How a local dive bar was transformed into the grounds for 3 nights of chaotic fun featuring some of Ontario's most iconic Punk bands.
From the very first mention of the name, GNARFest was shrouded in mystery as well as a sense of excitement and hope for the local community in Brantford, Ontario. With the promise of 3 full nights of music and a skate park matinee show, the DIY punk festival seemed extremely overly-ambitious even to the organizers themselves. The goal was to pack one of the smallest, sweatiest dive bars around with some of Ontario's most legendary contemporary punk bands and an excitable, eager crowd. In the days prior to the festival there were several last minute additions and announcements to the bill including: By Divine Right, Pkew Pkew Pkew and a day of secret set reveal for The Dirty Nil, creating a upward trajectory of excitement amongst local show goers and musicians alike.
From the first minutes of the doors opening at GNARFest, there was a sense of magic in the air. Local entrepreneurs Brantford Apparel were posted up out front with a stocked merch tent showcasing some awesome GNAR swag, as well as vinyls and merchandise from various established local acts. Walking through the front doors, anyone who's experienced a Johnny Hover Sunday Funday or knows who BA Johnston is instantly took notice of the absence of the pool table and the subtle yet striking "GNAR" banner covering the usual view of market street from behind the stage. The sense that this was something different and exciting was tangible from blocks away Two Doors Down that night. The second Mercy took the stage at 8 PM the crowd were eagerly awaiting the start of this music fuelled weekend of equal parts debauchery and artistic expression. from there, the energy ramped up exponentially and the peak of the intensity coincided perfectly with the entry of Dundas royalty, The Dirty Nil. An hour of spilled beer shattered vocal chords and friendly yet rambunctious moshing later, night one of GNARFest had reached its conclusion. Outside of the bar a cloud of cigarette smoke and excited murmurs filled the air as everyone had the same thought: this was only the first night.
After a morning of much needed rest, the crew once again made their way over to Twos to set up another night of GNAR. The tent was back up, sound man and saviour of Bummer Records, Trevor Cooke could be found testing microphones and manning the board when Pkew Pkew Pkew arrived to soundcheck for their headlining spot. The crowd once again punctually rolling in just in time for doors, seemed to surprise the Bummer newcomers and Headlining acts alike. For the first time in years, the music scene in Brantford seemed alive and back with a vengeance. Images of memories, shared laughs and communal cheers were being photographed by Matthew Woods and the incredibly efficient Scum Collective were hunched over a tablet editing live in the workstation they had made for themselves behind the ticket booth. Everyone involved was evidently tirelessly dedicated to making sure these three nights went down in local history. From photographers to musicians to the usual fans, no one in the building had anything but a smile on their faces as night two came to a dramatic conclusion with a theatric performance by Brantford's very own Miss Mae.
A couple of Long & Mcquade rentals, several tylenols and Lonnie's breakfasts later, the local skatepark had been transformed into an outdoor festival grounds. The extremely cold weather didn't stop community members from stopping in to check out a wide array of local art vendors and business owners displaying their handcrafted goods and listening to some loud skater-oriented fast rock music. Scooters, Skateboards and even rollerbladers dipped up and down the concrete bowls as Weekend Goodbye riffed and jumped their way through 30 minutes of non-stop fun. Local pedestrians stopped and stared in awe as the attendees continued to mosh in scarves and mitts on the coldest day of the fall thus far. Even after the final notes of Felkers sludgy set rang out, the excitement didn't dissipate as fans knew there was still one more night of memories to be made.
At this point in the festival, nothing could bring down the feeling of sheer adrenaline everyone involved in this weekend was experiencing. Two nights and a matinee show running smoothly with little to no hiccups was enough to give everyone an overwhelming sense of relief and assurance. When Johnny Hover stepped up on stage to recount iconic songs by his since defunct band Positive Moral Values, nostalgia and hometown pride filled the bar. Toronto sweethearts, Roach belted out anthemic well crafted and heart wrenching indie tunes, with a more subdued approach creating a much needed sense of calmness before Single Mothers took the stage. After finishing a very vulnerable and raw ballad, lead singer, Violet exclaimed "mosh to that, bitch" poking fun at the restless and antsy crowd, that seemingly would have moshed to any noise at all at this point. Single Mothers Drew Thompson's angry and honest screams were the soundtrack to the explosion of the eager crowd and the start of the festivals most intense and frankly scary mosh pit yet. The crowd wasn't the only thing exploding as their set was cut short due to blowing the speakers in the backlined amp. Members of Sun Junkies scrambled to find working amps in order to close out the festival as planned and thanks to the help of some very helpful friends, just 15 minutes later the band was plugged in and ready to put GNARFest to bed. The band proceeded to provide the crowd with an hour of hometown pride and sloppy but energetic pop punk. After proclaiming their undying love for the city and everyone who supports Bummer Records, Sun Junkies walked off the stage and the crowd once again flooded the streets of Brantford. Exclamations of gratitude and anticipation for the future could be heard from all around the venue as the crew tore down the lights and mixer. Yet again one thought rushed though everyones minds, "How are they gonna top this next year?"
Watch Gnar Place Like Home: Night 1 BELOW: