Updated: Apr 27
It was Spring of 2008 in an empty building in downtown Sarnia when the first concert happened.
"In 2007, I caught a ride back to Ontario from B.C with fellow Sarnian Eric Woolston. On that long ride back, Eric, who was an established professional musician living in Toronto, put forth an idea to start a concert series to get more indie/underground acts to perform in Sarnia. The shows would happen in 'empty spaces' downtown, since half of the downtown area was vacant back then," says Danny Alexander, co-founder of Sarnia's longest running independent music festival. "There would also be a major emphasis to pair these touring bands with up and coming local bands, especially those still in high school," (ie. all ages shows), he explained from Toronto to Mouthpiece Magazine earlier this week, as he gears up to return home for the 12th annual festival set to kick off this weekend.
The road trip conversation between the two artists was then taken by Woolston, (Alexander notes his more transient mindset at the time), and quickly became a reality downtown: and so began in April of 2008 the Empty Spaces concert series.
"Flash forward 9 or so months... [and] that's when I noticed the first Empty Spaces concert was announced. I attended and I was immediately hooked by how unique the Toronto band was; it was true that Sarnia didn't have very many 'indie' bands (for lack of a better word) coming through back then, so I was immediately hooked by Eric's concept and wanted to help bring as much interesting music to the area as possible, help build the local scene and, hopefully, inspire people to start more bands."
After the launch of the Empty Spaces concert series, Empty Fest began one year later as the first year anniversary party of the original series. "There were a ton of "Empty Spaces Presents" shows scattered throughout the year until about Empty Fest 10," noting he started dialing things back a bit to what is currently the annual Festival and the Holiday show, in April and December respectively.
When asked about the evolution and importance of Empty Fest on Sarnia's local scene, the co-founder had this to say:
"I think Empty Spaces, alongside other important cultural events such as Artwalk and First Friday, had a large impact helping to jumpstart the rejuvenation of downtown Sarnia. I'm always in awe by how many friendships and connections have been established at these shows. Often, Toronto bands will meet for the first time in Sarnia and become great friends, despite living in the same city and being part of the same general scene. And of course, many local artists have made connections with touring acts and gone on to play shows with them across Ontario. I always try to grow the festival a bit each year and stack the lineups as much as I can. I like to go all out!"
Officially launching as "Empty Fest" in 2009, this weekend marks the 12th instalment of the longest running Sarnia based independent music festival. Set across two venues, The Refined Fool (London Road) and Maud's Variety (Mitton Village), the work of Danny Alexander continues to contribute to the growth and celebration of musical culture within Sarnia wherein musical acts across the nation will again come together and share their independent and underground sounds.
DAY 1 Friday, April 28th @ Refined Fool (1326 London Rd): 9 BANDS ON TWO STAGES $22 advanced on Eventbrite: http://www.eventbrite.com/.../empty-fest-12-tickets...
Doors at 8:30pm / Music at 9:00pm
DAY 2 Saturday, April 29th @ Maud’s Variety (125 Mitton St S) $20 at the door only **NO ADVANCED TIX / VERY LIMITED CAPACITY Doors at 8:00pm / Music at 8:30pm
Friday, April 28th at Refined Fool Brewing Co. London Rd Doors @ 8:30pm
9:00 - 9:30 - Johnny Deerest / KETTLE STAGE 9:30 - 10:00 - The Strange Happenings / FRONT STAGE 10:00 - 10:30 - Gaijin Smash / KETTLE STAGE 10:30 - 11:00 - Martian Crisis Unit / FRONT STAGE 11:00 -11:30 - Secret Sign / KETTLE STAGE 11:30 - 12:00 - Possum / FRONT STAGE 12:00 - 12:30 - Twin Rains / KETTLE STAGE 12:30 -1:00 - ANIMATIST / FRONT STAGE 1:00-1:30 - Leona Hell / KETTLE STAGE
Saturday, April 29th at Maud's Variety ** limited space, arrive early! $20 at the door
8:30 - 9:00 - Daphne’s Demise 9:20 - 10:00 - Faiyaz and The Wasted Chances 10:20 - 11:00 - Theo Vandenhoff 11:20 - 12:00 - Bad Waitress 12:20 - 1:00 - yoo doo right 1:20 - 2:00 - Paulo Sinski Microband
Event and Band Posters:
Poster Design: Kalina Nedelcheva