Summer Festival Guide

Lantern Festival Photo by Jim Fewer


Féile Séamus Creagh

July 26–30
Ireland and Newfoundland are natural kindred spirits. Both are North Atlantic islands plonked away on the extreme edge of their respective continents, and both have fiercely distinctive cultures that have arisen thanks to this geographical exile. It’s no surprise that Newfoundland’s traditional music, a celebration of the joys and pains of life, is the spiritual heir of Ireland’s. Although trad music is cultivated locally at bars and kitchen parties, the Feile Seamus Creagh festival, named after the late legendary Irish fiddler, aims to bring it into a comfortable concert setting, so the music shines through as the focal point rather than as the soundtrack to the shenanigans. The third-annual fest features musicians from both islands, including John Faulkner, Matthew Byrne, The Raw Bar Collective, and more. Tickets range from $20 to $25 and are available at O’Brien’s Music. Concerts take place at Gower Street United Church.

Fishing for the Future Film Festival

July 5 – 7
20 years ago the Canadian government shut down the northern cod fishery, an industry that sustained Newfoundland and Labrador’s economy for centuries. The cod, which had once existed in spectacular abundance in the North Atlantic, was all but gone. Fishing for the Future is a three-day film fest showcasing the province’s historic fishery, and looking into the broader consequences of (and potential solutions for) overfishing in the modern era. Opening night features a number of classic National Film Board documentaries of small Newfoundland fishing communities. Catch the films at MUN in the Innovation Hall Theatre. Tickets are $12 in advance and $15 at the door.

George Street Festival

July 26–31
Throughout its nearly three decades of existence, GSF has entrenched itself in the summer social calendar, feeding revellers a steady diet of classic rock legends like Trooper and Dr Hook, and of-the-moment superstars like Hey Rosetta!. Headliners this year include Jim Cuddy of Blue Rodeo, The Sheepdogs, and Thomas Trio & The Red Albino. Nearly a week of open-air saturnalia with thousands of locals and tourists alike, George Street Festival is certain to be a memorable six days for all.

Lantern Festival

July 28
As dusk sets in, the Lantern Festival transforms Victoria Park in the west end, studding its steep contours with hundreds of colourful handmade lanterns which light up the evening. The public is invited to make their own lanterns in the weeks leading up to the fest, and the Friends of Victoria Park offer a number of workshops dedicated to doing just that. The day’s festivities include a daytime lighting of glass lanterns at the subterranean Bennett’s Brook, music, dance, face painting, storybook corner, community booths, the lighting and installation of the larger lanterns during the evening, fire displays, a parade of percussionists, and more. The sum total of the fest’s individual parts equals one of the summer’s most diverse, visual, and exciting community events. Full festival information, including workshop times and locations, is available on the festival website.

Music at Harbourside

July 6 – August 31
Summertime means music doesn’t always have to be confined to dingy, unsettlingly humid bars and you don’t necessarily have to part with cash money to treat your ears right. Every Friday in July and August, Harbourside Park rings with free al fresco music, providing the perfect soundtrack for that lunch-break escape from the office. A musical potpourri of jazz, folk, classical, and rock, each Friday features a two-off of performers. Catch The Brad Jefford Trio, the Eastern Wind Ensemble, Ian Foster, Jenna Maloney, Leslie Aminson & Esmee Gilbert, Fiona Shea, Duane Andrews, and more, rocking, folking, and jazzing the park from 12:30pm to 1:30pm.

Reel Downtown

Every Monday in July
Reel Downtown is a collaboration between the Nickel Film Festival and Downtown St. John’s, and they know you can’t beat free for getting butts in lawn chairs. Each Monday night in July, the public is invited to watch movies projected onto the side of a building. The viewing program this year features local classic Rare Birds; the essential ‘80s film The Princess Bride; the, uh, charmingly geriatric Waking Ned Devine; everyone’s favourite summertime flick featuring a non-terrifying John Travolta, Grease!; and a documentary look at the life of Tommy Sexton called Tommy … A Family Portrait. Free parking is available in the Fortis Parking lot on Harbour Drive. Films are screened at Water Street and Solomon’s Lane at dusk (around 9pm). Bring your own lawn chair.

Sound Symposium

July 9–15
This biennial fest might be best known for shattering the tranquility of a summer’s afternoon with the bellowing of ships’ klaxons in a wonderful cacophony known as the Harbour Symphony, but the Sound Symposium also happens to be a renowned celebration of music and sound art. Where else would you be able to experience stuff like Avatar Orchestra Metaverse, a global network of performers who collaborate and perform in Second Life? The festival has occurred every two years since 1983, bringing sonic innovators from all corners of the map to St. John’s. This year, catch Curtis Andrews, Noice, Ora Ensemble, Natatorium, Laurel MacDonald, Andrew Burashko, Jaron Freeman-Fox and The Opposite of Everything (Described as “Gogol Bordello meets Frank Zappa meets The Punch Brothers”)and many more local, national, and international artists symposifying for six sultry days in July.

