15 Ontario music festivals to check out this summer

These festivals, all outside Toronto, give you plenty of options for camping, day trips or just an afternoon of music in the sun


We’re a good chunk of the way through festival season, but though this year’s is a bit thinner than last, there are still plenty of options for a day or weekend getaway. If you need a break from the urban sprawl and burning concrete of Toronto in the summer, these are your options. Grab a tent, a car, maybe a train ticket, plus a water bottle, lots of sunscreen and whatever else you might need for a weekend of camping and music, and check out these destination festivals in Ontario. 

River And Sky

This weekend, celebrate local music with a sustainable festival in West Nipissing. Alongside  killer local talent like Born Ruffians, the Pack A.D., Chad VanGaalen and Land of Talk, you can also do your bit for the environment. River And Sky ensures all festival waste has been properly audited and sorted and has carefully chosen their camping area as to limit negative impacts on the shoreline. In addition, plastic straws and water bottles have been banned.

July 19-22 at Fishers’ Paradise (3636 ON-539, Field). $170-230. riverandsky.ca.

Strangewaves 4: Ever In Paris

Even though dance-punk group ESG are no longer headlining the fourth installment of Strangewaves, the avant-garde freak fest still has a fully stacked lineup including experimental jazz legends Sun Ra Arkestra, noise star Pharmakon, multi-instrumentalist Laraaji, soul singer Ramzi, Toronto’s Pantayo, Anamai and many others. Strangewaves is a not-for-profit group from Hamilton that organizes wacky and weird music and art events. Day tickets as well as weekend passes are available and all tickets (minus the Sunday) include camping.  

July 20-22 at Paris Fairgrounds (139 Silver, Paris). $20-120. strangewaves.ca.

The Niagara Stage

Every Saturday night at Queen Victoria Park in Niagara, you can catch a free show featuring Canadian artists recognized by the Polaris Prize. The Niagara Stage will be running until September 1. Catch upcoming shows by artists like Nap Eyes (July 21), Jessy Lanza (August 11), Fiver (September 1) and others. End each show with a bang by sticking around for the fireworks afterwards.

June 30 to September 1 at Queen Victoria Park (6345 Niagara Pkwy, Niagara Falls). Free. niagaraparks.com.

Crystal Lake 

Named after a fictional summer camp in the Friday The 13th movies, Crystal Lake is a psych festival that takes place at Frontier Ghost Town, one of Ontario’s hidden gems. The setting looks straight out of a Wild West movie. Psychedelic rock band Spindrift will be headlining along with The Sadies. The rest of the lineup includes Comet Control, Freak Heat Waves, The Crowleys, Mother Tongues and others. There are 17 waterfalls within 30 km of the campgrounds. 

July 27-29 at Frontier Ghost Town (503186 Grey County, West Grey). $80-100. eventbrite.ca.

Electric Eclectics

On a farm overlooking Ontario’s Big Head Valley, you can find your fix of more than just music. Electric Eclectics has an eccentric array of installation artists, DJs and films. The festival, organized by owners of the farm Laura Kikauka and Gordon Monahan, features an offbeat lineup of avant-garde musical acts including Dreamcrusher, coined “nihilist queer revolt musik,” as well as Suzanne Ciani, the now 72-year-old pianist who was an electronic pioneer. Also: Canadian weird-pop artists Phèdre, Petra Glynt, Tess Roby and more.

August 3-5 at Big Head Valley (202 Scotch Mountain, Meaford). $50-95. c3r.ca/electriceclectics.

Boots & Hearts 

Burl’s Creek’s other festival, WayHome, isn’t happening this summer, but this country music mecca is back for its sixth year. Catch headliners like Florida Georgia Line as well as other twangy favourites like Alan Jackson and Thomas Rhett. The Wheat Kings, a Tragically Hip tribute band, will also be making an appearance. The sprawling campgrounds offers tent or RV camping or just single day passes as well.

August 9-12 at Burl’s Creek Park (240 8 Line, Oro-Medonte). $120-600. bootsandhearts.com.

Wolfe Island Music Festival

Just a 20-minute ferry ride from downtown Kingston, you’ll find Wolfe Island, where on August 10 and 11, you can catch stellar acts like Charlotte Day Wilson, Yukon Blonde, Plants and Animals, The Weather Station and Weaves. From a small dock party 18 years ago, Wolfe Island has emerged into one of Ontario’s favourite fests.

