Wake the Giant Gears Up for Fifth Milestone

By Nancy Saunders

Wake the Giant is gearing up for its milestone fifth event this September. “We want it to be more than just a music festival,” says Sean Spenrath, one of the festival organizers. “It’s a cultural immersion. […] It’s always been about showcasing Indigenous talent and culture. We’ve had over 33 performers, of which more than half have been Indigenous.”

This year’s festival lineup features Canadian rockers the Arkells, DJ Galantis, indie pop band Walk Off the Earth, and the homecoming of Coleman Hell as afternoon headliner. DJ Shub will present his new project, War Club Live. Chester Knight, Ira Johnson Band, and Thunder Spirit are all part of the impressive roster, along with Mi’kmaq singer, songwriter, producer, and composer Drives the Common Man, who is presented by the Downie Wenjack Fund.

Spenrath, who works at Dennis Franklin Cromarty High School (DFC) with fellow Wake the Giant organizers, reveals the backstory of Coleman Hell’s return. “Coleman actually reached out to us wanting to be part of the festival again. He’s been a big supporter from the start, and we’re thrilled to have him back.” This year’s emcee, DFC’s Student Chief (and TikTok sensation) Nolan Aysanabee, was also in attendance at the first festival in 2019, when he travelled from Sandy Lake First Nation to take part in Wake the Giant activities.

“It’s amazing to see how far [Aysanabee] has come,” says Spenrath, crediting his return in part to the opportunities and growth Wake the Giant provides. “[The first Wake the Giant] was [his] first kind of look at Thunder Bay and DFC, and now that he’s graduating it’s just cool to see where he started. He was a young kid kind of trying to find out, ‘Can I come to Thunder Bay for school here?’” Spenrath says. “Then fast forward four years later to graduating as Student Chief. He’s on stage at Wake the Giant. All that good stuff; just tremendous growth. [It’s] what we envisioned for Wake the Giant: let’s bring these kids in, give them the opportunity to see Thunder Bay, experience it and teach them a little bit about all the amenities, and set them up for success at the end of the day.” 

“We’ve had a hundred students performing on stage, which is really cool,” continues Spenrath. “It’s highlighting the Indigenous acts and really showing the culture and giving the kids representation up there.”

Spenrath explains that Wake the Giant emerged from the desire to create a welcoming space, especially for Indigenous youth who may feel marginalized. “Students would tell us they didn’t always feel welcomed in Thunder Bay. […] We wanted to show the kids there are people out there that support you.” The festival is a celebration of their talents and resilience. It’s the culminating event in DFC’s student orientation series that also includes an The Amazing Race-style event, where DFC students from remote communities get to know the city, and The DFC Experience, an event consisting of workshops in art, technology, athletics and music, hosted by industry role models.

Tickets are on sale now for the Wake the Giant Music Festival at the Thunder Bay Waterfront on Saturday, September 14th. Get your tickets and learn more about the Wake the Giant movement by visiting wakethegiant.ca.