Strumbellas close out unique Convergence of music and art in downtown Oshawa

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Published September 25, 2023 at 8:30 am

The crowd for The Strumbellas. Photo Year of the Drone and the City of Oshawa

The City of Oshawa may have ditched their ‘Prepare to be Amazed’ motto but those words were most appropriate at the launch of the Convergence Music and Art Festival, which took over the downtown streets Saturday.

If feedback from the folks at street level were any indication it was a damn good effort for the first crack at a major music and art festival in Oshawa, with a thousand or so people flooding a closed-off King Street to kick off the free event and that number plus a whole bunch more packing the main stage to see headliners The Strumbellas close out the all-day festival.

A brainchild of the Greater Oshawa Chamber of Commerce’s Oshawa Tourism branch, the Convergence Music & Art Festival brought in nine bands – some emerging, some already enjoying stardom – as well as local and not-so-local artists, a pro wrestling event, a Punk Rock Flea Market, a Nerd Alley, eclectic art exhibits that ranged from quirky to larger than life, a series of music panels and documentaries – including an interview with the man behind ‘Born to Be Wild, the road anthem for an entire generation – and an international street food alley.

All in one day.

Some of the people behind the Convergence Music & Art Festival

Music writer and record store manager Will McGuirk said it was a festival that could only happen in Oshawa.

“This is 100 per cent Oshawa and it’s the kind of thing that can’t be replicated anywhere else,” McGuirk mused from his downtown store while revelers outside his shop enjoyed the festivities.

Saturday was declared ‘Steppenwolf Day’ in Oshawa in honour of the iconic band that gave us Born to Be Wild and Magic Carpet Ride more than 50 years ago and McGuirk made the link to teenaged alt-Indie band NERiMA, who led off the Emerging Act stage with an energetic set to set the tone for the day.

“That’s the beauty of this – you’ve got Steppenwolf and you have NERiMA,” he said. “Who knows, they could be the Steppenwolf of the future.”

Rapper Eddy Jones

It was a busy day for the organizers, who had to juggle the needs of nine bands and countless vendors, artists and downtown businesses to put together a top-flight event for the community.

Melissa Smits, who is the Suites and Sales Manager at the nearby Tribute Communities Centre by day, stepped in to help handle the logistics for the Convergence team.

“The organizers, volunteers and community partners did a phenomenal job and it was a pleasure to assist them with pulling this huge event off. Not sure how we can top off such a successful event next year, but we will try,” Smits said, adding that the feedback she was getting from attendees was entirely positive. “The turnout was huge and everyone I talked to had an awesome time.”

Oshawa Tourism Manager Krista Licsi was “thrilled” with the turnout, and that was early in the afternoon, long before alt-country stars The Strumbellas played for 1,500 or so on the main stage in the Avanti restaurant parking lot, with the crowd spilling over to Celina and King streets.

“There are so many elements to this,” she said. “I know people are having fun.”

Pro wrestling on the streets of Oshawa was a big hit. Photo Kyle Kornic

One of the big attractions in the early afternoon was pro wrestling, with Pro Wrestling Eclipse bringing nine matches (including two championships and a ‘Convergence Cup’) to a ring set up right on King Street.

A reading of Shakespeare from the back of a hand-painted pickup truck was another unique event, as was Steven Frank’s ‘On the Road Again’ art exhibit inside 70 King.

All the world’s a stage for Shakespeare, even pick-up trucks

Durham Shoestring Performers, Oshawa’s nearly 50 year-old downtown community theatre, was also there to bring more live theatre to the festival.

Another popular event was Vital! Contemporary Circus, the creation of Oshawa resident Jackie Houghton. A circus with a punk vibe that aims to push boundaries, Vital! Will brought ambient aerial movement to the festival. What’s ambient aerial? You had to see it to find out.

Vital! Contemporary Circus

Lovers of the weird and wonderful also got their kicks at the event on Nerd Alley, which featured cosplayers, collectible, comic art demonstrations and art vendors – such as local artist Dani Crosby, who said she was surrounded by “some amazing creators” – and at the goth-inspired Punk Rock Flea Market.

Oshawa-born multi-media artist Jenn E. Norton unveiled her holographic, automobile-influenced projection on the outside wall of the former Genosha building (now 70 King) to close out the official portion of festival, while the Biltmore Theatre (which also hosted a club-style after party) across the street opened proceedings with a couple of ‘Sparks Series’ music documentaries, as well as a panel discussion on the music industry.

A multi-media art projection on the wall of 70 King from Oshawa-born Jenn E Norton

The opening ‘Essential Noise’ documentary, produced by filmmaker Paul Koidis, told the story about the influence Toronto’s Yorkville neighbourhood had on the music scene of the late 60s, which was followed by a ZOOM interview with Born to Run songwriter and son of Oshawa Mars Bonfire.

Those with a taste for foods from the around the globe also got to satisfy their fix at Convergence, with the dumplings from Street Momo (Indo-Nepali), the Bao sandwiches from Bao Mama (Philippines) and the deep-fried pockets from 7 Spices Catering (West and East India fusion) earning rave reviews from this reporter.

Oh, and there was also a flash mob put on by students at a local dance school, with Oshawa Chamber President Jason King noting people were getting “teary-eyed” from the “sheer wholesomeness and good-timey community vibes” at Convergence.

The music still took centre stage, which is appropriate for a city that claims to be the music capital of Durham Region, if not Ontario.

Folk rock icons The Strumbellas put the show to bed and NERiMA and alt-folk singer-songwriter Cale Crowe woke up the streets to get the party started, with some big names filling the middle parts of the day. Hip hop star Eddy Jones, alt-pop rockers Haddix, former Oshawa radio DJ turned folk rocker Matthew Holtby, Whitby punk and angst rockers Chastity and rising R&B/pop star and Juno nominated Preston Pablo followed, with the crowds getting louder as the day went on, from the small but hugely enthusiastic fans of rapper Eddy Jones to the packed parking lot on hand for the urban R&B style of Preston Pablo.

Preston Pablo

Chastity front man Brandon Williams knew all about downtown Oshawa’s less than glorious image growing up in nearby Whitby and heaped plenty of praise on the city and the event organizers during the band’s performance.

“We know Oshawa’s reputation and we know it’s better that that,” he told his fans mid-set. This is better. You guys keep doing this and we’ll keep coming back.”

The Convergence Music and Art Festival was technically a one-day event but also included the prestigious OMAs (formerly Oshawa Music Awards), which took over the Regent Theatre in the heart of the Convergence footprint Sunday evening.

Cosplayers from the Blade Runner-inspired Nexus show frolic in the streets Saturday night

Convergence also featured ticketed events around town over the course of the weekend, including Nexus, a Blade Runner-themed immersive experience in the Atria’s upstairs room September 22 and 23 (creator Chris Trubella and some of his cosplayers were also seen dancing in the streets and posing for pictures Saturday night); Single Mothers, a nostalgic trip back to the alt rock days of the 70s and 80s at the Biltmore Friday; Fantasy Drag, with a Dungeons & Dragons-inspired matinee and The Bitcher horror fantasy show in the evening at the Biltmore Sunday; the Thunder Down Under show at the Tribute Centre Friday night; the Parkwood Beer Fest Saturday; and the George Thorogood Experience at the Regent Theatre Saturday night.

Simon Ward (left) and Oshawa’s own Dave Ritter of The Strumbellas

“Today was a lot of things,” King shared at end of a very entertaining and busy day. “It was such a privilege to help bring the community together in this way; thank you to all.”

“And now for a nap.”

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