Purple City renews focus on downtown Edmonton

· The Pulse

Purple City Music Festival will move its outdoor programming to Edmonton's core this year as part of a renewed focus on downtown vibrancy.

For the past two years, Purple City took place at venues in and around downtown and the south side, with a main stage at Hawrelak Park. Given the park's closure for renovations, feedback from festival-goers, and internal discussions, the festival will instead concentrate on a two-block radius in downtown Edmonton that includes a free outdoor stage.

"We decided rather than have it really spread out this year, we wanted to try to make it really accessible, and not require really any travel whatsoever," Ryan Rathjen, executive director of Purple City, told Taproot.

This marks something of a return to form for Purple City, which grew out of a similar event called the Up + Downtown Music Festival. That festival was held downtown each fall from 2013 to 2019 before Rathjen took over for past lead Jason Flammia. The event rebranded as Purple City — a name stemming from a bit of Edmonton lore — and changed its dates and format.

"It was more of a city-wide festival, so it made more sense to not be just a downtown branding," Rathjen said. "It's funny, because (this year is) a bit of a full circle. We decided to take a more focused approach, putting everything in the most compressed area that we've ever done."

The 2023 edition of the festival takes place at The Starlite Room, its adjoining venues River City Revival House and Temple Bar, Freemasons' Hall Edmonton, McDougall United Church, the Downtown Edmonton Community League, and the aforementioned outdoor stage right outside The Starlite Room.

"We felt that the vibe of being able to see all your friends and be in one centralized area would feel more fun, because then you're not all spread out around the city, and everyone gets to see everyone, including the bands," said Rathjen. "With everything so close now, if you have a wristband, you really can catch a bit of everything."

Considerations for this year's Purple City, a volunteer-run festival that relies on grants and ticket revenue, included affordability and accessibility. Shows at River City and the outdoor stage on Aug. 26 and 27 are free to attend. Nearly the entire festival is open to all ages, and kids 12 and under can attend ticketed shows for free.

"We are trying to be a youth-focused festival, and create space for kids to experience their first music festival, and be inspired by that," Rathjen said. "We hope that it can keep growing, and these kids that come to the festival, hopefully one day can have bands that play Purple City."


Purple City Music Festival showcases local talent — like Wares, shown here at last year's festival — alongside headliners from elsewhere. (Eric Kozakiewicz)

The Purple City lineup includes American headliners like L.A. punk supergroup OFF!, Austin psych-rockers Ringo Deathstarr, and Portland goth act Light Asylum. Of the 60 artists performing, Rathjen says 70% to 80% hail from Edmonton.

One Edmonton performer of note, Rathjen told Taproot, is Overdrive to Oblivion. The new project comes from Lyle Bell of Shout Out Out Out Out, Whitey Houston, and The Wet Secrets. This show will mark Overdrive to Oblivion's live debut.

"It's a krautrock, kind of space-rock project," Rathjen said. "They'll be headlining (the outdoor stage) on Saturday."

The full lineup for Purple City will be announced on June 26. Wristbands are on sale now, and individual show tickets will go on sale at a later date.

Other summer festivals that normally take place at Hawrelak Park are also moving to new digs this year: