Around a table on Freeman Dre’s deck in Parkdale, the heads behind the Fedora Upside-Down collective discuss details of the upcoming festival. Beyond the logistics of programming three separate rooms, including two live music stages, there are mentions of theatrical performers, photo exhibitors, art installation creators, dance and interactive performance artists, lighting planners and decor painters, and food, bar and logistics crews.

Scenery, music and a fine function: Fedora Upside-Down Festival 2011

Three key musicians are responsible for bringing about the Fedora Upside-Down collective: Mark Marczyk, Tangi Ropars and Freeman Dre are credited as the principal creators of the “urban folk” collective, dating back to its establishment by name around its first shows in spring 2011. Fedora Upside-Down comprises multiple bands from various traditional musical styles (and fusions theereof) world over, manifested in Toronto in an accessible way, from Balkan and bluegrass to flamenco and forró and beyond. In addition, several visual arts and performance collectives now number among many member groups, and countless more bands and urban artists make up part of the Fedora community.

Mark Marczyk and Tangi Ropars performing at the Mardi Gras Masquerade, Feb. 2012

All of the groups and their respective scenes, both together and individually, are part of the city’s most exciting and current cultural renaissance. Fedora is about uniting the diverse traditional cultural forms of music, dance and art (“folk” forms) present in the urban Toronto scene and allowing the communities, musical styles and artists to mix. (Uma Nota’s tropical vibes are represented via Maria Bonita and the Band and Maracatu Mar Aberto.)

While the Lemon Bucket Orkestra is one of the best-known and most visible bands in the collective, and both Ropars and Marczyk are members, the many Fedora artists around that one group have also seen a rise in interest for their work. Last year’s festival was something of a catalyst.

“The [2011] festival opened us up to people who had never come before, it showed them what we’re about. We’re getting people out in the streets and we’re creating worlds in the shows we do, whether as Fedora Upside-Down or as individual bands and performers,” says Marcyzk. “Everyone’s working on their own, too, and applying what Fedora is to their own practices.”

In the past year, the collective has boomed with shows, events, festivals and general snowball-effect-like growth. In addition to a roughly one-year Thursday night residency at the Cameron House, the collective’s first day-long festival last October sparked a number of larger functions: A masquerade/Mardi Gras in February, a “Feria” or fair in April, Luminato appearances by Lemon Bucket Orkestra, the New Traditions festival on the Toronto Islands in late June, Sheroes at PS Kensington in July, the annual Blackout party and parade in August, the second annual Ossington-area alleyway party in September; all this plus appearances at Ashkenaz, Small World Music Festival and Nuit Blanche, and now the second annual Fedora Upside-Down festival.

Marczyk and Freeman Dre at the 2011 Fedora Upside-Down Festival

This year’s day-long affair, notes Marczyk, while still predominantly featuring live music, brings in more artists in the visual and theatrical arts, more poets and writers, more inter. “We’ve opened up programming … we want to get people involved in the cultures we’re so heavily involved in,” he adds, naming some of  the interactive workshops offered during the afternoon portion of the day-long festival, among them kids’ theatre, mask-making, and village dances (from various traditions).

“Now we want to not only show, but to teach, give people an opportunity to learn, to be involved in a personal way,” says Ropars of the workshops, noting that  they will take place all afternoon, leaving time between activities. “It’s a new thing, but a very important one. It’s our second big event in such a large room, where lots of different communities will be gathered together … a very unique place.”

“This event is different from the others that led to it,” says Freeman Dre. “What’s Fedora? Come to this event and you’ll find out. It’s also the one chance for all of us [members of the collective] to play together [in one night], for everyone to do their art form. It will probably only happen once a year.”

The three Fedora co-founders make it clear  that Fedora as a collective has grown, shifted and evolved since the last festival. “We’re more like facilitators now,” says Marczyk, noting that hundreds of bands have played shows under the Fedora banner in the past year. He says there are now more invitations to bring in artists, usually friends and colleagues, that it’s less of a set collective with member groups now than it is a artist community with members united by their relationship to heritage or traditional forms of music and art. Participation is “community-based rather than genre-based,” says Marczyk, and includes artists who are less visible in the city.

Musician and organizer Michael Louis Johnson is lifted in a kayak at the Blackout Party 2012, in the downtown intersection renamed that night as the Square of the Standing Sticks (Photo: Yvonne Bambrick)

On Fedora’s style of events and shows, Ropars points to past permit-free throwdowns like the Blackout parade and the Ossington-area Alleyway Party: “Totally a community event, it’s not a venue with a cover. And ours are different than other events — we have live music non-stop.”

The existence of Fedora as a collective based in a certain part of the city is part of it too, the three agree.

“It’s definitely a neighbourhood thing,” says Dre on his Parkdale-area deck. “[Fedora] is a snapshot of this neighbourhood. It feels like you could walk down the block, as though there were no walls [between buildings and houses], and see all the groups in their rehearsals.”

Fedora Upside-Down Festival takes place Saturday, October 6 at the Ukrainian Cultural Centre. More info, tickets and full programming available via the Fedora Upside-Down website and via the Facebook event page.