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Five reasons Up Here is the weirdest, wildest festival in Northern Ontario

What makes the urban art and music festival so unique? Evolution in isolation

Platypuses in Australia. Giant tortoises in the Galapagos. Up Here Festival in Sudbury. Three super cool, downright weird things you’ll find in one place, and nowhere else.

Sometimes isolation leads to some pretty nifty evolution.

Thanks to its relative geographical isolation, the Nickel City has some unique challenges when it comes to attracting out of town artists and performers. Interestingly, this also means we’ve developed a remarkable quantity of homegrown talent across an impressive range of genres — from hardcore punk to bluesy folk, to hip hop.

It’s like a microcosm of a bigger city in some ways. But like Darwin’s finches, each of Sudbury’s mini-scenes has developed unique characteristics that distinguish them from their origins.

Up Here 5 — which runs this weekend, Aug. 16 to 18 — plays with these quirks in its programming, blending local and out-of-town acts for a festival like no other.

“Distance is obviously a challenge, because people have these certain preconceived ideas of Sudbury and Northern Ontario,” said festival co-founder Christian Pelletier. “It’s actually a lot of fun to challenge that, to completely flip that on its head.”

Just what can you expect though? Here are five distinguishing characteristics of Up Here 5 that identify it as its own species in the festival world.

1. Sheer range: From Icelandic hip hop to an electronic treehouse set

If any two acts sum up the wide range of performances you can expect at Up Here 5, it’s Reykjavíkurdætur (pronounced  Rik-Kia-Vik-Kur-Die-Tur) and Ziibiwan. Reykjavíkurdætur is an all-woman, feminist hip hop collective coming all the way from Iceland for the Friday night hip hop show at The Grand. On the other hand there’s Ziibiwan — who’s from Wiikwemkoong on Manitoulin, but is currently based in Tkaronto (Toronto) — and will be playing their ethereal, electronic, ambient tunes in The Laughing Buddha’s patio treehouse as a free show. Ziibiwan’s hypnotic, meditative show promises to be the perfect prelude and counterpoint to the hip hop show’s boisterous atmosphere.

2. Surprise shows & a Mystery Tour

Do you have the app yet? You better, because without it, you’ll miss out on all the (free!) surprise shows over the weekend, not to mention all the locations along the second annual Mystery Tour on the Sunday. Download the app through the festival website or find it on Google Play or the Apple App store.

If you think the schedule is packed now, keep in mind there’s a lot more happening that you’re not seeing! I can’t quite think of any other festival that has this many surprises each year.

3.An 80,000 square foot mural

In case you haven’t heard (which seems unlikely): The old St. Joseph’s Hospital on Paris Street will soon be transformed into an 80,000-square-foot mural. RISK — aka Kelly Graval — is an internationally acclaimed, American street artist coming to Sudbury to turn the hospital into “eye candy.” The mural will become the biggest piece of public art in Canada, the previous record-holder was a measly 20,000 square feet.

4. Indoor & Outdoor Activities

Up Here has all the benefits of an outdoor festival with all the conveniences of an indoor venue. The Family Day takes place in Memorial Park, and there’s the famous geodesic dome, live DJ, and pop up bar on astroturfed Durham Street, while most of the main shows take place in familiar local venues like The Grand, The Townehouse, or Zigs. The best part is you can pop outdoors at any point to cool off or grab some air, but you don’t really have to worry about rain wrecking the fest. The best of both worlds.

5. A Year-Round Impact

Not too many festivals get to say they have an impact that extends much beyond the week or weekend they take place on in a truly tangible way. But Up Here is based on the idea of creating art, and change, that lasts. The murals, for one, are visible and accessible year round. The downtown core is riddled with work from Up Heres 1 through 4, and the city is undeniably brighter for it.

At the end of the day, Up Here uses the diversity that characterizes Sudbury to its advantage, and brings in artists who build on that idea. The festival responds to the environment, and what works, much like evolution.

“What worked last year, we just kind of exploded it, and this year we were like let’s keep hammering on this nail,” said Pelletier.

The result? Each year, and even each show, is unlike any other.

“It’s a palette-cleanser festival,” said Pelletier. “Every show is like OK that was awesome, that was different.”

For more information, or to buy tickets, visit