While this weekend marks Canada’s 152nd birthday, it’s actually the 50th birthday for It’s Your Festival itself — and as always, the man that’s programmed the festivities also celebrates a milestone birthday.
Officially, John Balogh was 16 years old when he dropped out of Hill Park Secondary to pursue life as a comedian but he ran in a circle of very musical friends and who would have thought that funny kid would help make Hamilton music history over the next few decades.
“I started off as a comedian but obviously the music business was much more humourous. When me and others like Simply Saucer, Teenage Head or the Lanois Brothers at Grant Avenue started in the music business,” says Balogh. “People would say, ‘maybe you should start thinking about a real job’ but after 45 years of rubbing a genie lamp, you realize you made the right decision. Back then there were a lot of raised eyebrows but now it’s part of Hamilton’s musical history.
“I was enhanced by the visionary observation of the band Crowbar — that’s probably what stimulated the nuculei,” adds Balogh. “They were the first big time band to see how they operated. They were fun loving guys and they still are today although we’re all sad about the recent passing of Kelly Jay but I stay in touch with the other Crowbar guys.”
Balogh was there when Jackson Square opened in 1972 and wanted to book bands on the rooftop and that got his foot in the door. He’d start becoming a club concert buyer for a variety of 700 seat venues across Ontario which morphed into him taking on the role of concert promoter. Eventually he’d work with a variety of organizations including some non–profits and that began his relationship with It’s Your Festival.
“I watched a lot of other guys do what I do now and thought that was the seat I should be in,” says Balogh. “It was first called It’s Your Bag but I’ve done It’s Your Festival for about 40 years. It stuck the best for me because it had the best board for me over the years with people like Lloyd Turner and Corinna Stroop. They’re dedicated to the diversity of not only the entertainment but also the vendors and food stuff that’s presented. I play a small spoke of that wheel to get the entertainment. The different between me being great and lousy is the good Lord and His weather. You hope for the best.It’s been a cooperative effort for the last 40 years that I’ve worked with this group.”
On Saturday, Hamilton’s Riddim Riders are on the main stage at 7:30 before Jully Black at 9:30 with an after show with Riddim Riders happening in the beer garden at 11pm. On Sunday, June 30 Jack de Keyzer plays at 6:00, followed by the Lowest of the Low at 8:00 and the Pursuit of Happiness at 10:00 with Troy Harmer doing an after show at 11:30 in the beer garden. On Monday, July 1, Canada’s 152nd Birthday celebration will have the Devin Cuddy Band 6:00, Chilliwack at 8:00 and the Northern Pikes at 10:00 with Robin Benedict doing the aftershow in the beer garden at 11:30.
“We doubled up on the headliners over three days this year,” says Balogh. “I love bands with a catalogue like Chilliwack that has hit after hit after hit. Even The Northern Pikes — you can play five or ten songs and you know every song. I think people are in for a great treat each night. This year we’re doing something special. When the headlining act ends by 11pm, abiding by all curfew laws, we have some great Hamilton bands playing the last hour of the show in the beer garden. We’ve never done that before and we’ve got lots of great locals through the festival on the four stages. We’ve got Jessie the Cowgirl, and Cindy Cook from the Polka Dot Door, Learning With Lexi and more on the children’s stage.
“And because it’s our fifty year celebration, we’re giving away fifty prizes on Saturday and Sunday,” adds Balogh. “On Monday, we’ve got the parade of flags and the opening ceremonies, a piece of Canada’s biggest birthday cake, the baby contest and the Canadian Citizenship ceremony. I know we’re going to have good weather because I’ve been watching the Farmer’s Almanac since last year. Lots of tented areas and places to sit, cold brew and tons of free entertainment. Even if you planned doing something else, it’s worth putting it off just to come to It’s Your Festival. From 10am to midnight, the place is going to packed with great entertainment, food vendors, artisans from the area.”
After so many decades, Balogh and It’s Your Festival offer up a multicultural festival tradition and if Balogh has his way, he could be doing it for many more decades to come.
“Back when it started, there were four festivals in the same geographic area and now there are fifty festivals in the same area,” says Balogh. “It’s Your Festival is kind of special though. I spent forty years celebrating my birthday in Gage Park and this year I celebrate my sixty-fifth. I hope to be Hamilton’s Irving Azoff — I’d like to be doing this when I’m 92 with people holding me up. If anything come and celebrate my birthday on June 30. Otherwise, I’m looking forward to spending the weekend like I’ve done for so many years — with twenty thousand people rocking out to some of Canada’s best sounds.” V
It’s Your Festival celebrates 50 years in Gage Park Hamilton from Saturday June 29 through Monday July 1. Artists/Schedule subject to change. Click on itsyourfestival.ca