The beat is back: Heart of the City returns with music, fashion and amazing free workshops

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The beat is back as Heart of the City Arts and Music Festival once again pulses in Giovanni Caboto Park Saturday and Sunday.

Postponed last year due to shooting costs, funding shortfalls and a retiring producer, the rethought and restructured festival will have dozens of local bands, workshops and even a $300 prize-money Story Slam.

“That was a really tough decision to make,” says HotC’s programming director Corine Demas of a skipped 2023. “But this year we’re rebooted and we’re ready to go.

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“It’s going to be a fabulous 20th anniversary.”

This year’s single-word theme is “Reboot,” riding atop the festival’s existing mantra of “inspiration and opportunity through the arts.”

Both of these ideas go back to the festival’s roots a couple decades back: an effort to help pump extra life into an area that’s since blossomed into a terrific little commercial strip with a very community vibe — from the remodelled Spinelli’s Bar Italia to just-reopened Violets/Love Object shop, to the cornerstone Piazza with its Makers Hive and accessible antiquarian gem Paper Birch Books, soon to have a café of its own.

Wandering around the edges of the festival may seem off target here, but the surrounding community is a crucial part of Heart of the City’s identity.

Take the musical programming over the two days, for example.

“We have an 80-20 policy where 80% of the bands have to have a strong connection to downtown — at least one member,” Demas explains.

The rest have to at least be from Edmonton.

Leaning into the schedule, highlights include queer pop-punk act Borderline Thrills, the rhythmic Marco Claveria Project, rockabilly trio The Confusionaires, Edmonton Latin Orchestra, sexy-psycho-surf outfit The Frolics, octopus-loving ensemble Funk Cove, Métis polymath Kaely Jade, singer-songwriter Stella Johnson, Ngorimba marimba band, extremely talented songbird-guitarist Billie Zizi, and almost 20 more — and this doesn’t even get to the acts playing the fest’s Youth Stage full of first-time performers.

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Another HotC should-see is the Indigenous Fashion Show, this year happening within the event instead of off site.

“Heather Bouchier is the designer who first brought fashion to Heart of the City,” explains Demas, who worked with the talented textile artist on the previous shows. “She is on fire right now and has a goal to make Edmonton a hub for Indigenous fashion.”

One example, Little Bird’s Darla Contois — who just won best lead performer at the Canadian Screen Awards — wore Bouchier’s floor-length, satin dress to the ceremony.

Heather Bouchier
Local designer Heather Bouchier — whose work is seen here on Darla Contois at the 2024 Canadian Screen Awards — will show some of her collection at Heart of the City Music and Arts Festival. Photo by Jeremy Chan /Getty Images

Bouchier’s and other collections will be featured at the fest.

Meanwhile, the Story Slam runs at 4:30 p.m. Sunday, and all are invited.

“If you want to compete,” says Demas, “show up at 4 p.m. Storytellers have five minutes to wow the judges with a clean story,” she laughs, noting kids will be nearby in the playground. First place takes $300.

Besides an artisan market, there are also 13 workshops, including cedar braiding and a photography workshop by McCauley resident Joe McClinton.

“McBain Camera is lending us a bunch of cameras and people can come learn how to take a good festival shot,” says Demas.

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“And then they can go around and take pictures at the festival and there’ll be a competition to see whose pictures are the best.”

Select winners will be printed in Boyle McCauley News.

Meanwhile, Ryan Lacanilao’s writing workshop Nostalgic Narratives runs 11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.

“That one is going into your childhood to come up with poetry,” Demas explains, nothing there’s also a comedy workshop called The Heart of Comedy at 6:30 p.m. Saturday.

“Kamal Alaeddine was on The Gong Show and The Tonight Show back in the day,” explains the festival programmer. “So he’ll teach us how to write a joke.”

This will run right up to the Stand Up Comedy Show at 8 p.m. Saturday.

Feel free to dig around the full schedule of all the events and workshops at, where this year all the visual art will live instead of being in person. This year’s feature artist is Elliot Taylor, not only part of Borderline Thrills, but whose art nouveau-inspired portraiture is behind the festival’s main image.

This isn’t the only part of HotC that’s turned virtual, ps.

“We are doing something bold this year,” says Demas, noting that instead of a printed program they’ll have an interactive online program on the Story City app, which will include all the programming notes, artist info and links to their work.

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Also on offer, a virtual guided tour.

“The avatar hosting the tour is based on former board member James Jarvis, who passed away last year,” Demas explains. “The James character will show you around the park and you can play games with him.”

For those without a phone or who are reluctant to download the app, volunteers with iPads can also provide the tour.

“I feel really, really excited about it all,” says Demas. “I think the neighbours are going to be really happy to have us back, I hope that people from other parts of the city will come and see how great how great our neighbourhood actually is.”

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Heart of the City Music and Arts Festival

Where Giovanni Caboto Park (9425 109A Ave.)

When noon – 10 p.m. Saturday, noon – 5 p.m. Sunday

Admission free

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