Hay River played host to home-grown artists and groups, as well as musicians from as far away as Ottawa and Montreal over the weekend, in the fourth-annual Hay Days arts and music festival.
“We wanted to define local as kind of regional, as well,” said musical events organizer Jared Monkman. “But we wanted to put on a really good show, as well.”
Although Monkman said the festival has been simplified since last year when there were several performances happening simultaneously, that doesn’t mean there was a dearth of locations this year. Artists played at the Fisherman’s Wharf and the Ptarmigan Inn on June 21 and then a few joined other groups at an outdoor stage set up behind the arena on June 22. Local bands Frozen Toad and In Bad Taste – among many others – bumped shoulders with Juno nominee and Hay Days headliner Craig Cardiff, who was back in Hay River from Ottawa after visiting Yellowknife and before heading off to a gig in Edmonton.
“It’s nice to be asked back to a place,” Cardiff told The Hub just before going on stage on June 21, adding that after touring in major centres in the United States and Canada he now prefers going off the beaten track to perform. “If the water doesn’t feel right, you need to find a good place to swim.”
Cardiff explained his friendships with local people are what keep him coming back to “alternate” locations that are more difficult to reach.
“Does it make sense financially?” he asked. “Not always. But it’s about the connections you form with different people, the friends of friends who help you out.”
Cardiff said his shows tend to be rather intimate and those who saw him previously perform in Hay River may remember his tradition of passing around a notebook to the audience – which he calls the Book of Truths – in which people write anonymously. He said the feedback inspires him and has resulted in songs, but that it always depends on the crowd.
Upon taking the stage at around midnight on June 21, Cardiff was faced with a chatty audience who had already been taking in other artists for upwards of four hours, but he took it in stride.
“It’s never the same,” he said. “And sometimes the most challenging crowds are the most exciting.”
Monkman said it was a shame Cardiff didn’t get all the attention he deserved as a headliner, but was pleased nonetheless with how many people had come out to support other performers on both days of the festival.
“Hay Days started out as a venue for local artists, as there isn’t much playing time in this town normally,” he said. “It’s great that we’ve expanded it beyond that and we hope to grow even more in the future.”
This was Monkman’s first year organizing the musical side of the festival and he claims it was definitely a learning experience. He hopes next year to have the whole thing happen at Fisherman’s Wharf, but hasn’t started planning anything beyond that just yet.
“This is more of a fun thing, I guess, compared to Folk on the Rocks which can be a bit more commercial,” said Monkman. “It’s astounding how many creative people there are in this town, and you don’t realize it until you see them all at an event like this.”
— Sarah Ladik