There’s something about River & Sky that attracts performers from around the world to Fishers’ Paradise in Field each year.
Maybe it’s the air.
“Take a moment to just breathe the air,” Meghan Remy instructed the crowd midway through her set on Friday night. The Illinois-raised, Toronto-based, U.S. Girls front-person informed the rapt audience that: “You don’t get air like this in the city.”
That said, it could be the river.
“Where the oxbow winds through the land, carving pathways to hidden homes, the river meets the sky,” waxed Guelph-based Annie Sumi. “That’s where we gather to listen, to dance, and to love.”
Whatever it is that draws them, this year saw musicians trekking from as far away as Texas, the Netherlands, and Niger, specifically for the 11th edition of the music and camping festival.
River & Sky got off to a start Thursday night with guests from The Netherlands: Altin Gün. While they played a little later than expected — switching spots with Orville Peck so one of their members could have an injured rib attended to — their 1970s Turkish funk was unlike anything else all weekend.
Later that night, the beach stage featured Little Mazarn, aka Lindsey Verrill, who drove up from Austin, Texas specifically for the festival.
“We were looking for folk festivals … and we found River & Sky through our good friend Google,” explained Verrill.
They booked a tour around the festival that took them through Ontario and Quebec. Along the way, they found themselves charmed by the Canadian music scene.
“The audience here is so warm,” said Verrill. “In the big towns you just get lost in a sea of bands.”
The landscape of Northern Ontario got to them too, though.
“It’s pretty wild, there’s just these little populated areas and then this vastness,” said Verrill. “It’s kind of romantic to me.”
While the drive from Texas was a far one, it wasn’t nearly as far as Mdou Moctar had to travel for the festival. The musician came all the way from Agadez, Niger with three backing musicians to hypnotize the audience with his electronic version of traditional Saharan Tuareg music.
Moctar grew up in a remote village where secular music was banned. He built himself a guitar from wood and bicycle brake wires, and eventually won over the religious leaders and became a national star.
He and the band played Saturday afternoon, and whenever it seemed like they were about to finish their set, they’d come back even stronger and more frenetic than before, with the crowd losing their minds a little more every time.
“We love Canada,” said Mikey Coltun, who’s based in New York but plays with Moctar. “Everyone’s super nice.”
They were looking for smaller festivals that had a close, personal feeling when they found River & Sky, and it wound up being the perfect fit.
“It’s kind of like Niger where it feels very DIY,” said Coltun. “It’s cool to feel so connected.”
There was plenty of regional representation too though, with Sudbury’s Tommy and the Commies playing Saturday afternoon, fresh from a tour across the U.S. Other local favourites were Dirty Princes, Lisa Marie Naponse, and Oli Palkovits.
Well-known Canadian headliners and guests included—but were not limited to—Fucked Up, Hollerado, Orville Peck, Yamantaka // Sonic Titan, DOOMSQUAD, and Fast Romantics.
River & Sky ran Thursday, July 18 to Sunday, July 21, and attendees agree they can’t wait for 2020 already.
Ella Jane Myers is a freelance writer in Greater Sudbury. She's fueled by good grub, old sci-fi and long walks with the dog. Visit her at EllaJaneMyers.com.