Live music. Innovative films. Community gatherings. Conversation with friendly strangers. Tasty food and drink. What could be a better way to spend a day or few? Ontario’s Royal City is hosting 2 festivals this fall that you’ll definitely want to attend. This year is the Guelph Jazz Festival’s 30th anniversary and it’s going to be an event to remember. Then in November, mark your calendars for the annual 9-day documentary Guelph Film Festival.
This is a sponsored blog post in collaboration with the Visit Guelph tourism board. All opinions here remain my own.
What is the Guelph Jazz Festival?
The Guelph Jazz Festival is a long-standing community event that showcases and celebrates Canadian and international artists, including Polaris Prize nominees. Also known as GJF, the annual festival began in 1994 as a way to introduce creative improvised music to a wider audience. It became an internationally recognized event thanks to the leadership of the founding Artistic Director, Dr. Ajay Heble, and Director of Operations, Julie Hastings, who grew it for 26 years. Their vision was simple, to showcase “excellent, unconventional live music” through concerts, educational initiatives, and free programs. From the many awards the festival has won, I’d say mission accomplished. Accolades include 3x winners of the Lieutenant Governor’s Award for the Arts and Festival of the Year at the National Jazz Awards, to name a few.
This year there are several ticketed concerts in downtown venues, including artBar, ImprovLab, Silence, Market Square, Studio Theatre at the River Run Centre, Royal City Mission, and the Guelph Youth Music Centre.
There is also an “Around Town” concert series to add to your calendar. Local favourites like Miijidaa Café & Bistro, Brothers Brewing, and The Wooly Pub are a few of the spots to catch a live gig and a bite to eat from September 13th to 17th. Click here to see the schedule.
Guelph Jazz Festival Lineup
As with other years, the Guelph Jazz Festival’s 2023 lineup of 23 musical acts is stellar. If big sound is your jam, Montréal’s 20-piece Ratchet Orchestra will blow your socks off. Self-proclaimed as a “who’s who of Montreal’s strangest musicians”, I’d put money on you walking away with a memorable experience. François Houle’s GENERA Sextet will pay homage to Ken Pickering, the now deceased founding Artistic Director of the Vancouver International Jazz Festival and Canadian jazz icon. Other groups to look out for include Josh Zubot Strings, the dance-inducing Moneka Arabic Jazz, a literary experience with Susanna Hood Trio: unPacked, and Coastlines Duo, to name a few.
Special Events + Free Shows
GJF in the Parks take place before the festival, on September 9th and 10th from 2pm – 5pm. You’re in luck if you’re in town, because the groups playing these shows will perform for a 2nd time during the Friday Night Street Music Party.
The Friday Night Street Music Party in Market Square is a free event that will take place on September 15th from 7pm to midnight. It’s a festival favourite, which should hint that you must attend! This year crowds will be treated to Brazilian percussionists, Samba Squad, the Serbian wedding brass band, Lemon Trubaci, New Orleans-esque funk with Big Smoke Brass, and mandingue percussion from Alpha Rhythm Roots who hail from Guinea. What a way to travel the world in your own backyard! Bring your dancing shoes because it’s going to be a boppin’ time.
GJF in Market Square takes place on Saturday, September 16th. Shows begin at 5pm with the last one starting at 11pm. Keep your eye out for the wildly talented Witch Prophet, the blend of Ethiopian, calypso, and swing influences from Eucalyptus, a literary-musical homage to Guelph’s talented writer, Thomas King, from Rebecca Hennessy and Makeshift Island, Kobo Town’s calypso rhythms, an international mélange from female group Turkwaz, and Montréal’s lo-fi bedroom pop with Afternoon Bike Ride.
GJF Colloquium will gather artists, academics, and jazz enthusiasts alike for 2 days of discussion, learning, and reflection. Get ready to dive into the role the festival has had locally and worldwide, the future of jazz music in Guelph, composition, research, and performance. Pencil in September 14th and 15th on your calendar.
Where to Buy Guelph Jazz Festival Tickets
Tickets for the Guelph Jazz Festival are sold through the River Run Centre and can also be purchased over the phone during their business hours. The Box Office can be reached at 519-763-3000 or Toll Free at 1-877-520-2408.
There’s the option to buy full festival passes which covers 10 concerts, or to purchase individual concert tickets. The full festival pass costs $200, inclusive of HST though exclusive of handling fees, for general admission or $150 for students, seniors, and those with lower incomes. Individual tickets range from $10 to $35.
When is the Guelph Jazz Festival?
The 30th annual Guelph Jazz Festival is a multi-day event in September from Thursday the 14th to the Sunday the 17th.
