Simcoe County’s newest music festival could be the next big thing, and it’s right in your backyard.
Coachella, Burning Man, and even Toronto International Film Festival all started small but have grown into some of the largest events in the world. All you need are the right people at the helm, and for Gussapolooza, that’s Valerie and Russ Robson.
Russ defines Gussapolooza as “a music festival with a purpose.” Meant to highlight up-and-coming bands from Canada, their goal is to put the spotlight on local musicians for three days and build up the indie music scene.
“For a lot of bands, they spend time in small bars performing in front of small groups, but they’ve never really played on stage at a venue like this. Our mission is to have them play on a big stage and have all eyes on them,” Russ adds.
The inaugural event was held in 2017 in Holland Landing but this year’s event, held at the Georgian Bay Steam Show grounds in Cookstown, was attended by more than 2,000 people with 75 musicians performing between Sept. 16 and 18.
Promotion of the bands before and after the festival is important to the Robsons. The festival’s website has a “Meet the Bands” page, where it lists all performers with a photo, and has a playlist for people to click and listen to their music.
“It’s important that we showcase the bands with their original music. Many times, indie bands are requested or forced to play covers, so they don’t get the chance to play their own stuff, so this event is a place where we encourage them to play their own music,” Valerie says.
The idea of an indie music festival in Simcoe County was inspired by a spontaneous gathering Russ was involved in.
“I was touring with an indie band across Canada and our last show was in southern Ontario. To celebrate, we threw an impromptu party, and it ended up lasting three days,” he explains. “We built a stage on the back of a pickup truck and a whole bunch of indie bands showed up to perform.”
After the successful event, indie artists asked Russ to do it again, as they typically don’t have a live music event to perform.
Gussapolooza also celebrates art, film, comedy, buskers, and more, which brings artists from all walks of life to the same spot to network.
“Filmmakers need music for their films, and musicians need filmmakers for their music videos,” Valerie explains. “They also need artists for their album covers, so it’s a great place to network. Everybody wins.”
Attendees pushed through the harsh rain over the weekend, showing there are already die-hard Gussapolooza fans. Musicians and volunteers Shawn and John were jamming outside their tent in the downpour and got involved with the festival in hopes to perform next year.
Newlyweds and first-time parents, the Robsons are passionate about music and were driven to build this festival no matter the cost. The couple tied the knot this year, as well as gave birth to their daughter, Aurora, just four weeks ago.
Family and friends rally behind the Robsons, helping wherever they can to make the event run smoothly. Most of Gussapolooza is funded privately and with the support of sponsors, but the Robsons hope to acquire government grants to help with future festivals.
Why the name Gussapolooza?
“Gus is nobody. Back in the day, we used to assign the name Gus to people we didn’t know. So, naturally, we decided it was a good fit for our music festival,” Russ says.
A clever metaphor for the indie bands, it seems everyone who comes to the festival is a Gus but can leave as somebody.