Heart of the City Festival returns to downtown Edmonton

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The beats hit the beat once again on Saturday and Sunday at the Heart of the City Arts and Music Festival in Giovanni Caboto Park.

Postponed last year due to filming costs, funding shortages and a retired producer, the rethought and retooled festival will feature dozens of local bands, workshops and even a $300 Story Slam.

“This was a very difficult decision,” HotC programming director Corine Demas said of skipping 2023.

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“It’s going to be a wonderful 20th anniversary.

This year’s one-word theme is “Restart,” adhering to the festival’s existing slogan “Inspiration and opportunity through art.”

Both ideas go back to the festival’s roots decades ago: an effort to inject extra energy into an area that has since developed into a great little business district with a very community feel – from the converted Spinelli’s Bar Italia Go to the newly reopened Bar Italia violet/love item shop, to Cornerstone Square with its maker hive and handy antique gem paper birch book, which will soon have its own cafe.

Here, lingering on the fringes of the festival may seem a little off target, but the surrounding community is an important part of the heart of the city.

Take these two days of music programs as an example.

“We have an 80-20 policy, where 80 percent of the bands must have strong ties to the city center — at least one member,” Demas explains.

The rest must at least come from Edmonton.

Judging from the itinerary, highlights include the queer pop punk band Borderline Thrills, the rhythmic Marco Claveria Project, the rock trio The Confusionaires, the Edmonton Latin Band, the sexy psych surf band The Frolics, the octopus-loving band Funk Cove, Métis polymath Kaely Jade, singer and songwriter Stella Johnson, Ngorimba marimba band, talented singer and guitarist Billie Zizi ) and nearly 20 others – and that’s not even getting to the performers who made their debut on the festival’s youth stage.

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Another thing worth checking out at HotC is the Aboriginal fashion show, which this year will be held during the event rather than offsite.

“Heather Bouchier was the first designer to bring fashion into the heart of the city,” explains Demas, who has collaborated with the talented textile artist on previous shows. “She’s passionate now and her goal is to make Edmonton a hub for local fashion.”

For example, Darla Contois in Birds, who just won the Canadian Screen Award for Best Actor, wore a Bouchier floor-length satin dress to the ceremony.

Heather Buchier
Local designer Heather Bouchier (whose work was showcased by Darla Contois at the 2024 Canadian Screen Awards) will be showcasing some of her collections at the Heart of the City Music and Arts Festival. Photography: Jeremy Chan /Getty Images

Bouchier and other works from the series will be on display at the festival.

Meanwhile, the Story Slam will be held on Sunday at 4:30pm and everyone is invited.

“If you want to enter the competition,” Demas said, “come there at 4 p.m. and the storyteller has five minutes to wow the judges with a clean story,” she said with a laugh, noting that children will be nearby on the playground. The first place prize is $300.

In addition to the artisan market, there are 13 workshops, including a cedar weaving workshop and a photography workshop run by Macaulay resident Joe McClinton.

“McBain Cameras loaned us a bunch of cameras so people could come and learn how to take a good holiday photo,” Demas said.

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“Then they get to take pictures all over the festival and there’s a competition to see who has the best pictures.”

Selected winners will be published in the Boyle Macaulay News.

Also, Ryan Lacanilao’s Nostalgic Narrative Writing Workshop is held from 11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.

“That’s going into your childhood, writing poetry,” Demas explains, and there will also be a comedy workshop called “The Heart of Comedy” on Saturday at 6:30 p.m.

“Kamal Alaeddine was on ‘The Gong Show’ and ‘The Tonight Show,'” festival planners explained. “So he would teach us how to write jokes.”

This will continue until the stand-up comedy show at 8pm on Saturday.

Feel free to check out the full schedule of all events and workshops at heartcityfest.com This year all visual arts will be presented in-person instead of in-person. This year’s featured artist is Elliot Taylor, who is not only part of Borderline Horror, but whose Art Nouveau portraiture is also the element behind the festival’s main image.

PS, this isn’t the only part of HotC that’s gone virtual.

“We are doing something bold this year,” Demas said, noting that instead of a printed program they will offer an interactive online program on the StoryCity app that will include all program notes, artist information and their work the link to.

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Virtual tour guides are also available.

“The avatar hosting the tour is based on former board member James Jarvis, who passed away last year,” Demas explains. “The James character takes you around the park and you get to play games with him.”

For those who don’t have a cell phone or are unwilling to download the app, volunteers with iPads can also provide guided tours.

“I’m very, very excited about all this,” Demas said. “I think the neighbors will be happy to have us back, and I hope people from other parts of the city will come and see how great our community really is.”




Heart of the City Music and Arts Festival

Where Giovanni Caboto Park (9425 109A Ave.)

when Saturday noon – 10pm, Sunday noon – 5pm

Admission free

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