3 Tips for Attending the Jazz Festival
There are 2 options for paid parking: PayByPhone Lots and Kiosk Lots. The first requires the PayByPhone app. The second requires you to pay at the kiosk or with the app and to park in the areas labelled P31 near Stone Road and Gordon Street or at P44 by College Avenue.
Food and Drink
There are so many incredible restaurants to choose from in Guelph! I was fortunate to visit a few of them when I explored Guelph by bike in May of this year and started a list of future ones I’d like to try. Check out that blog post or this Instagram post for a few ideas. There’s an incredible foodie and craft beer scene in Guelph, with a wonderful focus on sustainable dining.
Whether you’re new to jazz, a musician, or a long-time lover of the genre, go. The atmosphere is fantastic, the people are friendly, and if the festival organizers have anything to do with it, the weather will be perfection. Brush up on your jazz slang before the festival and let loose on the dance floor. There’s nothing like enjoying live music. It’s the best way to wrap up the summer!
What is the Guelph Film Festival?
Everyone needs something to look forward to in November. It’s that odd month where the days start to drag and the sunlight wanes. Thank goodness for the 9-day Guelph Film Festival!
Over nearly 40 years and several name changes, the Guelph Film Festival has held onto the title of being one of the first documentary film festivals in the world. In its founding year, 2 groups worked together to bring the festival to life: the Guelph International Research Centre (GIRC) and the Development Education Program of the University of Guelph’s Centre for International Programs. In the first 7 years, they presented a mix of international feature films and documentaries to enthusiastic crowds. Then the festival paused for the next 13 years. Thankfully, in 2023, the GIRC revitalized the festival and 5 years later they gave it a new name. In 2012 it became a non-profit organization and in 2014 it donned its current name, the Guelph Film Festival.
As a documentary film festival with a progressive ethos and mission, they provide a platform to a variety of voices bringing light to social justice, environmental issues, and community development. The Guelph Film Festival is unwavering in their commitment to how they split their programming, allotting 50% of the schedule to Canadian films, 50% to female-identifying directors, and 50% to diverse directors (BIPOC/LGBTQ2IA+/D/deaf, or disabled). In addition to the films, the Guelph Film Festival hosts discussions led by directors, special guests, and well-informed Guelphites.
When is the Guelph Film Festival?
This year’s festival is set to run for 9 days in November. It starts on Friday the 3rd and runs until Saturday the 11th.
Where to Buy Guelph Film Festival Tickets
Tickets for the Guelph Film Festival can be purchased through their website, https://guelphfilmfestival.ca/. Prices range from free, to around $12 – $15. They also offer Pay What You Want options.
3 Tips for Attending the Film Festival
Plan It Out
With 9 whole days of programming, there’s something for everyone to catch at the Guelph Film Festival. Get out your calendar, check out the schedule, and mark in the films that most interest you. Buy your tickets early so that you don’t miss out, and make sure to round up friends and family to join the festivities!
As with music festivals, restaurants, and travelling, sometimes the things we know the least about surprise and delight us most. After pencilling in the films that really catch your eye, add a little spontaneity to your life. How? Have a friend choose a film to see without telling you what it is until you’re on your way there. There’s something about letting go of expectations and just seeing what happens that enhances the whole experience. Try it and let me know how it goes below in the comments!
Stay for the Talks
Watching a film is one thing. It’s enjoyable, entertaining, informative, and so on. Digesting it as a group, digging a little further, and discussing it with others is a whole other level of understanding what you’ve watched, as well as actively participating in the film. You become a part of the experience, an extension of the film, instead of remaining a voyeur. It’s almost odd we don’t do this more often in the cinema-going context. Even if you don’t contribute to the discussion as a speaker, you’re bound to come away with new insight and appreciation for the cinematic craft.
Where to Stay in Guelph?
There are many places to stay in Guelph, from local vacation rentals, to luxury short-term accommodation like Norfolk Guest House, chain hotels, and boutique historical stays like Western Hotel and Executive Suites.
While in Guelph, I stayed at Norfolk Guest House on Eramosa Road. Unique accommodations, especially historic ones, really get me excited so this was the perfect choice. Built in 1865 and originally owned by businessman, pig farmer, and maker of fine soaps, James T. Brill, the home has been lovingly cared for over the past century. Only 10 minutes from downtown Guelph, you’re walking distance to everything – shops, restaurants, and waterfront trails. Park the car during your stay and enjoy the city by foot. The original hardwood floors and plaster moulding, as well as the cozy decor and small thoughtful details combine luxury and comfort for an excellent stay. The 5-suite Norfolk Guest House brings “living like a local” to life with its prime location as well. Both short and long stays are welcome, with discounts for Homewood, the University of Guelph, and government rates. Each suite is beautifully designed with pops of colour, modern amenities, and old-world charm. Two of the 5 rooms are Jacuzzi suites and there’s a private coach house suite with 2 floors for that little something special as well. Do not miss the communal breakfast. It’s a wonderful way to meet fellow travellers and enjoy a homemade meal with the most fantastic local jam and croissant French toast. If you prefer to have room service, that is available too, as are other sweet touches to order like seasonal flowers, wine and chocolate-dipped fruit, charcuterie, and spa items for a relaxing bath. The Norfolk Guest House is also dog-friendly.