August 10-11 at Marysville Baseball Diamond (Wolfe Island). $65-150. wolfeislandmusicfestival.com.

Bon-Fire 

Bon-Fire, formerly known as Arboretum, takes place at Rideau Pines Farm, just outside Ottawa. Acts include Wolf Parade, Jessy Lanza, Chad VanGaalen as well as a collection of late-night DJs including Toronto’s Bambii. There is no camping at the farm, but Ottawa’s downtown core is just a 25-minute shuttle ride away.

August 17-18 at Rideau Pines Farm (5714 Fourth Line, North Gower). $30-60. arboretumfestival.com.

Riverfest Elora

What started out as a little backyard festival is now gearing up for its 10th year. There’s something for everyone at Riverfest Elora from the timeless hits of the Flaming Lips to Carly Rae Jepsen’s pop sugar rushes to Canadian indie rockers like July Talk and Born Ruffians. The festival is located at the beautiful Bissel Park in Elora and there is camping offered at the gorgeous Elora Gorge just nearby, with 22-metre cliffs and tubing. Kids under 12 admitted for free.

August 17-19 at Bissell Park (127 E. Mill, Elora). $70-145. riverfestelora.com.

Summerfolk

For folk lovers young and old. Acts include Bahamas, Sarah Harmer and Inuit folk artist Susan Aglukark. Organized by The Georgian Bay Folk Society, the laid-back festival also features local artisans, sing-alongs and storytelling. Pitch a tarp or tent at the Kelso Beach Campground.

August 17-19 at Kelso Beach Park (2nd Avenue West, Owen Sound). $45-140. summerfolk.org.

Up Here

Sudbury’s non-profit urban arts and music festival is tongue-in-cheekly called “a DIY tourism campaign for Sudbury.” It includes acts like Charlotte Day Wilson, Patrick Watson, Venetian Snares x Daniel Lanois and others. There are no campgrounds but Up Here has deals with hotels around Sudbury if you’re an attendee of the festival.

August 17-19 at various venues in Sudbury. $100. uphere.com.

Camp Dwayne

Toronto dad rock cover band Dwayne Gretzky are holding their first-ever music-festival-meets-summer-camp-for-adults this Labour Day weekend. The three-day event will involve nightly shows from Dwayne Gretzky themselves, singing everything from Beyoncé to Bowie to Bruce Springsteen, campfire sing-alongs, as well as a lineup of affiliated acts and friends who haven’t been announced yet. Tickets include a cabin, meals and classic camp activities.

August 31-September 2 at Camp Timberlane (1612 Dudley Road, Haliburton). $329-349. campdwayne.com.

Royal Mountain at Rasberry Farm

Rasberry Farm at the Royal Botanical Gardens in Hamilton is the perfect place for an end-of-summer festival. The picturesque landscape will play the background to Royal Mountain Records’ inaugural music festival. The single-day festival features indie singer/songwriter Mac DeMarco, Stranger Things star Finn Wolfhard’s alt-rock project Calpurnia as well as NOW cover stars U.S. Girls and others.

September 2 at Rasberry Farm, Royal Botanical Gardens (20 Old Guelph, Hamilton). $52.50. ticketmaster.ca.

Supercrawl

Hamilton’s annual free festival of music and art on James Street North brings locals the Dirty Nil and a whole slew of Canadian talent like Lights, Wintersleep, Cadence Weapon, Elliott Brood, Bonjay, Nyssa and others. You’ll also be able to catch local art, fashion, theatre, vendors, food trucks, talks, after-parties and more at this stacked fest that spans over 12 blocks. 

September 13-16 at James North (Hamilton). Free. supercrawl.ca.

Harvest Festival

There are plenty of big EDM music festivals in Ontario but Harvest Festival seems to be one of the few electronic festivals with its full allegiance still in underground rave culture. The DJ lineup features deep house producer Lee Foss, British ambient producer Phaelah, as well as many Toronto DJs like Basic Soul Unit, Box of Kittens and others. The festival takes place at the fantastical Midlothian Castle in Burk’s Falls and the festival grounds are decked out in lights, lasers and eclectic decor. 

September 14-16 at Midlothian Castle (925-1201 Midlothian, Burk’s Falls). $160-200. harvestfestival.org.

cultureintern@nowtoronto.com | @OliviaaBednar

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