Words and photos by Sabrina Direnzo
Elora, Ontario in beautiful Wellington County may be best known for its gorge. However, from its backyard festival beginnings in 2009, Riverfest Elora may be the new synonymous landmark. Named after the Grand River itself, Riverfest Elora is a music festival unlike any other I’ve been to. From the diversity of their line-up to their environmental efforts, this festival weekend, which took place from August 17-19, was one to remember.
Unlike some other festivals, this year Riverfest’s diversity was found in the various genres showcased in the line-up. From pop to folk, electronic to Celtic, Riverfest had it covered. Additionally, the bill was stacked with many female-identified artists and people of colour, which in the past has been hard to find. Festivals like Riverfest are at the forefront of inclusivity whether they’re conscious of it or not.
Riverfest is also a green festival, welcoming empty reusable water bottles to be filled for free at water stations throughout the grounds, as well as offering commemorative cups for beer and other beverages. There was a huge emphasis on water and water protection during the festival. This emphasis is due to Nestlé’s controversial conditional purchase of an Elora well for bottling and sale. Several acts during the weekend proclaimed “Fuck Nestle” on multiple occasions.
‘Day’ one was evening only with the highlight being headliners, July Talk. They gave a land acknowledgement as soon as they hit the stage. Not long after, they had the crowd under their spell. They are captivating and mesmerizing.
Day two saw perfect weather and another day of amazing performances including the most spectacular light show I’ve ever seen. Saturday kicked off with Montreal Hip-Pop duo Heartstreets; their indie vibes, chill sound and pure talent set them apart from some of the other acts. The crowd that had gathered under the Koop Tent to see Heartstreets was remarkable. Several times during the set, they would look to the crowd in disbelief – a true joy to witness for any fan of music. The Sorority, a four piece Hip-Hop/Rap group were also a huge crowd pleaser with their exceptional performance. When they hit the stage, they brought so much energy with them, each with their own personality and sound. As a huge fan of The Beaches, I feel like anything I have to say about them is completely biased, but for the record: they were incredible.
A lot of names come up when we think of pop icons – Carly Rae Jepsen is one of them. Prior to Riverfest, I had heard just the radio repertoire of CRJ and assumed that like some pop stars with great radio hits, the live show would flop. I’ve never been happier to be proven wrong. From her voice to her stage presence, song after song, I was won over. So much so that I had forgotten that she wasn’t actually the headliner of the night! Speaking of headliners, everything that you have heard about The Flaming Lips is one hundred percent true. Their music, the live show, it’s everything you’ve ever expected and more. It’s as if Wayne Coyne melted your brain and then reshaped it himself. I won’t give anything away, if you get a chance to see it live, do it. It’s truly something that needs to be experienced first-hand.
The last day of Riverfest had a different tone with festivities winding down. However, there was still high energy and incredible performances from Cleopatrick and Ellevator. Show stoppers like Weaves and Dear Rouge overall dominated the day. Blue Rodeo rounded out the weekend with classic Canadiana on a beautiful night in Elora.
Elora is a beautiful village with wonderful residents, an amazing river, and an incredible music festival. It was a joy to attend and I can’t wait to return.