My Experience at Guelph’s Festivals in 2023
Guelph Jazz Festival
I had the absolute pleasure of working with the Visit Guelph tourism board to share the Guelph Jazz Festival with you on social media. The Royal City is always a wonderful place to visit, with its down-to-earth vibe, active citizens, delicious food scene, and lively festivities. This year’s 30th anniversary of the GJF was no exception. It was my first time attending the renowned event and I can definitely see myself returning for future iterations.
I attended a mix of ticketed and free concerts over my 2-day stay. On Friday I headed straight for the River Run Centre for a double bill featuring Coastlines Duo and The Susanna Hood Trio. At the well-known performing hall in a cozy theatre off to the side of the foyer, myself and other music enthusiasts were treated to a unique collection of pieces. Having grown up in a family that loves music and jazz, I eagerly anticipated the first notes. Saxophonist Jorrit Dijkstra and clarinettist François Houle (Coastlines Duo) paid tribute to their late friend and colleague, Steve Lacy, in a playful rendition of the saxophonist’s compositions. I must admit, some of the performance was a bit out of my musical experience and tastes. At the same time, it was fantastic to witness these skilled artists experiment outside of the “norm”, though in music that’s surely a subjective term. Following the duo, came another small group. Unfortunately Susanna, of the aforementioned trio, was sick and could not attend so it was a double duo night. Her fellow artists, pianist Tania Gill and soprano player Kayla Milmine played with such joy and enthusiasm that I found myself smiling numerous times throughout their set.
On both Friday night and Saturday during the day, I attended several of the free Market Square concerts. The musicophiles may have been in the concert halls, but man was the energy lively outside! Samba Squad had the whole crowd swaying from side to side as if the tides were coming in and out. It was incredible! The other thing I noticed at the Market Square concerts was the variety of ages and demographics that came out. The music festival is family-friendly, which was most evident at this location. There were also local beer (Wellington Brewery) and cider (Heartwood Farm and Cidery) available for of-age attendees, and food from adjacent local vendors like Eric the Baker, Atmosphere Cafe + Etc, and Sweet! to name a few. I absolutely loved the variety of music from around the world featured on Saturday. One of my favourite groups to learn of and listen to was the melodic and just plain wonderful women from Turkwaz.
All in all, I can see why the festival is so well-loved by locals and visitors alike. I overheard several conversations of people who had travelled from Vancouver, Toronto, and even Europe to hear these phenomenal musicians. If you’ve a chance to attend in the future, do. Guelph is an excellent host and it’s always a good time when there’s live music and sunshine.
Guelph Film Festival
It was so hard to pick which film to see! In fact, I think I’m going to need to return to Guelph over the next week to catch a few more, because there are so many that caught my eye.
I’ve been to film festivals around the world in Canada, Indonesia, and New Zealand. Each of them are unique and interesting in their own way – from the glitz and glammer of TIFF, to the comfy outdoor screenings in Bali, to the tight knit film community in Wellington. Guelph’s Film Festival is pure, well, Guelph: warm, inviting, quirky, inclusive, and down-to-earth. There’s a vibe about this city that is so uniquely itself and keeps me coming back for more with each visit. Their film festival reflected all of these characteristics.
The event I went to was hosted in the Royal City Mission, a former church built in 1873. I love cool historic converted spaces, so I was in heaven the minute I got a glimpse of the venue. There are several other venues hosting the festival that are dotted around the city.
Not one to miss an opening night, I attended July Talk’s “Love Lives Here” documentary about their experience hosting a concert at a drive-in theatre in the early months of the pandemic. The film was beautifully shot in black and white and after it was screened they treated the audience to a small concert and Q&A. The film was moving, Leah and Peter were lovely, and the whole evening was peppered with moments that made you think “this is something special”.
If you enjoy your time at the Guelph Film Festival, consider becoming a member. For as little as $5, you can be a part of supporting local storytellers and building community through unique and memorable shared experiences. It’s a beautiful way to share the love!
Stay in the Loop
Stay tuned to all things vanlife, international travel, and learning how to pay yourself to travel like I do by subscribing to the (nearly) monthly newsletter and joining the adventure on Instagram. Thanks for reading!