Early Festivals Execute Creative Adjustments

Big Wreck performs at Tall Pines Music Festival in 2022. Photo: Scott Burns

Both Tall Pines Music Festival artistic director Jonny Desilva and Sound Of Music CEO, Myles D Rusak had major adjustments to make in the post-Covid period but both events are set to go on the same dates with the Gravenhurst-located Tall Pines festival set for its second year of operation at Muskoka Wharf Sports Field June 16th and 17th while Sound Of Music festival is set to celebrate its 44th year of operation with a three-day event at both Burlington Ontario’s Spencer Smith Park and City Hall stages June 15th to 18th.

Desilva’s agency FRC Marketing had been serving as a promotional agency for various concert activities for clients like Sirius XM and Post cereal but took it upon themselves to execute a series of digital concerts when the COVID-19 epidemic brought live events to a screeching halt. 

Jonny Desilva, artistic director of the Tall Pines Music & Arts Festival

Myles D Rusak, CEO of Sound of Music Festival

In all, Desilva’s company executed three digital concerts, a Canada Day and Summer House Party, shot at various artist locations before taking a selection of artists (Serena Ryder, K-OS, Tim Hicks) to Algonquin Park in 2021 where they executed a three-hour television show, taking over a vacated kid’s summer camp.

“We made a lot of friends in Muskoka, so we decided to launch a real music festival when live music came back,” Desilva explained. We decided on the Gravenhurst location right by Lake Muskoka which we tagged as Tall Pines, which meant we didn’t have to do anymore digital festivals, thank God!”

Their debut festival featured a return of Ryder and K-OS along with the likes of Big Wreck, Sloan, Bedouin Soundclash and The Beaches which, according to DeSilva was relatively successful but did create some confusion with local residents. “A lot of people didn’t know what was happening last year,” Desilva notes. “A lot of locals walked up and asked us what was going on up here. There’s a farmer’s market at the site, it was all fenced off and we were charging $100 to get in, they wanted to know what was going on here?”

“It was not something they were used to in a small town like Gravenhurst but the success of that first festival allowed us to build a reputation here,” he continued. “We are getting grants from Ontario Tourism; they want to see this festival happen although there has been some resistance from local businesses which I don’t understand as we are attracting even more tourism into this area.”

Desilva’s team is countering any negative reaction by staging a block party on the Saturday, signing up more than 30 vendors and having artists come down and sign autographs for the locals.

Canadian acts Blue Rodeo and Serena Ryder set to headline Gravenhurst’s Tall Pine Music & Arts Festival

Described by Desilva as “An iPod Festival”, the two-day event features an eclectic mix of talent including Blue Rodeo, Classified, I Mother Earth, The Darcys, Serena Ryder and Tokyo Police Club along with a plethora of new and local talent including the likes of The Currie Brothers, Frank Mighty and Misty Blue.

“We looked at the demographic of the people who would be buying tickets,” Desilva noted. “Local cottage owners might like Blue Rodeo but there are also younger people in the area who want to see Serena Ryder, Classified and Tokyo Police Club so we are trying to mix things up and not alienate anyone.”

The biggest challenge Tall Pines faces is a lack of hotel accommodation for attendees, but Desilva is countering that by negotiating with a local trailer park to set up camping and RV access. Further information on ticketing and talent lineups can be obtained at

For a festival which started life 44 years ago as a showcase for the world-famous Burlington Teen marching band, The Sound Of Music festival has recovered from its COVID wobbles and Is back on track, according to festival CEO Myles D Rusak. 

“The festival gets a little more ambitious each year,” notes Rusak, alluding to the two stages at Spencer Smith Park and an additional stage set up in front of City Hall. “We haven’t fully recovered from COVID,  we are still getting hammered by supply issues and increased costs. Event sponsors don’t have the money they once had so it’s a bit of an uphill battle. We are not out of the woods yet, but we are getting there. We had 416,000 people attending last year. It’s a free festival so we don’t necessarily see the revenue generated by that crowd – we need these people to buy more beer!

Still, this hasn’t stopped the festival from staging a full slate of talent performing at both West and East ends of the park plus a third stage positioned outside City Hall. 

British rock band The Struts to perform at the 2023 Sound of Music Festival in Burlington

“We try to do a different theme each night on a different stage,” Rusak noted. “For example, on the Thursday we have a Retro Night on the East stage with A Flock Of Seagulls, The Spoons (guitarist Gord Deppe doing double duty with both bands) and Men Without Hats while on the West stage we have new, modern bands like Badflower,  Brkn Love and The Obgms.”

“We try to keep our finger on the pulse of what is going on” he continued. “We stay on top of those up and comers like Devon Cole and Sofia Camara, who have broken through on their own digital channels, but we also have throwback nights where we have the likes of I Mother Earth, Lee Aaron, Coney Hatch and The Crash Test Dummies, bands that people have loved since the 90’s. We try to program a festival that let’s us do something for everyone – given it’s a free festival -and if you want to come down and spend absolutely nothing, you are welcome to do that.”

A major highlight is an appearance by UK’s The Struts who are making their only appearance Saturday June 17th on the TD East Stage.

Aside from the festival, The Sound Of Music also executes a full-blown street festival with a full-on midway, rides, games, vendors, a family zone. “All of these pieces make us one of the biggest festivals in Canada, a festival which makes us unique.”

For full scheduling information and other event details, please visit

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