After two years of cancellations and COVID restrictions, Tall Pines Music and Arts Festival kicked off summer in Muskoka with their first-ever event this past weekend, featuring an all-Canadian lineup, local vendors and more.
Festival director Kevin Goodman said the festival is a product of the pandemic. After seeing the way COVID “paralyzed” the music industry, it inspired Goodman and the team at his marketing agency Front Row Center to put together virtual music festivals. Throughout 2020 and 2021, they hosted events on Canada Day and New Year’s Eve along with a five-day festival at Camp Tamakwa in Algonquin Park. The success of the virtual concerts inspired them to create an in-person event, which happened on June 4 and 5 at the Muskoka Wharf in Gravenhurst.
“From weather to people to vibes, it was something very special,” Goodman said.
He sought out to create a community-centred cultural event and the feedback from festival goers has been incredible so far, he said. Having the inaugural festival in the books has given him an overwhelming sense of accomplishment, relief and joy.
“We have every intention to bring this back to the region and back to Gravenhurst,” he said. “We’d love to try and make this a kick-off to summer tradition here in Muskoka.”
Goodman said he wants to give a shout out to the people in and around Muskoka that came out to the event. Tickets were sold to residents in Gravenhurst, Bracebridge, Huntsville, Barrie, Orillia, Washago, Utterson, Parry Sound and more, so the event team was thrilled to see people from across cottage country in attendance.
“I just want to thank all the music fans here in Muskoka region that came out to the festival,” he said. “There’s a lot of things that are going on in the region, personally and professionally for a lot of these people, and for them to entrust us and spend their resources to come out and enjoy a day or two of music meant the absolute world.”
Port Sydney resident and festival attendee Emily Moffatt said she was happy to support local businesses while enjoying great food and music at Tall Pines.
“The vendors, the people, the atmosphere, it was all amazing!” she said. “They put on a great first festival.” Moffatt said she hopes the festival will return next year because she would definitely be in attendance.
“It was an exhilarating experience to finally be able to enjoy the concerts that we all missed here in Muskoka,” she said. “It brought a great vibe to Gravenhurst. I think it’s what they needed after two long years.”
Danielle and Drew McTaggart of Dear Rouge were one of 15 bands that took the stage over the weekend and it was their first festival in years that was free of pandemic protocols. Based in Vancouver, they’ve only made their way to Muskoka a few times, but Danielle does have fond memories of the region from an unplanned stay years ago.
She was travelling through the area with her first band Gaetz Ave when a bee flew in their van window and caused the driver to crash. They ended up getting stuck at a local Christian camp for two weeks, so while the accident wasn’t ideal, Muskoka wasn’t a bad place to crash, Danielle said. It was exciting for her to return this past weekend and play alongside so many Canadian artists.
“I love the Muskoka area. It’s gorgeous,” she said. “All the bands playing we have some kind of connection or friendship with, so I feel like it’s kind of a reunion for us as well.”
It was incredible to have “a big catch up in the sunshine,” she said, so she hopes the festival will keep happening for years to come. Tall Pines was also their first chance to play their new album Spirit at a festival after it was released in April.
Dear Rouge had been sitting on dozens of demos and planning their next album when the pandemic hit and kept them from wanting to release new music. The extra time allowed them to write their most personal and vulnerable album yet, including collaborations with popstar Lights, Broken Social Scene founding member Brendan Canning and a slew of other musicians.
“We feel very passionate about the record because it’s obviously a huge byproduct of the pandemic,” Drew said. “For us, it’s maybe most representative of who we are as people and so it feels like a very important record to us, and I hope other people can feel that sincerity when they listen to it.”
He hopes fans will crank the volume and listen to the album front to back while Danielle hopes that listeners can adopt the music as their own and make connections to their lives and stories. Though she still worries about COVID closures and restrictions returning, she’s thankful to be able to share their newest tracks and the journey that led to their creation.
“It’s amplified the enjoyment of getting to play the songs,” Danielle said. “We love the record we made and so playing it live is that cherry on top of getting to see people’s expressions and excitement around the music.”
For more information about Tall Pines Music and Arts Festival, visit the event website.