KOI Music Festival
Nothing breeds success like success.
Just ask Cory Crossman.
Four years ago Crossman and his brother Curt had a bold idea.
The co-owners of Queen Street businesses Arc Clothing and Civilian Printing dreamed up a one-day, indie music festival.
Called The Kitchener Ontario Independent Music Festival — KOI (like the fish) for short — the ear-thumping, music bash was not aimed at fortysomethings or babyboomers.
After all, Sun Life Finacial UpTown Waterloo Jazz Festival, TD Kitchener Blues Festival and Cambridge’s Mill Race Festival of Traditional Folk Music already had that demographic covered.
No, the Crossman’s audacious plan was aimed at a younger audience who eschewed polite music in all its pasteurized forms for rawer, rougher fare — indie rock, hip-hop, pop punk, metal, hardcore, reggae, ska and blues with an edge.
Of course there were skeptics hiding in urban bushes, anticipating another music dream turning into 8-track tapes.
Skeptics turned into believers after that inaugural, one-day event in 2010 when 135 bands transformed downtown Kitchener into Indie Music Central.
KOI is now recognized as one of Ontario’s premiere indie musical festivals — a fact reflected in larger audiences and big-name artists.
Featuring 159 acts, the celebration of all styles of indie music returns again over three days Friday night through Sunday morning.
The Crossmans have been promoting concerts since their mid-teens and their devotion to local music remains unflagging.
Half of this year’s lineup is local, with 16 bands coming from U.S. The rest hail from across Canada.
“A strong local presence has always been a priority,” Cory Crossman affirms.
Initially the Crossmans were eager to “help put Kitchener back on the map as a music destination.”
A short four years later, it is clear that indie musicians know where Kitchener is located.
“We have been able to pull in bigger bands as our draw has expanded,” he observes.
“Bigger artists come to support emerging artists,” Crossman acknowledges, adding that “smaller artists also support bigger artists. One feeds off the other.”
This year’s headliners include:
• Halifax’s Juno-winning rapper Classified.
• Ontario-based indie rockers Treble Charger.
• Legendary Montreal-based, ska-punkers Planet Smashers who will be joined by Ontario-based, Celtic rockers The Mahones.
• Toronto-based, indie-rockers Wooden Sky.
• Queens (NY)-based, punk-rockers Bayside (Crossman says he “sold tickets to a guy from Capetown, South Africa” who wants to see the band).
• Queens (NY)-based deathcore outfit Emmure.
• Boston-based, ska-punk band Big D & the Kids Table.
While music remains a core passion for the Crossmans, both brothers are aware of the importance of arts and culture to the overall health of downtown Kitchener.
“One of the reasons we developed KOI was to help rejuvenate downtown Kitchener,” Crossman insists. “It’s as different as night and day compared to five years ago.
“We grew weary of stale preconceptions about the downtown.”
Success also attracts sponsorship.
As KOI has prospered, the Crossmans have found increasing support through the BIA, downtown retailers, art and culture partners and government.
“The support from the community is unbelievable. I don’t know if we could have pulled it off were it not for community engagement and support.”
KOI targets an audience between 20 and 32. The average age of concertgoers is 23,” Crossman says.
“That’s the generation that is really going to shakeup downtown Kitchener in a positive way,” he predicts with a broad grin.
The musical fun begins Friday night with a series of five free sets on the Mainstage, followed by a pair of After Parties with three acts each.
The festival resumes Saturday with nine, paid-admission Mainstage sets (located in the Crabby Joe’s parking lot on King Street) and programs of music in 11 indoor venues across downtown Kitchener.
Concert passes ($40 advance, $50 at the door) gain admission to all music sets in all venues.
KOI ends Sunday at 10:30 a.m. with a ticketed Wrap-up Show at Bobby O’Briens. The Acoustic Breakfast features Cute is What We Aim For. Admission, which includes breakfast and concert, is $20.
“It’s been crazy,” Crossman confirms with respect to response to the breakfast. “We’re sure to sell out.”