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Indie music festival Empty Fest marking 10th anniversary

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Troy Shantz

Sarnia’s little music festival that could turns 10 this year.

Empty Fest, Sarnia’s annual independent music festival, returns Thursday, May 3 for a four-day run.

“It definitely just went by really quick,” said co-founder Danny Alexander, a former Sarnian now based in Toronto.

“Number 10 does sound like a nice milestone.”

For the anniversary, more than 20 bands have been booked, including Polaris Prize winner Lida Pimienta, scheduled to play May 4 at The Story.

“By the time January rolls around I always have a whole bunch of new bands I’m excited to reach out to and bring down to Sarnia,” Alexander said.

Based on the ongoing indie concert series Empty Spaces, Empty Fest began in 2008.

“It was just simply a celebration after having done it for one year… which is kind of funny that we thought that was a big deal,” said Alexander, laughing.

“We wanted to do something significant.”

Empty Spaces was born when Artwalk and First Friday were young and the downtown core was redefining itself as a cultural district.

Alexander estimates they’ve booked more than 150 Empty Spaces and Empty Fest shows, providing a venue for notable acts such as Grimes, The Sadies and Mac DeMarco.

Eric Woolston and Danny Alexander envisioned empty Spaces during a long drive home from B.C. in September of 2007.

Woolston, who came up with the concept, pictured performances by semi-established local bands combined with independent acts from across Ontario — the kind of acts not seen or heard in Sarnia.

The Empty Spaces name referenced the downtown’s many vacant buildings at the time, and the first show in April 2008 took place in a courtyard near the Bayside Mall on property owned by entrepreneur and Artwalk founder Shawn McKnight.




Thursday, May 3

Paddy Flaherty’s – free show

YUKA (Toronto, classic soul-funk)

GUCC (Sarnia, synthy party jams)

DREAM SEER (Sarnia, bedroom pop)


Friday, May 4

The Story – $15 before 9 p.m., $20 after

LIDO PIMIENTA (Toronto, Latin-American infused electronic music)

THE FUTURE PRIMITIVE (Toronto, 6 piece tropical-soul)

VERSA (Guelph, dense instrumental rock w/ live liquid light projections)

THE CROWLEYS (Hamilton, synthy, 80’s-infused psychedelia)

FUTURE PEERS (Toronto, catchy prog-pop)

WORLD NEWS (Toronto, dancey synth explorations)

HORSELESS HEADMEN (Sarnia, hometown surf rock)

BAD HABIT (Sarnia, ever-evolving local psych outfit)

EKT (Sarnia, expertly constructed electronic beats)

An early evening show at the native plant garden at Davis and Christina is scheduled during First Friday, featuring Evan & John and others.


Saturday, May 5

The Old Trinity Lounge – $12 before 9 p.m. $15 after

MOON KING (Detroit, dream pop duo featuring former Spiral Beach’er Daniel Woodhead)

JEAN DADDY (Toronto, ear-blasting party jams)

LUGE (Toronto, wholly unique prog/punk outfit)

WINE LIPS (Toronto, solid garage rock)

THE CAT AND THE QUEEN (Toronto, highly theatrical act feat. the powerful vocals of Cat Montgomery)

GOLDEN TRASH (Sarnia, home-town scum rock heroes return)

FAIDS (Sarnia, long-time purveyors of apocalyptic demon rock)

STREET TRASH (Toronto, when one “Trash” band isn’t enough)

CRAIG CURRIE (Toronto, a drone set from former Haligonian Craig Currie)

SPECIES OF TREES (London, 3-piece prog attack)

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