Soon organizers may want to drop the word “Winter.”
Maybe just go with BIG Classic?
“The coldest day we’ve had so far is minus six,” says festival founder Adrian Urlacher while knocking on the wood of a table in the Wild Rose Taproom.
And with the upcoming weekend looking like another unseasonably warm one, the BIG Winter Classic, which runs Thursday, Jan 24 to Sunday, Jan. 27, will likely take another leap forward in this, its fourth year.
Artistically and organizationally it certainly has.
What started as something as a “passion project,” a way to showcase the city’s thriving music scene and bourgeoning craft beer community, has become another staple on the city’s cultural calendar, an entertainment oasis to mark in your daytimer when a new year comes.
“We’re trying to build a true entity and we see this as not just passion but something that we can build as sustainable.
“I feel we’ve garnered some respect from the community, in the respect that there’s not a lot going on,” Urlacher says of the weekend ahead, while noting the High Performance Rodeo is winding down
“I feel that’s a sign that we’re maybe doing the right things … like, when folk fest hits it’s folk fest weekend. It would be really great for us down the road — we’re going for our five year next year — to have that kind of cachet in the city. Like, ‘What are you doing this weekend?’ ‘Big Winter Classic!’ ”
There’s tremendous incentive to do that this year, with 104 bands — 38 from out of town, which is double from last year.
Some of the headliners include: New York-based experimental, psych-punk guitarist Yonatan Gat; Atlanta, GA punk vets The Coathangers; indie rockers Shannon and The Clams from sunny California; Canadian fave Terra Lightfoot; Edmonton’s electro-dance superstars Shout Out Out Out Out; and west coast metal behemoths Bison.
Of course, the rest of the bill is built on the backs of the excellence that this city has to offer, including Samantha Savage Smith, Ricca Razor Sharp, Free the Cynics, The Ramblin’ Ambassadors, The Suppliers, Amy Hef, Lucky Sonne, Mark Mills, Miesha and the Spanks, All Hands on Jane, Double Fuzz and Gone Cosmic.
BIG is fast becoming one of those local destination fests, like Sled Island and the aforementioned folk fest — something that music-lovers can plan around.
“And not just for outside of Calgary,” Urlacher says.
“I think that’s one of the biggest challenges getting the ’burbs into downtown Calgary. It’s something that’s always been one of our core goals is, ‘Hey we want to get the curious and and clueless out to our festival. We want you to check out our venues, we want you to check out our local bands.’ ”
As for those venues, most of them are in the Beltline, including regular homes Last Best and Broken City — with stages both inside and on the patio of each — and they’re now happy to be in new brewery Inner City, which is just down 11th Ave. from Last and Broken and is a pay-what-you-can room, as well as events at The Palomino in the downtown core and the King Eddy in East Village.
Other new aspects to BIG this year include outreach to different communities in Calgary — which has also been a directive of the event since it began.
This year, for example, LGBTQQIP2SAA+ event presenters Pink Flamingo are hosting the artist lounge in the basement of Last Best, and BIG has also partnered with local organization Indigenous Resilience in Music for a number of special collaborations with headliner Yonatan Gat, including a couple of events at area schools and at Studio Bell.
“We need to make that part of a natural narrative,” Urlacher says of the outreach. “That extension will help build our communities and start to build trust, too, with people.”
And furthering those already established relationships is also front of mind with BIG, including those in the visual arts and craft beer worlds. Along with the fact that Last Best and Inner City will be musical rooms, and there will be work on the walls of the former from seven artists, illustrators and designers, all of the venues will also be selling a pair of collaboration brews between four breweries — Wild Rose, Last Best, Citizen and Blind Man — with the cans designed by artists Tyler Lemermeyer and Ruth Lee.
So, yes, BIG is already getting bigger and broader as it heads towards the half-decade mark, but it’s also done so gradually and in a way that can hopefully ensure it’s here for many more years to come.
“It kind of snowballed a little bit, I get nervous when we get into that kind of growth, but, yeah, I feel we’re in a good spot … ,” Urlacher says.
“And, knock on wood, the weather’s looking really, really good.”
BIG Winter Classic runs Thursday, July 24 to Sunday, July 27. For tickets and more information please go to https://www.bigwinterclassic.com/.