About This Festival
Sonic Boom, a late-summer celebration of alternative music in Edmonton, Canada, started when its organizers set out to spotlight the bands at the cutting edge of rock. Put on by Union Events in collaboration with Sonic 102.9, a local alternative station that started out of a trailer, this two-day outdoor festival draws alt fans, yes, but also those who appreciate the related genres, including punk, indie, roots, and blues—each of which make at least a bit appearance at Sonic Boom.
Music, of course, is the main course at Sonic Boom but the sides and hors d’oeuvres are worth sampling: There’s a vendor village, hard-charging games and activities, and progressive food and drink options. “A tonne of fun," as one Canadian website called it.
It all plays out at Northlands Park, which is primarily used for equestrian events—for 85 years, it’s been the home of the Canadian Derby, which races through just a week prior to Sonic Boom.
Local BeginningsBoom started in 2009 as one of the more than 800 shows produced by Union Events, whose “fan-first” philosophy shines through during all the festivals they put on, including Calgary’s X-Fest, Toronto’s Riot Fest, and Kelowna’s Center of Gravity.
Their Sonic Boom festival started out quite Canadian, with bands and performers most Americans wouldn’t recognize. Over the years, the organizers kept adding bigger, more famous headliners until the lineup was stocked with international household names. Look closer, though, and in the smaller print toward the bottom of the festival posters, you’ll still see what started out as the festival’s core—a solid lineup of local Canucks who know how to seriously rock out.
The big-name bands, of course, keep swelling the crowds, explaining why Sonic Boom’s attendance has grown annually, reaching 15,000 most recently.
As Al Ford, Sonic Boom’s program director, told the Global News: “Every year, we try to bring something for everyone . . . from modern rock staples like Weezer and Blink to bands some people are just discovering, like Family of the Year and Passion Pit. I really couldn’t think of a better way to spend a long weekend.”
Forward-Thinking Food and DrinkThe food at Sonic Boom is as progressive as the music. You’ll find vegan, gluten-free, ethnic, and regional options (standouts include the coconut "bacon" and the Cajun sandwiches) among the snack booths, food trucks, and the lively beer gardens, where DJs play all day.
Water refill stations are free and plentiful, so don’t leave your Nalgene at home.
A Sassy CrowdPerhaps it’s to be expected at a music event featuring unbridled, badass headliners, but the Sonic Boom crowd has noticeable attitude and sass. This festival’s attendees—called “Boomers”—are covered in tattoos, piercings, fedoras, ironic glasses, and a good chunk of them have hair dyed colors not found in nature. You’re likely to see fans clad in crop tops, hoodies, cutoffs, bandanas, and the occasional horse head, with a decent number of men sporting guyliner and nail polish.
As you might guess, these fans are as hard-rocking as the performers they’ve come to see: Sonic Boom’s concerts’ audiences rage with mosh pits, crowd surfing, head banging, and beach balls.
Away from the stages, the carnival games are on the aggressive side too: There’s car-smashing, body-slamming wrestling, dodge ball, and some steep water slides. In short, this is a great place to work your aggression out, or watch others do so.
Music Worth Traveling ForSonic Boom’s headliners have included Jack White, Death Cab for Cutie, Blink 182, Weezer, Rise Against, fun., the Arctic Monkeys, Franz Ferdinand, and the Descendents. You’ll know their radio-played hits by heart (and if you’re like most Boomers, you’ll sing—or scream—along). Sonic Boom, though, is known as a fest where bands debut their new material, so there’ll be songs you’ve never heard before, even if you’re watching your favorite band. The upside is that you’ll be able to say you heard it here first.
The supporting cast also wows: Performers like Tegan & Sara, Foster the People, Serena Ryder, the Smalls, July Talk, Cage the Elephant, the New Pornographers, the Airborne Toxic Event, the Mowgli’s, Until the Ribbon Breaks, and hometown favorites Current Swells leave Sonic Boom with a new set of devout followers. (Fanboys and girls can get their concert swag signed during artist sessions at Sonic Boom’s autograph booths.)
These bold bands pay no mind to weather, and this is a rain-or-shine event (read: no refunds). So when it hailed a few years back during Mutemath’s set, the crowd stayed right where they stood, and Paul Meany kept right on belting his Grammy-nominated rock—a perfect example of what Sonic Boom is all about: Aggressive, devoted appreciation for forward-pushing music, no matter what.