Summer vacation is officially over, and you know what that means: no more sun tanning at the beach, back to shopping for sweaters and scarves, and the annual — sometimes dreadful — return to school. This year, MacEwan University will be kicking off the Fall semester with one of the biggest parties the school has seen. Fall Fest, taking place on Sept. 9, is a free, on-campus student event put on by the Students’ Association of MacEwan University (SAMU).
The celebration will include giveaways, performers, food and drinks, and most of all, students socializing — not on Zoom! Returning to campus and slowly transitioning back to normal is exactly what we need after two years off, and Fall Fest is the perfect way to ease back into pre-pandemic campus life.
The history of Fall Fest goes way back to the early 2000s. Previous performers at the event included The Arkells, July Talk, Coleman Hell, Tyler Shaw, Mother Mother, and The Reklaws. Since then, SAMU has made it a tradition to hold Fall Fest every year up until the global COVID pandemic hit. “The last in-person Fall Fest was in September of 2019,” SAMU’s event producer Courtney Milford writes. After two years without this event, MacEwan is ready to welcome it back with open arms this September.
Fall Fest is the largest event of the school year, and Milford says that SAMU is putting all hands on deck. “Like most things after a prolonged break, there have been moments of ease and success and moments of struggle and challenge,” Milford discloses. “Our team has been working very diligently to ensure that the 2022 Fall Fest is a fun, accessible and inclusive, safe event for MacEwan students.”
Included in the event are beer gardens, food trucks, and giveaways. I know, this is a lot to take in, so let’s break it all down. If you’ve been transitioning back to normal life after the pandemic slower than most — like me — you’re probably wondering, “what exactly are beer gardens?” Fall Fest is a licensed 18+ event, which means that any students who attend and are of legal drinking age are able to purchase beer, hard iced teas, or seltzers at the Fall Fest grounds. The four food trucks — which will include Mexican cuisine, barbeque, comfort food, and poutines — will all be parked at the grounds as well.
The giveaways will be a combination of MacEwan swag, SAMU swag, and prizes supplied by local businesses around the city. After the headliner’s performance, students are welcome to head over to Hudson’s on Whyte Avenue to continue the fun. The bar will be offering a free bus transport service from campus straight to Hudson’s.
The festival grounds will open at 12 p.m., and will be accessible for all MacEwan students over the age of 18. Individuals attending the festival will receive a wristband upon entering, and will be notified that all personal backpacks will not be permitted inside the fenced area.
As for the performers, Fall Fest will be welcoming artists and bands to satisfy everyone’s taste in music. The event’s headliner is one of Billboard’s Hot 100 artists, Tai Verdes. With his hit songs, “AOK” and “Stuck in the Middle,” it’s bound to be a great live performance. Other performers, such as musician Derik Baker (more commonly known as Virginia To Vegas), Canadian singer-songwriter Raffaela Weyman (better known by the stage name RALPH), Sebastian Gaskin, and The Royal Foundry, will all be present at the event as well. After having the opportunity to chat with both Virginia To Vegas and RALPH, they let me in on what being an artist during a time like this is really like.
RALPH, the Toronto-based performer, started singing at age 12 in her middle school musical, but was passionate about music long before that. “I feel like I’ve been writing music for a long time,” RALPH says, “but I don’t think I was comfortable and confident actually performing it.” Growing up, the artist drew inspiration from famous singers like Etta James, Carole King, Leonard Cohen, and Joni Mitchell, but her real influences came from within her personal life.
Around the age of 13, RALPH would sing for her family at their farmhouse a few hours outside of Toronto. She specifically remembers one experience of her cousins and their friends making her sing “At Last” by Etta James while standing behind a curtain in the dark to help with her stage fright. This trick allowed her to feel more comfortable with performing and aided in her becoming the successful artist she is today. “I kind of attribute that moment to maybe being the first time someone pressured me to do something,” she says. “I got to the point where I actually enjoyed it.”
Much like other artists in the industry, RALPH struggled during the pandemic. “During COVID it was really hard to feel motivated to be creative and feel inspired,” she says. “I was so excited to do my first headline tour…I felt like I was on the cusp of all these really exciting things and then COVID hit,” she shares. “It was a really hard reality.”
As far as what we can expect from her at the upcoming Fall Fest event, it seems to be somewhat of a mystery. “It (the set list) completely changes, even a couple days before,” she admits, “I just think about songs that are fun and have a variation of vibe.” This includes upbeat, happy music, mid tempo bangers, and some songs from the new EP. “When I play a RALPH concert they’re (the audience) there for me, whereas when you’re playing a festival or something like this…you need to kind of represent yourself and win people over. It’s kind of like a fun challenge,” she shares. “I love doing opportunities like this.” She signs off by saying, “I just have a special place in my heart for Edmonton.”
Derik Baker — known by the stage name Virginia To Vegas — has also had a love for music since a young age. He remembers visiting the music section at department stores and checking out all of the different instruments. After being in bands and testing out live performances, Baker knew that music was something he was interested in.
Growing up, Baker drew inspiration from his father, who played a huge role in introducing him both to music and the importance behind storytelling. “He believed that any situation in life could be described through a lyric,” Baker says, “…that was definitely a huge inspiration for me.” From there on out, his taste in music ranged from listening to ‘80s blues singer Delbert McClinton all the way to John Mayer.
The name Virginia To Vegas, which was former-
ly a duo, has an awesome meaning behind it.
Derik Baker was born in Richmond, Virginia, and later joined with his band partner whose name was Vegas. The two met in Toronto — the “TO” between Virginia and Vegas — and the stage name was born!
As far as Baker’s music, it is unlike any other. “It’s very self-driven, know you, the music kind of changes and evolves over the years,” he reveals, “All of the different projects, like EPs or singles, have kind of taken on their own identity.”
With restrictions easing up, Virginia To Vegas has returned to touring and performing all around the world, but that took time to get back to normal. Similar to other performers during that time, the pandemic affected Baker’s career. “I think with anything — obstacles that you have in your life — it’s all how you choose to view it…there were for sure negatives throughout the pandemic (like) not being able to connect with fans during shows,” he says. “With that being said, the pandemic allowed me to focus more on the songwriting and production aspect of music…When I digest music, that’s very personal…for me, my favourite parts are the writing and the performing.”
He hinted that the Fall Fest set list will include a mix of old and new songs, as well as some popular radio hits. “The Virginia To Vegas show is a lot of fun,” Baker says, “I try to describe it as like a big warm hug — everybody’s welcome, everybody’s included, we’re there to have a really great time and I just hope people are dancing and have a smile on their face.”
Virginia To Vegas concerts always seem like a blast, but what makes a university festival so fun? The crowd! “Doing fall college shows are always so fun because it’s a new chapter for so many people…everyone’s so excited; they’re pumped. I can’t wait,” Baker says. For new students, this is a show that they’ll never forget; for returning students, it’s an opportunity to remember what campus life was like pre-pandemic. Baker’s passion for music and his excitement to perform at Fall Fest will make the event all the more worthwhile. “I love Edmonton,” he says, “we’ll put on a party rain or shine.”
If all this isn’t enough to convince you to check out Fall Fest, then I don’t know what is. I’ll be there to test out a cider from the beer gardens, indulge in some food truck grub, and view the live performances; hopefully you’ll be there too! For details about the event, or to get in contact with SAMU, visit their website at samu.ca.
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