New to the summer music calendar is the Sawdust City Music Festival, taking place this August long weekend in Gravenhurst, Ont., with events happening on a music barge, in a local brewery and at the historic Gravenhurst Opera House. The Globe and Mail spoke to festival organizer, record-label operator and well-known fiddler Miranda Mulholland about the inaugural Muskoka cottage-country event.
I know you have a history with Gravenhurst and your family has a cottage there. But what's the genesis of this festival?
I was at our cottage in Gravenhurst last summer. When I'm up there, I like to park my car and row to the town's dock and walk into town. We don't have a motorboat any more, because I crashed it when I was 16. My parents have just forgiven me, 20 years later. So, there's a music barge, where they have a long-running Sunday series. It's a lovely tradition, but the barge was a little underused. I felt, for one weekend, there was an opportunity to change up the programming. That's where the idea for the festival came from.
You're also using the Gravenhurst Opera House, built by your great-great-grandfather, is that correct?
He was the owner of a lumber company, which is why the town was nicknamed Sawdust City. It was a blue-collar town, but he felt it was important to establish a cultural hub. The town told him not to do it, that it would be a waste of money. His name was Charles Mickle. They called it Mickle's Folly. But he went ahead and had it built. Some 115 years later, it's still there.
What about the structure of the festival? We love our summer music fests, but a lot of them involve standing or sitting in a field and braving the sun. You're offering people something different.
I'm getting older myself. I don't like the standing around. I love music festivals, but I wear SPF 100. The sun can be relentless. To be honest, though, it wasn't really about the different venues, but more about the organic nature of the venues. The park is there already. By the time we use it on the Sunday, the sun will be going down. It's a beautiful spot. There's shade and lots of places to sit. The Opera House was there, it's historic and it means a lot to me. Also, it's part of the town. People can come into town and spend money, rather than going somewhere else, parking and buying food from vendors.
As far as you can tell, who will be showing up at the festival?
It's a mix. We have tiered ticketing. Our sponsors have really helped with the free shows. For extra revenue, we have the Jim Cuddy Family Band at the Opera House, with tickets at $52. We have VIP packages and a super-VIP package that includes a boat ride to my cottage for a show and picnic with Andy Maize and Josh Finlayson of the Skydiggers. So, the mix of buyers has been encouraging. I was worried it would only be Toronto people and that locals would stay away. Also, we have a film star coming for the Jim Cuddy show.
I bet it's Ryan Gosling.
It's not, unfortunately. Oh, well. He's welcome though. I'll find him a ticket.
You won't be driving the boat to your cottage for the show over there, will you? We don't want anyone getting hurt.
I promise I won't be. I've hired people. Nobody wants that. Me and motors are not very good.
It all sounds as if it has the makings of a success. I hope nobody has reason to call the festival Mulholland's Folly.
Thank you. I also hope that. I feel so good about this. I think it's going to be great.
Sawdust City Music Festival (with Jim Cuddy Family Band, Harrow Fair, NQ Arbuckle, Justin Rutledge and others) takes place Aug. 4 to 6. Free and ticketed events, with varying packages available. Various venues, Gravenhurst, Ont., sawdustcitymusicfestival.com.