An exciting new one-day indie music festival is happening in Toronto this month, and it’s all about local and up-and-coming musicians. Grounders is a first of its kind music festival taking place in Toronto at OBJX Studios on Nov. 4. The event will showcase nine artists and bands across nine hours, ranging from acoustic indie folk and guitar-riff heavy indie rock to experimental electronic pop.
Before Grounders was a fully funded musical event, it was simply an idea between two fourth-year Toronto Metropolitan University media production students, Helen Chen and Sofia Shahbazzadeh. In their program, third-year students enrol in a mandatory project development course and are given the opportunity to pitch ideas for their fourth-year practicum project. If these pitches are successfully greenlit by their professor, they enter the production phase the following year.
In 2022, Chen had an idea: a 24-hour livestream concert cross inspired by Tiny Desk Concerts and The Lot Radio. But she was hesitant to pitch. She might’ve easily been slotted into someone else’s group project, but Shahbazzadeh, who’d been a close friend of hers since high school, loved the idea and encouraged her to bring it forward. With that confidence instilled in her, she did just that, and the pair positioned themselves as co-executive producers.
The first piece of feedback they heard from their professor and project advisor was of course that they were being overly ambitious — a 24-hour event wouldn’t be achievable with their time frame or resources. But Chen had a hard time letting it go, ultimately shortening the event to 12 hours, then nine, and dropped the livestream aspect in favour of prioritizing in-person attendance.
When it came time to execute their project IRL in their fourth year, they grew their team and recruited additional members: Lenny McGowan, Jessica Scopelliti, Karensa McCarthy, Joelle Chalfoun and Sierra Finkelshtain. They set a fundraising goal of $3,000 and achieved it in just over a month.
As a group of women and non-binary creatives passionate about the DIY and indie music scene, the Grounders team felt it was important to reflect Toronto’s diverse musical talent in their festival lineup. They accepted submissions digitally, taking into consideration each artist’s bio, social media accounts and sound, and also approached other artists directly.
They sought certain genres — folk, acoustic, singer-songwriter, pop, indie pop, indie rock and R&B — and also selected artists based on their alignment with the atmosphere they wanted to create. “We want Grounders to feel like a cultural and artist hub for GTA-based creatives to connect, hang out and enjoy good music,” Chen said.
The event will be divided into two distinct portions: a daytime set with a more relaxed acoustic vibe, and a nighttime set meant to be a heavier rock party. Day artists include headliner Nia Nadurata, Shoshana Glory, Emma Beckett, Sofia Aëdon, and Curt James. The night lineup consists of headliner Heavenly Blue, City Builders, The Beans, and Jules Auckland.
As a musical festival that doubles as a school project, Chen said that Grounders has been the most hands-on learning experience of her lifetime, and an opportunity to gain confidence in her own decision-making. For the greater Toronto music scene, she and the rest of the festival team hope that it’s a platform for underrepresented artists to get the attention they deserve.
“When there is so much talent in one city, I think it can breed competition and the objective of celebrating and supporting one another as artists gets lost,” McCarthy said. “Grounders is a festival hoping to celebrate, support and represent these musicians and bands.”
Tickets are for sale on Eventbrite.com until Nov. 4 or until they sell out. Festival goers can buy a full-day pass, or a half-day and attend the portion of their choice. Food and drinks will be available for purchase on site, accompanied by vendor booths featuring artisanal products from local small businesses and festival merch.