The 4th Street Lilac Festival brings Calgarians out of hibernation

Now in its 28th year, this annual celebration of community looks to be the best yet.

After long winters and sometimes dicey springs, Calgarians crave warm weather and outdoor activities. Few events are as eagerly anticipated as the 4th Street Lilac Festival, which signals the onset of summer and beckons people to the inner-city neighbourhood of Mission to take in this massively popular annual event.

This year’s fest takes place Sunday, June 4.

What began as a smaller street festival featuring mainly vendors and artists, Lilac Fest has also become a platform for entertainers of all description, giving people a reason to head downtown as well as showcasing the great businesses of 4th Street SW.

Jennifer Rempel of the 4th Street BRZ has been with the festival for the past 17 years and takes great pride in its popularity and its positive effect on the community.

When asked what this year’s festival has in store for Calgarians, Rempel assures us that there’s something for all ages, starting with the kids.

“There is skateboarding, dancing, and an expanded kid’s area,” which includes local artist Dean Stanton on hand “doing small slides where he has made the outline and the kids will get to paint in like a colour by numbers,” she says. “Then they are put in a little frame and they get to take it home.”

Not all of the art is reserved for the kids, Rempel explains, “There will also be huge murals that people can contribute to that we’ll be auctioning off for kids’ cancer care.”

Also for the adults, the music that’s showcased at the festival is always a draw.

“We always like to get new emerging artists and give them this opportunity to perform free for the public, promote themselves, and have the public experience some bands that they haven’t seen or heard before” says Rempel.

Aside from festival regulars the Mocking Shadows, a few of the featured musical performers include Amy Bishop, Bitterweed Draw, Kate Stevens, Raine Hamilton, Steel & Timber, The Rondel Roberts Band, Uno Band, The Sweets, as well as some new and interesting additions to the musical lineup.

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Music is always a huge draw when it comes to the 4th Streeet Lilac Festival.

“There’s something new called the Cool Choir,” explains Rempel. “This can be a choir anywhere from 30 to 300 people who can come and sing. They sing pop hits and you don’t have to audition, if you just want to come sing, you can sign up still and perform at the Lilac Festival. Who doesn’t want to do that? There’s (also) Mohsin Zaman from Edmonton, who has won some Breakout West awards, so I think that will be great. DJD is doing a big demo on our dance stage as well, so that will be really interesting to watch and see.”

If you’re worried about missing something while busy taking in the entertainment, you needn’t be. “Our stages are all staggered,” Rempel continues, “so you can watch one band somewhere and zip off to another … You have enough time to catch a lot of things. Our entertainment lineup is online and posted on the social medias. We also print some beautiful program guides that are available at the info desk,” she helpfully adds.

Part of the fun of the festival is cruising up and down 4th Street, taking in various sidewalk sales as well as checking out the vendors and enjoying the great restaurant patios along the way. When asked about the stand-outs as far as participating vendors at the festival go, Rempel laughs. “There’s over 500 vendors participating, so it’s kind of hard to keep track! We have about 60 per cent new, 40 per cent old vendors, as a lot of people product test at Lilac Festival – there’s always something new to find and see.”

One inevitability of the festival, and of any summertime street festival, is people bringing their dogs in amongst the crowds. Rempel and her team have been working on ways to make the festival easier on the pooches.

“We say be kind to your furry friends and leave them at home, however there’s not really much we can do about it. We are working with Dogma to have a dog chill zone. If your dog is under stress they can go jump in a pool, and there will also be some dog training and activities for you to get out of the way with your dog. Of course, bylaw services will be on site to make sure everyone is treating their dog properly, not chaining them up to a fence and going and having a beer.”

Getting to the Lilac Festival can sometimes be slightly challenging, with people vying for the limited, available parking in the neighbourhood. Again, Rempel and her team have some options for Calgarians. “Be kind to the neighbourhood and do not block the driveways please. Take the train, take your bike down, we have a bike rack on every corner so it’s much easier to do that.

“We are also partnering with Car 2 Go. They will have a drop zone, so if you are bringing a Car 2 Go, you can actually park at the festival on 23rd Avenue by Mercato, accessing it from 2nd Street. You can pull right up and the security will let you right in. We had it last year, and since there was always an equal amount of people coming and going, it worked out that people would come in the morning and drop a car off and then (throughout the day) people would leave, and it worked really well.”

The 4th Street Lilac Festival is a great opportunity to see what Mission and 4th Street has to offer, Rempel concludes.

“Come with some dollars and engage the business community,” she says. “If you come to Lilac Festival and you see a business you like, then come back and check it out. The important thing about Lilac Fest, even though we are showcasing all of the fun things at the festival, is that it’s about the business community that’s here and supporting them. All eyes are on 4th Street for one day, so come back and support our businesses.”

The 4th Street Lilac Festival takes place Sunday, June 4 from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. along 4th Street SW from Elbow Drive down to 13th Avenue SW. A detailed schedule of performers and events can be found on their website,

Kari Watson is a writer and former Listings Editor of FFWD Weekly, and has continued to bring event listings to Calgary through her website, The Culture Cycle and theYYSCENE. Contact her at