In Scandinavia, hygge refers to a kind of cozy togetherness that helps bring community under a roof, in particular during the long, isolating, dark winter months.
Across the prairies, music and art scenes band together in a different way, coming together at venues and ad-hoc spaces to commune in their own styles. From Winnipeg to Saskatoon, Regina and, this year, Edmonton’s Winterruption, festivals break out in the dead of winter to celebrate music; in Calgary, BIG Winter Classic does the same, bringing together headliners and emerging bands, brands and local businesses, under one cozy party roof.
This month, BIG Winter Classic celebrates five years of expansive, wintry vibes. The festival has made a name for itself in Calgary for its willingness to thrive on the old Electric Avenue under adverse conditions — and for its willingness to throw a party just about anywhere there’s space, from established venues to DIY pop-ups.
“It’s the unofficial, official fifth year,” laughs Adrian Urlacher, founder of BIG. “It’s hard to believe we’re still here. You think back to all the years we’ve done — we’re pretty self-funded, it’s an ongoing challenge and it’s amazing.”
BIG once started as a reason to get out of the house in the winter (and not have to compete with jammed festival schedules during the summer). Since then, it’s evolved to drive a true community-building ethos — Calgary coming together to do what it does best.
“We’ve compacted the festival to keep trying to create a real community feel,” says Urlacher. “Everything is five blocks away from everything else [in the Beltline] and we’re packing venues to empower our community.
“One of the biggest things is that we’re creating a reputation and recognition that we’re here. People are coming to us now with ideas and we can create these inclusive ideas where people trust us to pull it off. We embrace our partnerships — they’re not simple sponsorships — and work together with local businesses. We’re all in it for the same thing: building our brands and engaging our city. Creating that collectivity is always something we’ve been proud of.”
PICKS OF THE FEST
From the outside, peering into the fogged windows of each BIG venue, the music and arts lineup might seem daunting. Headliners from across Canada and the States share intimate stages with local and emerging bands and everyone gets to revel in that unique sense that everyone in the room is your friend. We’ve picked five of the coolest headliners whose shows (including openers) you should not miss.
Ron Gallo Saturday, January 25 @ Last Best
The spirit of 70s, NYC Chelsea Hotel punk poetry is alive and well with Philly-raised, Nashville-based Ron Gallo. He would have fit in perfectly with Tom Verlaine and Patty Smith, a pissed off oddball that fits nowhere else but among other weirdos howling overtop fuzzy, screeching guitars and late-night garage grooves. Self-effacing and disarmingly charming, Ron Gallo sets the standard for the modern blank generation.
Dboy Friday, January 24 @ Broken City
If Dboy had their way, we would all be Dboys — a massed collective of red radicals in search of a greater good through two-minute blasts of hardcore-inspired propaganda punk. The full package is tongue-in-cheek and it’s so well done, you could be forgiven for thinking the height of the Cold War is still raging. Fall in line, comrades, for the International Performance and Recreation Council of Russia is watching and Dboy are part of the Inner Party.
Jennifer Castle Thursday, January 23 @ Last Best
Mystic and minimalist, Jennifer Castle is one of Canada’s best hidden gems. A thoroughly underrated songwriter and a massive artistic presence on the national landscape, Jennifer Castle’s ruminations on mortality, grief and ghosts echo throughout her songs. With the confidence of a country singer, the delicacy of a folk poet and the arrangements of a master composer, Jennifer Castle’s set is nothing if not transcendental.
Bodega Thursday, January 23 @ Broken City
Post punk has undergone a renaissance in the past couple of years. Huge names, like Idles and Shame, have put the angular art form back onto the main stage, while bands like New York City’s Bodega hustle their disaffected, deadpan anthems for a new audience. Laden with the ennui of modern life, all couched in jangling guitars and rhythm-heavy bangers, Bodega simultaneously sneer at and embrace the myriad contradictions that define the 21st century.
Girlfriend Material Friday, January 24 @ The BIG Empty Space
Two of Canada’s most endearing early-2010s bands, Tokyo Police Club and Hollerado, team up to form Girlfriend Material, a supergroup of sorts that’s full of promise. With enough optimism to bust through even the most morose news headlines, Girlfriend Material front-load their singles with catchy riffs and bouncy choruses. It’s indie rock for the 30+ crowd who’ve had their hearts broken more than once, but return to the dating scene undeterred; who’ve spent enough time as “adults” to be nostalgic for their early 20s. It’s never too late to join the cool kids’ table.