TORONTO — Both just 22, students Dustin Stern of Thornhill and Jaime Rosenberg of London, Ont., saw a market gap in Ontario’s music festival scene and decided to capitalize on it.
The pair say they’ve found Ontario music festivals to be more “genre-bounded” than ones they’ve attended in the United States and that many don’t encompass other artistic media. So the longtime friends, themselves avid festival-goers and musicians – Stern plays guitar in a band called Chartreuse and Rosenberg plays drums in After Funk – opted to create their own.
Their brainchild, Illumination Music & Arts Festival, developed in February along with a third friend, will be held July 11 and 12 at a private campground in southwestern Ontario’s Grey County.
Featuring about 20 Ontario bands – plus four headliners hailing from the United States – as well as a handful of DJs and a number of local visual artists, craft vendors and workshop facilitators, Illumination will, Stern and Rosenberg hope, give exposure to lesser-known artists across various media.
Further, they also want to provide attendees with the feel of a U.S. festival by blurring musical genre distinctions.
“[Illumination will have] a lot of ‘dancey’ stuff, but we want to show people ‘dancey’ doesn’t necessarily have to mean electronic music,” explained Stern.
“We’ll [also] have funk, rock and roll, jazz, bluegrass, hip-hop… we want to show that genre boundaries don’t have to be present.”
Workshops will include yoga classes, meditation circles and poetry readings, and some art installations will be interactive, such as the collaborative building of a sculpture using natural materials, and a live mural-painting that will occur throughout the festival.
“That way, everyone gets to do their thing, even if music is not their thing,” Stern said.
Having promoted Illumination almost exclusively through Facebook, Stern and Rosenberg said they have received an outpouring of enthusiasm from people in their networks who are eager to play music, lead workshops, volunteer or simply attend.
They anticipate a turnout of about 300 people.
“We’ve been trying to get as much involvement from the community as possible… a lot of the workshops are being led by friends or friends of friends, and we’ve been open to so many different ideas,” Stern said.
“I think this festival’s success will be the enthusiasm and the inclusiveness of the whole thing.”
Though all three organizers are passionate about music and interested in the industry’s behind-the-scene elements, building their very first festival from the ground up has been no shortage of work.
“There’s been a lot to do but nothing debilitating… so far everything that’s come our way, we’ve just gone and done it,” Stern said.
“Partly why things are going so smoothly,” Rosenberg added, “is we’re all so passionate about music and the Ontario scene that even the stuff that’s straight-up work still feels good.”
Along with their partner, who runs a production company, Stern, who will attend an event management program at Humber College this fall and Rosenberg, a music student at Humber, are funding Illumination out of their own pockets.
They expect to break even.
“Even if we lose a little bit… assuming we do our job, next year everyone will come back and bring friends,” Rosenberg said.
Co-ordinating the festival has made both Stern and Rosenberg think more seriously about a potential career in music promotion.
“The festival is a passion project, but I think we’re all thinking it could snowball into something… that would be fun, but could also bring in money,” Rosenberg said.
They’re enthusiastic about the prospect of Illumination becoming an annual event, and about the potential growth it could precipitate in the Ontario music festival scene.
Mostly, though, they’re excited to experience the fruits of their labour this coming weekend.
“We’ve put in so much work into so many things – from stage design to hand-picking all the bands,” said Stern.
“It sounds cheesy, but each smile we see on someone’s face or each time someone looks at a piece of art and is moved by it… we’ll know it came together from our intention and our hard work.”
Illumination tickets can be purchased for $60 (including camping) at www.illuminationfestival.ca