St. John’s Pride

July 16–22
Not to be outdone by Canada’s bigger metropoli, St. John’s boasts its own thriving LGBT/allied community and an equally thriving, if somewhat smaller in scale, Pride Week celebration. This year’s festivities take place over a week and include movie nights, youth bowling, coffee house chats, a parade, a picnic, bonfires, and tons of nightlife events celebrating the city’s diverse queer and queer-friendly citizens. It begins with a flag raising at City Hall on the 16th, and concludes with a general meeting on the 22nd.

Wreckhouse Jazz & Blues Festival

July 4–7
Blues and jazz. Jazz and blues. They’re the two eccentric uncles of the 20th-century musical genre family, the uncles with the unruly but intriguing children and the wild ideas. Like the eccentric uncles that they are, they don’t have much in common but they’re usually seated at the same end of the table at Thanksgiving. (That sound? Oh, that was just my metaphor snapping under the strain.) The 11th-annual Wreckhouse Jazz & Blues Festival is a celebration of the thriving North American jazz and blues scenes. It’s a three-day fest featuring a glut of performers from both genres including Bill Brennan, Mike Essoudry’s Mash Potato Mashers, Parc X Trio, Charlie A’Court, Fond of Tigers, and numerous others.

Artists creating into the wee hours during the Art Marathon Festival


Art Marathon Festival

August 18–26
The Art Marathon is the little festival that could. It began 13 years ago as a humble 24-hour artmaking event at one venue. Since then it’s mushroomed into a week-long celebration of contemporary art, spilling out into the community at large, and seemingly taking over downtown for a week every August. The Marathon brings together contemporary artists from our community, from the rest of Canada, and abroad. Take in scads of performance art, visual art exhibitions, concerts, critiques, panel discussions, workshops, and it’s all capped off by the art marathon itself: 24 straight hours of art production, highlighted by DJ performances, performance art, and followed by an art auction.

Buskers’ Festival

August 3–5
Busking might be the most democratic form of entertainment on the planet. Either you’re good and people watch you, or you’re not, and people dismiss you as the crazy person juggling cabbages on a street corner. It’s basically a grassroots Gong Show. The St. John’s Buskers’ Festival curates some of the finest, most non-sucking local, national, and international busking talent into a three-day smorgasbord of street performances. With a new show starting each half hour in three downtown locations, there’s no shortage of variety. Shows are free, but tips are strongly encouraged.

NL Folk Festival

August 3–5
On the heels of a waterlogged summer last year the Folk Fest is back with a crowd-pleasing lineup and the forecast of much better summer weather in the offing. The 36th-annual festival, the largest of its kind in the province, features The Once, Amelia Curran, James Keelaghan, Idlers, The Raw Bar Collective, Andrew James O’Brien, 2011 Atlantis Prize-winners All The Wiles, and more. If the weather gods co-operate, it’s sure to be a folking awesome festival.

Royal St. John’s Regatta

August 1
Food, gambling, beer tents, face painting, huge crowds of people, (un)official day off from work. What’s that you say, the Royal St. John’s Regatta involves boat racing, too? This will be the renowned event’s 194th iteration, featuring teams of hopefuls facing off for local glory and bragging rights. The actual date of the Regatta is a bit tricky to nail down. Technically speaking, it’s held on the first Wednesday in August. But, owing to the need for optimal rowing conditions on Quidi Vidi Lake, the date can change. This prompts locals to participate in so-called Regatta Roulette, in which they drink excessively the night before, banking on the holiday to ease their aching heads. Whatever the wheel lands on, the Regatta is a summer institution in St. John’s and well worth checking out.

Shakespeare by the Sea

July 8 – August 18
Without the Bard, the English language wouldn’t contain such delightful words as puke, arouse, zany, or pedant. Shakespeare by the Sea celebrates his contributions to English vocabulary. Oh, and his enduring, timeless, unparalleled works of poetic and dramatic genius, those too. This is SBTS’s 20th year of operation, and the venues include Bannerman Park, Signal Hill, Bowring Park, and the Newman Wine Vaults. On the bill is the peerless comedy A Midsummer Night’s Dream and the tragedy King Lear. Additionally, two other, non-canonical plays will be performed—The Curious Case in the Colony and the family-friendly Above and Below. Tickets range from free to $20, depending on the show.

Tuckamore Chamber Music Festival

August 6–19
The Tuckamore Fest’s mission is to nurture young talent in the elevated world of chamber music. It’s a two-week opportunity for student musicians to participate in workshops and masterclasses, and get a real opportunity to perform for and with world-class chamber music luminaries. And the general public benefits as well, with a series of concerts marking various nights during the festival. On August 15, winner of the 2012 Governor General’s Performing Arts Award Janina Fialkowska will bring her renowned piano fingers to the DF Cook Recital Hall, performing of program of Schubert and Chopin. The award-winning New York City group Sybarite5 performs August 8 at Rocket, featuring local talent Angela Pickett on violin. Tickets are $30 for general and $20 for students and seniors.


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