Sawdust City Music Festival: Interview With Curator/Founder Miranda Mulholland

Sawdust City Music Festival

Miranda Mulholland is already well-known to Canadian music fans for her work with Great Lake Swimmers and Harrow Fair, as well as her music label Roaring Girl Records, home to such artists as Tim Moxam and Liz Stringer.  This year, though, she has taken on a new challenge: founding and curating a music festival in her hometown of Gravenhurst, ON.

The Sawdust City Music Festival, to be held Aug. 4-6, will take place in multiple venues in and around Gravenhurst, including the Sawdust City Brewing Saloon, the town’s historic Opera House, and the Music Barge on Gull Lake.  The marquee performance on Saturday, August 5, will feature the Jim Cuddy Family Band with Harrow Fair and Bet Smith & the Currie Brothers.  Other artists performing that weekend include Abigail Lapell, Justin Rutledge, Tim Moxam, Devin Cuddy, and Zachary Lucky.

Miranda was kind enough to take time to talk to us about the upcoming festival.

This festival is launching in conjunction with Canada’s 150th anniversary year; were there other factors that contributed to 2017 being the year to realize this particular dream of yours?

I always wanted my label’s curation to be a bit like a festival – a bunch of artists of different genres, but who were all up for collaboration. It was only last August when I thought Gravenhurst would be the perfect spot for it.

For those of us unfamiliar with Gravenhurst, what are some things about it that really will lend themselves well to hosting a music festival like this?

For one thing, there are two historic venues already in the town – The Opera House, which has been a part of my family’s history as my Great, Great Grandfather had it built when he was the mayor, and the music barge on Gull Lake. I also wanted to involve local businesses and the excellent Sawdust City Brewery has a great venue in their premises so we’re doing all our afterparties there.

Gravenhurst is known as the Gateway to Muskoka therefore it is not only just two hours from Toronto, it is also very easy to get to from all the neighbouring Muskoka towns as well as more northern cities like Sudbury and North Bay.

It is very walkable and there are fantastic restaurants and coffee shops and stores all within a 10 minute walking radius, whether you drive, take the trian, bus or boat in to the Wharf on Lake Muskoka or Gull Lake.

I’ve always wondered: how challenging is it to select and book artists for a festival like this, particularly in its first year?

It’s been challenging for sure! I love curating things, whether it be a guest list at a dinner party or a musical lineup so I was excited to tackle it. Obviously, as a female musician myself I wanted to make sure there were not only women but also that the lineup was culturally diverse.

One of the goals you mention on the site is that you hope that proceeds from the festival will go toward a legacy fund for youth songwriting workshops, bringing more musicians into the area (year-round), and upkeep of the facilities.  As you look long-term – perhaps five or ten years out – are there other goals you have for this festival?

I really want to help foster a thriving music scene in Gravenhurst. Already there are lot of great musicians and with venues like Sawdust City Brewery and The Oar and Paddle among others, it is a good time to invest in the talent to continue this growth.

I’d love for this to be yearly – we’ll see how it goes! My goal for this year is to provide a special, memorable one of a kind festival weekend for the musicians and audience alike in my favourite spot on earth. I’ve performed and attended many festivals over the years so I hope to bring those experiences to the table. I have an incredible team on board as well from my director of Operations, Meghan Scott of Tuck and Roll Productions and Beth Cavanagh of What’s the Story PR, not to mention my incredible board members.

I’m reasonably sure nearly everyone who reads this article will know who Jim Cuddy is – and they should know who Harrow Fair are.  If you would, though, tell us about some of the other artists who have confirmed so far – what are some highlights to which festivalgoers can look forward?

NQ Arbuckle is one of my very favourite bands of all time. I’m thrilled they are playing. Local favourites Bet Smith and the Currie Brothers are awesome. Colin Cripps, who will be performing in Jim Cuddy’s band is bringing his surf-rock band, C&C Surf Factory to our festival. I’m sure everyone will be dancing. Two of our Barge performers are Jessica Mitchell and the Julian Taylor Band, which I think will perfect music floating over the water on the Sunday Evening. I heard the young singer, Jeremy Dutcher when he applied for a Toronto Arts Council grant and I was on the Jury. He blew me away. I’m thrilled that he will be joining us. Liz Stringer, who is on my label, is from Australia and not to be missed. Oh, there are so many! I am excited about every single performer.

~ L

Learn more about the festival and buy tickets.

Listen to our Spotify playlist sampler featuring many of the artists playing at the festival.

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