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Love, friendship and babies: Let’s follow the connections made at River & Sky

10 years of first kisses, anniversaries and chance meetings — it’s serendipity

Ella Jane Myers

From relationships to friendships, business ideas to babies, there have been a few things born out of River and Sky — some more literally than others.

The 10-year-old music and camping festival that takes place in Field from July 19-22 has an undeniable charm that’s set the stage for a few notable connections over the years.

The first connection I’d heard of was the one between Melanie St-Pierre and Neil Bednis of Casper Skulls, whose relationship got a full write-up last year.

The two attended the festival as friends in 2011, but left as something more after they finally worked up the courage for a first kiss that weekend. They eventually started a super cool band, and the rest is history. After the story came out, people began approaching me with their own stories, or stories they’d heard from friends. 

For example, apparently Jen McKerral and Matthew Wiewel (who have never missed a festival) had a similar experience to St-Pierre and Bednis in the summer of 2012. 

“We had known each other for about three years, but it wasn’t until we spent time in a band together [Pistol George Warren] that year, packing nine people into a van most weekends, that we really got to know each other,” said McKerral.

There must have been something in the air that year (the music or the mosquitoes maybe?) because they wound up hiding in a tent and the next thing they knew they were dating.

Interestingly not only was their relationship a by-product of the festival, the name of their recording studio was too.

“Naming that business was a months-long pursuit. We had such different expectations for what it should be,” said McKerral. “In 2016, it was the Wednesday night before the festival, where it’s still sort of quiet, but the excitement among the folks who decided to head down early is palpable. 

“He ran up to me while I was sitting at a picnic table and just yelled, ‘DEADPAN!’ in my face. Thankfully, I knew what he was talking about, and totally matched his excitement.”

There are also cases of the couples who were couples in everything but name until the festival worked its magic, take Tracy Baker and Josh Turnbull in 2014.

“We were best friends, who hung out constantly, but were both a little burned by love. That said, I was completely head over heels in love with Josh, but I was keeping that little bit of info to myself for the time being,” said Baker. “Eventually we giggled all the way back to our camping spot and got cozy in the tent … During a quiet spacey moment and completely out of nowhere, Josh said he loved me! 

“I was so shocked that I sat up and said, ‘WHAT!’ And laid back down thinking he hadn’t actually said that.

“We now consider River and Sky our anniversary, even though we got married on a different date. We even brought our one-month-old babe to River & Sky because we just can’t miss it!”

While some connections were made between people who already knew each other, others were formed between strangers. 

Jason Haberman and Katherine Salnek, for instance, met at the second festival ever in 2010 when Haberman was playing it with Yukon Blonde. 

“We made eyes at the service station on the way up to River & Sky, but when we landed at the festival, I got a lot of encouragement from the stars and the vibes to walk up to Katherine and say ‘Wanna hang out later?’ ” said Haberman. “There was a spark for sure. There were sparks flying around the whole weekend, we just happened to catch a really big one.”

They married two years later on the same weekend.

“That festival turned my life/love around and gives me chills every time I think of that weekend,” said Haberman.

Two years after Haberman and Salnek met, Hannah Petingola and Scott Dutrisac had a similar experience.

“Neither of us had ever been before and we met down by the river on the second night of the festival. We were both listening to Harlan Pepper play,” said Petingola. “The next day we spent the whole day together, swimming and listening to music. Scott is from Sturgeon Falls and I am from Sudbury, so we would travel to visit each other on weekends. We have been together for six years and we just got engaged at the end of June!”

The two now live in Edmonton, but look forward to returning to future editions of the festival one day.

Not all the connections made at River & Sky are romantic, either. Mel McDonald and Erin Beange bonded over mutual interests at the 2017 festival, and a continuing friendship was born.

“She was a friend of a friend and was camped out on the site across from mine. At one point we realized we were both wine lovers! That sealed the deal for me,” laughed McDonald. “We see each other all the time. I knew I had made a friend for life after the first post River and Sky hangout.” 

Two more festival friends are Josée Guimond and Stephanie Fournier who met when Guimond, heading to River & Sky for the third time, posted that she needed a rideshare up to the festival from Toronto, and Fournier, who was going for the first time, offered her a ride.

“We didn’t drive far before stopping for poutine and pogos. On the car ride back we had a blast singing along to the radio and an old Shania Twain best of CD,” they said. “We laughed at each other’s dad jokes and puns, and Steph was very impressed by Josée's preparedness with different kinds of snacks. Food and laughter are the basis of this friendship. It was obvious we were starting a new and important friendship.”

They’ve adventured in Costa Rica together in the year since and talk almost daily.

“The festival has a relaxed, chill vibe that makes you feel at home. Now we can't wait to spend the festival together, because even the best things in life are made better when we're together.”

Last but certainly not least, the most literal connection born of River & Sky that we know of (although, chances are there are more): Max Merrifield and Ashlyne Botelho’s daughter Layla was … ahem … conceived at the romantic camping festival. 

“We were both hired as interns for Northern Lights Festival Boréal. Max was the marketing and vendor co-ordinator, and I was the volunteer and outreach co-ordinator. Max introduced me to River |& Sky in 2013 and we fell in love that year,” said Botelho. 

It was during their third year that things got even more serious for the two.

“Max and I had a conversation at the River Valley chip stand post-festival in 2015 and decided we were open to the idea of creating babies together. As it turns out, I was five days pregnant at the time,” said Botelho.

“Sharing this experience with Layla is so important to us. She was only three months at her first festival in 2016. Her first ever dunk was in the Sturgeon River.”

While some of these connections may have been made regardless of the festival, they’re all ultimately the serendipitous result of intertwining plans and the right moment. It’s undeniable there’s something about River and Sky that helps bring people together. If you have a story you’d like to share about a connection you made at River and Sky, let us know in the comments!

For more information about River and Sky visit

Ella Jane Myers is a freelance writer in Greater Sudbury. Learn more at