BORN AND RAISED St. Catharines natives Alexisonfire are co-headlining the Born & Raised Festival, a two-day event taking place July 5-6 at Montebello Park. (Kelsey Giesbrecht)

Born & Raised festival is back

Some people leave their hometown and never look back. Not Joel Carriere, founder of Dine Alone Records and Bedlam Management. Neither did members of Alexisonfire,  the rock band he has managed for 22 years, and the group’s Dallas Green, who also performs in his solo band, City and Colour.

Their Born & Raised festival, which debuted in St. Catharines, Ontario, at Montebello Park in 2022, is back this summer as a way to prop up the city, whose downtown core has been plagued by issues tied to homelessness and substance abuse. The festival draws 10,000 fans per day.

Co-presented by Alexisonfire, City and Colour, Dine Alone Records and Live Nation Canada, the inaugural Born & Raised was a four-night event, with City and Colour and Alexisonfire headlining two sets each. Another dozen acts were on the lineup, including Billy Talent, Broken Social Scene and Sam Roberts Band.

This year, it’s pared down to two nights, July 5-6, the first headlined by City and Colour with support acts Metric, Sloan and Dooms Children, and the second headlined by Alexisonfire with support acts The Used, Counterparts and Ekkstacy.

“I love where I am in life, but I wouldn’t be there without my home city,” said Carriere, who moved to Toronto in 2006. “We want to inject some money into all the local businesses. If you’re bringing 40,000 people out over four nights and, this time, around 20,000 people over two nights, hopefully they’re going out to eat; they’re buying some records; they’re seeing the city on a good day.”

St. Catharines is part of the Niagara region, famous for the landmark Niagara Falls and wineries in Niagara-on-the-Lake. It has a population of about 140,000.

“It’s ten minutes away from Niagara Falls, 15 minutes away from the [U.S.] border, a half-hour away from Buffalo, and an hour from Toronto,” Carriere said. “You have Niagara-on-the-Lake, which is wine country; hiking in the Niagara Gorge. There are farms all around the city and plenty of hotels to access. It’s a very easy festival to go to.”

Alexisonfire, originally termed a “screamo” band, started in the St. Catharines underground scene in 2001 and, without radio support, garnered a following that could not be ignored by the mainstream industry. In 2005, Dallas Green, who sings in Alexis alongside the “screamer” George Pettit, started his softer offshoot City and Colour, which became his dominant musical project, leading to Alexisonfire’s breakup in 2011.

A year later, they planned some farewell shows, which stretched to the UK, Australia and Brazil. In 2015, they officially reformed.

Green balances the two acts. Last summer, both bands headlined Toronto’s 16,000-capacity Budweiser Stage. According to Live Nation, no other artist has ever played the amphitheater in two different bands in the same year and sold it out.

Only Alexisonfire guitarist Wade MacNeil still lives in St. Catharines, but the rest of the band — Green, Pettit, bassist Chris Steele, and drummer Jordan Hastings — are indebted to the city that gave them their start and where they still have family and friends.

“Born and Raised came out of COVID,” Carriere said. “We were like, ‘We gotta go to St. Catharines and do something rad for the city because downtown’s falling apart. Families don’t hang out down there as much. If we could use Montebello Park, it was where I grew up. You’d go skateboarding in there. They always had municipal run events there, but no proper concerts.’”

Montebello Park was designed in 1887 by landscape architect Frederick Law Olmstead, who co-designed New York’s Central Park. “It is a beautiful park with a rose garden. It’s downtown. It’s got a wicked gazebo that’s iconic to St. Catharines. So, we were like, ‘Let’s make a festival that feels like you’re at a festival in downtown St. Catharines, but doesn’t feel like a throw-together municipal thing.’”

Carriere was not out of his depth. Early in his career, he promoted local shows and, in 2002, a year after starting to manage Alexisonfire, he took over SCENE Fest, which stands for Saint Catharines Event for New Music Entertainment, bringing in Solo Mobile and MTV as sponsors, and drawing 15,000 people to 16 stages throughout the city.

“Unfortunately, that model couldn’t exist anymore,” reflects Carriere, who left SCENE in the mid-2000s. The festival ended in 2014.

He put on a couple of big outdoor shows that decade. Dine Alone Records and AEG’s Goldenvoice co-presented two outdoor shows in Niagara-on-the-Lake in 2013 and 2017, at The Commons/Butler’s Barracks historic site, headlined by City and Colour, the first with supports the Stars, the Strumbellas, and Dear Rouge, and the second time with Jimmy Eat World, Metric, Serena Ryder, and Yukon Blonde.

“We partnered and built these two great shows and like 20,000 people showed up,” Carriere said. “It was special. It was nice to have my friends and family out there and give something back to the area.”

He had the same thought for Born & Raised, named after Alexisonfire’s 2009 song from their album, Old Crows / Young Cardinals.

Because Carriere and Alexisonfire wanted to put on this music festival at the public park, surrounded by residences and businesses, he had to go to the City government for permission.

“The lovely thing about being my age now and having been involved in the St. Catharines music scene for so long is people that are part of the municipal government were going to concerts that I was throwing back then,” Carriere said. “I believe some of them were even proud of me. The mayor [at the time, Walter Sendzik] knew me, as well. We had mutual friends, and I had some friends on the city council. It takes a lot of time, but it was pushed through with ease.”

Montebello Park is the backdrop for Born & Raised festival, which is capped at 10,000 attendees per day. (Courtesy venue)

He estimates the 6.5-acre Montebello Park could hold 12,000 people, but they capped it at 10,000 “for safety precautions and giving fans the best experience.

“It was ambitious,” Carriere said. “They’re all my pals that played, whether it was Billy Talent, Broken Social Scene or Sam Roberts. The whole thing was a family affair, a friend affair. It was all about pals giving people a good show. The whole entire vibe of that weekend from fans to the bands was positive.”