River Rock Music, Arts & Food Festival returns Aug. 13

By Dan Rankin

North of St. Marys on Perth Road 137, the 2016 instalment of River Rock Music, Arts & Food Festival is set to roar to life on Aug. 13, from noon until 10:00 pm. The fest will feature a lineup of musicians heavy on folk and acoustic, with sprinklings of rock, pop and even “swingbilly,” Camp said, including returning artists Mountain of Wolves and JoJo Worthington, a few with local connections such as headliners Trent Severn, Greg Ball and Corduroy Gordon, and many more.

Free water will be provided by the Township of Perth South and a wide range of local food vendors will be on site, including The Camper, Grandma’s Garden, Transvaal Farms, Stonetown Cheese, Jenn Feeds and Vegiscape. Representatives from Twin Pines Cider and Tall Grass Mead will be in attendance with their products on sale once again this year, alongside River Rock-newcomer Black Swan Brewery from Stratford, who will be offering a selection of beers, including one created in celebration of headlining act Trent Severn.

Other attractions for the day include an artisan craft market and a kids craft area put on in association with the St. Marys Public Library, Camp said.

“They’re bringing a lot of their reading programs and activities for children,” he said, noting that around 100 kids were out to enjoy the music, weather and atmosphere last year. “That’s fantastic because it helps create the vibe that we want. That’s why we’re doing it from noon until 10 pm, and not noon until 2:00 am. It’s a daytime event for families to come out and enjoy themselves.”

Kids 12 and under get in free. For everyone else, tickets are $33.90 until Aug. 13, or $40 at the gate. They’re available online at riverrockfestival.rocks, or from several physical locations including Black Swan Brewery (144 Downie St, Stratford), Pass It On (31 Water St S, St. Marys) and Deep Waters Music (204 Queen St E, St. Marys).

Some things Camp said to look out for in the artisan market area include a demonstration by the St. Marys Horticultural Society on how to make fairy gardens, a workshop led by the Flower Shop and More on crafting daisy headbands, and one from Pass It On focusing on “up-cycling” materials into canvas tote bags.

The St. Marys Memorial Hospital Foundation will be “manning the gate” collecting donations, on top of a “standing donation” River Rock will be providing to the foundation, Camp said.

River Rock’s theme of “local, sustainable, beautiful” (which is promoted on the event’s posters) involves getting as near to a zero-waste footprint as possible, and will include once again offering souvenir drinking mugs on site and a shuttle bus to bring people to and from the festival site.

“Shuttles provided by the Town will be leaving from Canadian Tire parking lot, and from the corner of Thames Road in the west end of St. Marys,” Camp said. “The first I believe leaves at 11:30 am, the second one will be around 1:00 pm, then 3:00 pm, 5:00 pm, and 7:00 pm. Then, everyone will be given a return trip, all free of charge. I think it’s a great opportunity if you live in St. Marys and you have a family or want to have a couple of beers.”

As for the music, Camp puts almost as much effort ensuring it’s locally crafted as he does with the food and drink. He said he feels like he’s found a bit of a niche in booking bands from the region who are just on the verge of reaching a higher level of success. “So many of the bands who played at the festival last year have all really grown in popularity since the festival,” he said. “You might not have heard of them before, but you’re going to hear of them, with a lot of these bands. It’s great to watch these performers grow and shine afterwards. It’s a real honour to have had them play at the festival. Then all of a sudden you see them in some music magazine and think, hey, they played on Perth Road 137 last summer.”

Olivia and the Creepy Crawlies and Mountain of Wolves both recently performed sets as part of London’s Home County Music and Art Festival, while the three members of headliners Trent Severn have connections to St. Marys, Stratford and London.

He estimates that last year, about 60 percent of River Rock attendees came from outside St. Marys, with fans of the performing musicians hailing from Stratford, London and Kitchener. “Our end goal is to try to promote these local things we have to people from outside the area,” he said.

All this amounts to a rather unique summertime event for St. Marys – which is exactly what Camp set out to do. “That’s what I’ve wanted to do with this festival, provide something that’s different from anything else going on in this area,” he said. “Bringing in out-of-town acts that will be draws for people from all over the area, to try to bring them to town. People might say, ‘why don’t you just book a cover band?’ Well, that’s done all the time. It has its place, and I love a good cover band, but I want people who are doing original material and are new and fresh.”

According to Camp, he’s raised the sell-out cap on tickets this year up to 800, 300 more than last year’s inaugural fest. “Last year, with kids, we had about 550 or 570 people on that property, and we know we could support that extra 250 people if it’s a sell out,” he said.

These plans to grow the festival have amounted to “a lot of sleepless nights” and “a lot of frantic moments” for Camp over the past few months, he said, as he’s also been absorbed in planning the opening of The Camper, his new takeaway restaurant opening soon. “It is a lot of work,” he said. “It’s been pretty steadily hectic.”

Camp hopes that all his work will pay off in having the 2016 edition of River Rock wind up in the black. Without counting the time and stress he and his girlfriend put into planning the 2015 event, “it was a matter of a few hundred dollars out of my pocket that was lost,” he said.

“As far as hard costs go, we came pretty darn close to breaking even last year,” he said. “We’re wanting to give back some money to the community. We’d love to give back to some great organizations in town, if we come to that point. Fingers crossed.”

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