While patriotic fervor sweeps through Canada on Canada Day with flag hoisting ceremonies, rockers have their own style of celebrating. The Edgesfest concept was started to mark both Canada Day and the 10th anniversary of 102.1 The Edge, one of Canada’s leading radio stations. And having its own tumultuous history, it has finally morphed into one of the world’s leading outdoor rock festivals. Fans have reveled in the high quality, high octane music that has blared from both the Main and Side Stages, with over 500,000 attendees recorded since the saga began in 1987. Amid frequent location shifts and a well-publicized listener rebellion, Edgefest has stood the test of time, and attracts the best of Canadian talent as well as a sprinkling of chart-topping foreign bands. Edgefest tickets are selling like hot cakes as the festival revs up into overdrive this coming July.
Programming at 102.1 FM, CFNY-FM changed its name to The Edge in 1994, yet its fan base was huge well before that. Earlier named CHIC since 1960, it changed to CFNY-FM in 1977 and won accolades and appreciation for its embrace of freestyle DJing and alternative music, as opposed to the popular charts-dependent play on other stations. The Edgesfest idea popped up in an informal staff discussion in 1987, and there was palpable unease over it because a one-day music festival featuring bands with little more than cult following wasn’t a tested formula at the time. Program director David Marsden gave the green signal, and Blue Rodeo, Teenage Head, and The Pursuit of Happiness were penciled in. A foreign act in The Saints brought new sizzle to the lineup. The date was chosen to be 1st July for its significance as Canada Day and the station’s 10th birthday. Molson Park in Barrie was named as the final location after places like Cayuga Raceway and Mosport International Raceway turned them down. With overhanging trepidation that fans would not want to journey to Barrie in Simcoe County, approximately 90 km from Toronto, the first Edgefest was launched in 1987. The turnout was a pleasant surprise, exceeding 25,000, and the show was an unprecedented success. Edgefest sold out the next year, and after Molson decided not to renew its partnership with the festival in 1993, a shift to Ontario Place Forum took place. In the midst of it all, the festival survived angry protests by listeners against the station’s changing musical direction, whereby airplay was given to more Top 40 hits than the signature alternative rock. The management soon backtracked to the intense pressure. Toronto’s Ontario Place Forum was replaced by the Molson Amphitheatre, and the festival soon returned to the original Molson Park in 2000. This return was short-lived. The SARS outbreak forced organizers to relocate in 2003, after Toronto was caught in the eye of the worldwide storm. 2007 didn’t have a festival, and from then onwards, Edgefest has been held at Downsview Park, a former Canadian Forces base.
The Main Stage at this edition will feature grinding rock from the upper echelons of Canadian music. Billy Talent is the headliner, with the Streetsville-based punk rock quartet riding high on the crest of Billy Talent III’s success after two multi-Platinum albums. The reunion of noise rock band Death From Above 1979 will swing heads, while LA-based indie outfit Silversun Pickups will feature as well. Learn and Burn’s unprecedented success landed The Sheepdogs three CASBY Awards this year, making them hot property in Canada, and they will share the stage will fellow rockers The Dirty Heads, Young the Giant, The Pack A.D., and USS. The Side Stage will feature the likes of The Darcys, Whale Tooth, and Acres of Lions. Edgefest will kick off proceedings on 14th July this year.
At the height of its prowess, Edgefest did experiment with making the one-day single-location festival a touring extravaganza. In 1997, the stellar lineup featuring Our Lady Peace, Collective Soul, and Silverchair went on an 8-date tour covering Eastern and Western Canadian cities. Montreal, Ottawa, Vancouver, Calgary, Edmonton, Winnipeg, and Saskatoon were all toured. 1998 followed the same format, with more notable international appearances from the likes of Creed and Green Day, while the format was scrapped after 1999.
Edgefest has been notable not only for its support of the Canadian underground indie scene but also for being Canada’s longest-running rock show. With hitch-free organizing, ample camping space and food facilities, and a visceral rock experience to blow your mind, Edgefest tickets tops the wish-list of every hard rock enthusiast.
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