Burlington’s been calling to the world for more than a couple decades, back since the days of Grade, the Rainbow Butt Monkeys, Slurpy Mundae and beyond but some scene stalwarts just added some focus to draw the spotlight a little brighter seven years ago with a music festival dubbed Burly Calling.
After a half dozen years, Burly Calling VII returns to gathers up some fifty artists at six venues over four nights and while it celebrates young new music, this year it also marks the end of the band that began it all.
“It started as a joke,” reminisces Saint Alvia vocalist and Burly Calling co-organizer, Ben Rispin. “Saint Alvia had to fundraise to go on tour with Bedouin Soundclash so we did a mock tour of Burlington from Aldershot to central Burlington to the east end and then a friend’s house where we had a keg party. It was cool with joke t-shirts and laminates. It was really kitschy but it worked so then we decided to do it again the next year and it became an annual thing. Around year four, it changed to a pub-crawl festival that it is now. About two or three thousand people come out over the weekend and all but one show sold out last year. It was a lot of fun but it was also so much work that at the end of it, we say we’re not going to do it again but every year we keep doing it.
“Four years ago, I told Ben I would love to get involved and help take the festival to the next level,” adds Killin’ Time Band vocalist and Burly Calling co-organizer Brad Hails. “We became partners and the festival has grown every year since. Ben has great band relations and contacts, I have a lot of experience in event planning and lots of connections with the city and venues so combined, we have most of the skills we need. The rest we just learn along the way and we learn more every year.
“Without the people that come support and watch the bands we are lucky enough to work with there would be no festival,” adds Hails. “It’s about our local music and it’s like Christmas for our extended musical families. We definitely don’t do it for the money; we do it for the community and our love for local music. Burly Calling is important to keeping the city’s rich musical history alive and helping it growing.”
What started as a dozen bands helping put on some makeshift shows for and by their friends has morphed into a grand music festival with a wealth of talent — most from the greater Hamilton/Burlington area and all friends of Rispin and company.
“Most bands I do know personally and if I don’t by the time I book them I do,” smiles Rispin. “Chuck Coles from the Organ Thieves is one of my best friends and he’s probably played every Burly Calling, those guys can play whenever they want – but I try to make the programming broad and broaden my horizons throughout the course of the year.
While Saint Alvia has remained one of the strong headliners over the years, Burly Calling has featured Monster Truck, Walk Off The Earth and dozens of bands with international clout. Fuelling young new talent and in Burlington proper is the mandate but there has also been a strong element of historical celebration. Finger 11, Grade and even Saint Alvia all were once a bunch of teens looking to find anywhere to play in their hometown but in the process found stages around the world and this festival always pays homage to the past that spawned this scene. This time five reunions, Somehow Hollow, Gym Class Joke, The Next Best Thing, Rise Over Run, and Jersey all reunite for BCVII.
“We had a couple of ideas for bands to get back together,” explains Rispin. “Everyone was really sad to learn we lost [Somehow Hollow and Grade guitarist] Kent [Abbott who died in January of this year], so we decided that the charity toy drive we do as part of the fest would now be named the Kent Abbott Memorial Toy Drive in his honour. Who better to get to play that show then Somehow Hollow? I also wanted to build one show that felt like the ‘90s punk scene in Burlington and get all of those people back together for a throwback to that time. It’s like a reunion with all of the people that attended all of those shows as well. I didn’t go to my high school reunion, I go to punk shows. Jersey is the embodiment of Burlington punk rock - maybe not with sound but with spirit definitely. They’re everyone I know’s favourite band.”
Between 1996 and 2005, Jersey toured North America opening for the likes of Less Than Jake, MxPx, NOFX and the Offspring, released five albums and after a decade simply came apart at the seams. This weekend, Saint Alvia guitarist Greg Taylor reunites the final incarnation of Jersey with Johnny Lubera, the Creepshow’s Sean McNab, and former Alexisonfire and current Say Yes drummer Jordan Hastings.
“I definitely did the most touring in my musical career with Jersey,” recalls Taylor. “We toured the hell out of that band. The only problem was that we were the eternal opening band. We played with everyone that I would have ever wanted to play with pretty much. We were friends with all of those bands but it was hard for us to get passed opening and that definitely contributed to the demise.
“Jersey is playing again but we’re leaving the door open to what happens in the future but not making a statement either way,” adds Taylor. “We’re excited to be playing with Gym Class Joke and happy the Planet Smashers are headlining. It takes the pressure off of us but we know a lot of Burlington people are excited about this show and expect to see a lot of old friends.”
While the holiday season brings a special element to this particular festival and the many reunions adds a certain nostalgia as well, BC VII also will be bittersweet for many as it marks the final performance for Saint Alvia. After eight years and three albums, the band that started this remarkable Burlington cultural event will be no more.
“It’s been a long time coming,” confides Taylor. “As a band that starts losing original members [Rob Pasalic has gone on to study law in England and Brandon Bliss has joined Monster Truck], even though you gain something new and fresh, you lose a little bit of the soul of the band. It helped us make an amazing record, Static Psalms, which I think is our best record. Then we lost our van, our gear was stolen, a trailer was stolen, we had a flood and we were just never able to get back on our feet.
“And as time went on, people’s lives evolved, people got married and others were having children and other commitments were taking priority,” adds Taylor. “We had a lot of good times with Saint Alvia and made a lot of great music. I was stoked we went to Japan and I never thought I’d be in a band that was nominated for a Juno never mind two but it was becoming not as much fun. When we’re on stage, it’s amazing; but to just get the band together to practice or whatever, it was becoming a huge chore. It became too hard to keep it together so we thought, let’s just end this on a good note as friends and the music can live on. I’m sure everyone in the band would say it’s bittersweet. I think we’re doing it at the right time but obviously, we’re all going to miss it. Life will be definitely different after this show for everybody; we just have to see what it brings.”
“There’s no drama behind the end of Saint Alvia,” says Rispin. I don’t like to do anything half-assed so if we can’t do this properly, I’d rather go find something else to sink my life into. I have a couple of creative projects in the works but with music, I want to be more behind the scenes and I think that’s where I want to be right now in my life. We’re playing two hours for the final Saint Alvia show and it’ll be great but there’s a ton of bands to see this weekend. We just want everyone to come out for all of the shows. I think the line up is there to make this the best Burly Calling ever.” V
Burly Calling VII happens this Thursday December 5 through Sunday December 8 at various venues in Burlington. Click on www.burlycalling.com