I found out about Trail Mix in Waterloo the same way I learn about most community-based initiatives when I travel — by talking to a local!
During a conversation last summer with KW artist Tori Dawn, a.k.a Blankie, about murals and her many creative endeavours, she happened to mention that I could find her music by scanning a QR code on the Forwell Trail that winds through north-central Waterloo.
An outdoor excursion on a trail I’ve never walked before + the opportunity to track down random arts and culture = my kind of hyperlocal afternoon.
On a September afternoon, my neighbour and I hopped on the Spurline Trail just steps from our front doors, then onto the Laurel Trail heading north to where it connects with the Hillside Trail, then the Forwell Trail, which eventually comes to King St. N. beside Manulife.
Along our 9.5 km round trip route, we tracked down four green Trail Mix signs, which, after scanning the QR Code, gave us Bandcamp playlists featuring local musicians such as Elsa Jayne, Christa Mercy, Eiyn Sof, Rich Burnett and poet Ashley Hynd.
The project, under the Create Waterloo banner, was designed and curated by Lakyn Barton, the festival and events specialist with the City of Waterloo along with her team. In any given year, Barton would be planning dozens of arts and culture events, but this year she had the difficult challenge of delivering programming at a time when we can’t gather due to COVID-19 restrictions.
“In the early spring of 2020, we were trying to come up with new opportunities that would bring arts and culture to people, [to] where they are already,” Barton said.
Since so many people were taking to the trails, she knew that ‘choose your own adventure’ style arts programming in this outdoor space would be a win-win.
“We have beautiful trails all throughout the city. I really wanted to highlight those trails, and then also highlight the amazing artists that we have in this community,” Barton said.
“So, we tried to figure out how we would encourage people to listen to different artists, different poetry and music … and we’d curate it to fit the environment that it’s in.”
We’re used to seeing visual art in our cities in the form of sculpture, statues, murals and installations, so why not music? And thus, Trail Mix, the city’s first outdoor music playlist, streamed into our walking orbit.
Following the success of the first Trail Mix in July, Barton added Uptown Tunes, a playlist with a different set of artists, found near the skating rink in the Waterloo Public Square. Featuring Elsa Jayne, I, The Mountain, Tim Moher, Itamar Danziger, and Natassja Debra, this list will be changed frequently to keep a fresh collection of tunes in a higher traffic area.
In November, another Trail Mix launched along the northernmost section of the Walter Bean Grand River Trail, with tracks from Tragedy Anne, Rufus John, Transstar, Mandippal, Sons of Shanley, STEVEDAVE, Preetam Sengupta, JP SUNGA, Alysha Brilla, and Jenna Kessler. Find five new collections of local music between the trail entrance at Grey Silo Golf Course and Grand River Dr.
Barton hopes that people will discover these new artists and connect with their music. She thinks this is a great way to enjoy and support artists virtually until we can gather in person again.
“People are still scanning [the QR codes] every day … [it] is so great to see people still going out in the winter and enjoying their trails,” Barton said.
With public health restrictions on gathering anticipated well into 2021, Barton is planning to curate a few more Trail Mix collections on trails in different areas of Waterloo.
This winter, walking and outdoor excursions have been our mental release and saving grace. Local friends and acquaintances are swapping trail recommendations virtually, and asking for new trails when familiar routes have become a little too familiar.
I always chime in with my suggestions of the Forwell Trail and the Walter Bean Grand River Trail so people can get their arts and culture fix at the same time as their outdoor nature boost.
Here’s how to use Trail Mix:
Step 1: Select your favourite local Waterloo trail
Step 2: Strap on some hiking shoes/boots
Step 3: Find the hidden QR codes along the trail
Step 4: Use your phone’s camera to scan the QR code
Step 5: Put on your headphones and listen to the Trail Mix!
Find trail maps and links to artist websites on the events page of the City of Waterloo website. Parking is available at the trailhead to the Walter Bean Grand River Trail, but the Forwell Trail is best accessed by foot or by Grand River Transit (Manulife stop on King St. N.).
Happy trails and stay tuned for new mixes dropping soon.
Note: Lakyn Barton is the former publisher of the Community Edition.