Five years is a long time to keep coming back to something. Since 2010, Kitchener-native brothers Curt and Cory Crossman have been organizing the now annual KOI music festival in the heart of downtown Kitchener. Intended to help promote the local music scene and bring in nationally recognized artists, the festival has grown throughout the years and continues to be a staple for music fans attending from all across the province.
Kicking off KOI on Friday, the music seemed to be more geared towards alternative rock and folk, in contrast to the more hardcore and punk acts on Saturday. Across three stages, KOI started with a bang and didn’t relent. Several local bands took to the stage at the main stage that demonstrated the diversity of talent in Kitchener-Waterloo. Local pop punk band Lancaster were a prime example of this, delivering their unique music with precise musicianship. Although the crowd was still arriving for the evening, those in attendance approved of Lancaster.
Continuing on the roll of pop punk started with Lancaster, Pennsylvanian band Carousel Kings streamlined through a highly energetic set. With a clear emphasis on getting the crowd amped up for their music and bands to come, the band jumped and showcased a lively set that was well-received by the crowd. Although not reinventing the wheel with how they performed their music, it should be applauded how the Carousel Kings brought a level of energy to the main stage that continued for the rest of the evening.
Local folk rock outfit The Royal Streets changed the pace a bit. While the crowd initially seemed a little hesitant of the move away from pop punk on the stage, within 15 minutes everyone seemed to be clapping and dancing along. Once people warmed up to their music, it became more evident of the great energy the band had on stage, along with the solid musicianship that accompanied their performance. Slated to go back into the studio in early 2016 to work on their sophomore album, The Royal Streets are a local band to keep an eye on.
Rich Aucoin’s presence at KOI, to some, may have seemed like an odd one. Based out of Halifax, the solo artist brought a unique blend of indie pop and electronica to the main stage. While different then previous bands, Aucoin also had one of the most memorable sets at KOI for his unique performance. Shortlisted in 2012 for the Polaris Music Prize for We’re All Dying to Live, Aucoin brought a dominating appearance of having a party to his set. Jumping into the audience at several points to dance with the crowd and shooting confetti from a tube-like instrument, his entire set was filled with enthusiasm and seemed to be based around making sure the audience was having a good time and going crazy. A highlight from his set was when he brought out a rainbow-coloured parachute, akin to what people used back in elementary school and enveloped the entire audience underneath it to perform a song. Overall delivering one of the most unique performance at KOI this weekend, Aucoin ended his set in a fashion attuned to his persona, putting his cell phone number up on a projector and telling the audience to send him a text message to get his music for free.
Moving onto Friday night’s headliners, July Talk gave a strong performance that matched the media attention they have been receiving the past few years. Fresh off a performance of opening for Alabama Shakes at the Air Canada Center on Sept. 23, the Toronto-based band seemed very euphoric. The band roared through an hour-long set that saw them performing songs from their self-titled album, along with a few new songs from an as-of-yet following up album. “Headsick,” “Paper Girls” and “Guns + Ammunition” stood out as highlights from their set, along with their encore “The Garden” bringing the audience into hysterics. On top of delivering a dynamite set that enthralled the crowd, the on-stage chemistry between vocalist Leah Fay and guitarist/vocalist Peter Dreimanis was a highlight throughout the evening. Both fed off one another’s energy, constantly getting entwined with one another.
Off the coattails of Friday’s performers, the tone seemed different of Saturday, albeit not in a negative manner. More of the bands seemed to follow a punk or hardcore vibe then the pop punk. Bands like The Menzingers and letlive. brought a much harsher sound to the KOI music festival
Formed from the ashes of punk bands Bob and the Sagets and Kos Mos, Pennsylvanian punk band The Menzingers performed a solid performance at the Scion stage. Kicking things off with the opening song of 2014’s “I Don’t’ Want to Be an Asshole Anymore,” they started their set with zest. For 45 minutes, The Menzingers blasted through a high-octane set that was paired between strong musicianship and an energetic live performance, standing out as one of the strongest performance for the weekend.
Drawing a large crowd, Los Angeles hardcore outfit letlive. didn’t fail to deliver a strong performance. Currently working on their fourth studio album, the band played their distinctive blend of punk and hardcore to very warm reception. A spotlight from their performance was the on-stage banter by frontman Jason Butler, who offered life lessons to the audience such as resisting the urge to headbutt a cop, something he himself was jailed for a few years ago.
Arguably one of the oldest touring bands at KOI this year, Indiana-based The Ataris showed that with age comes experience. Playing a majority of 1999’s Blue Skies, Broken Hearts…Next 12 Exits, the band navigated their set list across all five of their five-album discography, including hits like their cover of Don Henley’s “The Boys of Summer”. Frontman Kris Roe announced at one point that the band didn’t have any merch to sell, because they simply wanted to play music. This sentiment is metaphorical to how they performed; their high-energy and enthusiasm to be playing in front of their crow added a strong allure for people to stick around for their set. An overarching emphasis for them was fun. For many fans, singing along to “Boys of Summer” and “Angry Nerd Rock” was a nostalgic trip that brought back good memories.
Closing KOI was Saturday’s headliners, Pennsylvanian-based August Burns Red. Touring their most recent album Found in Far Away Places, there was a massive amount of hype for the band’s set, drawing one of the largest crowds for the weekend. Cycling between their new album and old ones, songs like “Provision” form Restore & Rescue and “Cutting the Ties” from Leveler drew strong support and praise from the audience. The band also treated the crowd with performances of “Martyr” and “Majoring in the Minors,” two songs they previously had not played live. From their driving set, the crowd’s enthusiasm to August Burns Red was very evident through the mosh pits and circle pits throughout their set. Overall the band gave a very welcomed set that seemed favourably received by the crowd.
With sunny and warm weather all weekend, this year’s KOI festival went off with a bang and kept the liveliness going all weekend. A common trend that bands seemed to point out all weekend was the enthusiasm and overwhelming support from Kitchener fans, something that speaks to how the fans received the bands and their performances
Written by Bryan Stephens,
WLUSP President and Publisher.