particularly bummed that the Hamilton Philharmonic Orchestra couldn’t finish their set due to the risks of being shocked by their equipment, and the dismal crowd at Royal Canoe as they opened for Toronto’s The Sadies. These bands would normally attract larger crowds, and the weekend would have made a bad impression if this was someone’s first Hamilton Supercrawl. It’s far from the years when Broken Social Scene marked the stage and the festival felt smaller. Now with larger stages and a reputation to live up to, the festival has moved beyond King street and almost feels larger than itself. Will food trucks and vendor fairs solve the gentrified downtown core? Not likely. And this year was a testament that even a good thing can have a bad year.
To make things a bit more complicated, Supercrawl attendance was cannibalized by the Locke Street festival which also catered to vendors and local artists, echoing Supercrawl only a few blocks away. The people of Hamilton packed the street to support local vendors, bouncy castles and a family-friendly atmosphere despite the rain. But at the end of the day, the city was soaked regardless of where you went, and it wasn’t a good time to be hosting a festival anywhere. There was no prep for outdoor tents or contingency for a storm that was forecasted to last the entire weekend.
The true winners of this years’ crawl were the new businesses of James St. North, which in its rising rental prices, have attracted new life for foodies in the heart of the city. New restaurant “Lake Road”, pizza shop “Knead,” bakery “Hotti Biscotti” and coffee hot spot “Smalls” were among the new businesses creating a presence for James North. Despite the poor weather conditions, Supercrawl attracted people from around the GTHA to the Hamilton core and brought new business for local shops. Saturday also saw the people of Hamilton part of their own art, flooding social media with a beautiful pink sunset that was unavoidable on Instagram and Twitter.
Maybe this year didn’t feel as bad because I had already enjoyed the bands I wanted to see. Supercrawl pulled a Sound of Music Festival and held a paid concert prior to the admission free event featuring Jamie XX and Caribou on August 7th, which hosted Toronto for a night on the waterfront and a handful of food trucks. And it was well worth the price of admission. That being said, had I paid to see Monster Truck in the rain, there may have been higher expectations from Supercrawl to accommodate for this year’s weather conditions. Friday night saw performances by Terra Lightfoot, Elliot Brood, Monster Truck and a rain dancing crowd for Vaudevillian. Saturday featured The Sadies, Sharon Jones & the Dap Kings, Rich Aucoin, Viet Cong and Rah Rah, and 90s favourites The Killjoys. Sunday closed with musical highlights from Steve Strongman, Twin Within, Hayden, and Fred Penner.
Mixed in with musical performances were talks at Mills Hardware, consecutive fashion shows on Saturday and Sunday featuring modern and vintage wares, and streets lined with food trucks and vendors. It was a little bit disappointing to see traditional fair food trucks like Beaver Tails and Tornado potato chips (albeit, delicious) and stores like Express in the mix of Gorilla Cheese and Girl on the Wing. What was inspiring was how friendly the people were – those who did brave the weather were good sports and hip Hamiltonians. Families were one part of Supercrawl that were missing this year, not because of the lack of family-friendly activities, but because kids just don’t like the rain. Maybe next time some budding entrepreneur from Hamilton will be selling ponchos out front instead of lemonade. It begs the question: What would Toronto do? Probably nothing half as impressive as where Supercrawl has made it in less than ten years. Despite the rain, people still believe in the arts, and will fight to continue the growth of James North and support future art crawls.
Supercrawl 2015 celebrated the spirit of art and reminded people that Hamilton is still an amazing place where anyone can do anything.
— Laura Russell (@rauralussell) September 12, 2015
Editor’s Note: Recently there has been a social media backlash against an article published by the Silhoutte on the gentrification of Supercrawl 2015 and lack of hip-hop presence. As much as I admire maintaining a positive voice when you take on these events, I do not support bashing someone for having an unpopular opinion. In Hamilton we are strong enough to receive criticism and grow from it. If someone’s writing compels you to want to have a voice, you are welcome to write for us.
We welcome you to respectfully continue the discussion in the comments below.