The Ultimate Guide to Surviving the George Street Festival
One of the city’s most hotly anticipated weeks is here. The ticket booths are setup. The stage is dusted off. The speed bars are gearing up. Over 50,000 people will party on the “biggest little street in North America” for 7 straight days. It’s George Street Festival time.
George Street is a famous (infamous?) little pedestrian street in downtown St. John’s, NL lined with two dozen bars, clubs, and pubs, many hot dog carts…and one pizza joint. Some like to say that it has more bars per square foot than any street in the world, which isn’t really true but what odds. Why let the facts get in the way of a good story? Every night of the year you can find live music there – Irish, country, blues, rock, and more will keep the party going until 3am on weekends. It’s St. John’s party central. And for 34 years, the George Street Festival has been peak party.
It’s a marathon seven nights of 19+ drunken debauchery and we are here for it. Though my own personal record was 5 of 7 nights the year I had a VIP pass that got me free booze from 8pm-11pm. After night five I just couldn’t do it anymore and gave it to some family members to have fun with. This year I may go to one night. I’m old.
What is the George Street Festival?
For the week leading up to the Royal St. John’s Regatta, George Street is gated off with an outdoor concert scheduled each night. And we get some big names in the Canadian music scene too – Blue Rodeo, Our Lady Peace, Great Big Sea, April Wine, and Barenaked Ladies have all made appearances in the past. Each night tends to have a theme with similar acts grouped together. You can always count on their being at least one night of local traditional music from the likes of Shanneyganock, The Masterless Men, The Irish Descendants, The Navigators, et al.
One of the best things about the George Street Festival is that your concert ticket gets you access to all of the bars on the street. Goodbye cover charge! The next best thing – you can walk down the street with your drink. Feel like a white Russian from Lottie’s but want to listen to the band at O’Reilly’s? Not a problem. As long as your drink is in a plastic cup you’re free to wander. And if the concerts aren’t your jam but you still want to take part, you can show up after 11pm and pay a single cover to get access to the street.
After the main stage acts wrap up people flood the 20+ bars on the street. Pick your favourite watering hole to hunker down in or create a DIY bar crawl. It’s a choose your own adventure type of night.
How to Buy Tickets for the George Street Festival
If you want to make sure that you don’t miss out on your favourite band, you’ll want to pick up your George Street Festival tickets in advance. Tickets can be purchased online or at select North Atlantic gas stations across the province. If you prefer to take your chances, tickets can also be bought at booths near the three main entrances (Water Street, Adelaide Street, Duckworth Street). You have your choice of single show tickets, “After 11pm” tickets, VIP tickets, or a full weeklong pass. My advice: if you plan on just going after 11pm, there’s not much need to purchase in advance.
Can I Go to the George Street Festival If I’m Under 19?
Sorry young’un, the George Street Festival is a 19+ event, however on the Saturday afternoon there are usually some all ages events schedule. Gates go up at 6pm and ID will be required after that.
Where to Watch the Show
The highlight of each summer are the concerts that take part each night. Part of getting the most from these shows is finding the best spot. As in real estate, at George Street Festival it’s all about location, location, location. You want to stake out a spot that equally accessible to a bar and bathroom with a view of the stage. Bonus points if it’s somewhere where you can avoid being jammed on all sides by strangers. Two of the best areas are the decks at the Rock House and the Rob Roy. Clear line of sight with beer and bathrooms not far off. And if you get there early enough to claim a rail spot you’re guaranteed to not have anyone blocking your line of sight.
If you need to be front and center for the main act, you probably only need to show up for the beginning of the opening act. We’re notoriously late getting on the go and most of the crowd won’t show up until dark. I highly advise that you hold off on getting on the beer if you want to be up front for the show since you’ll lose your spot if you leave for alcohol or facilities. Those who try to ram their way back through the packed crowd with cups hoisted overhead, beer sloshing onto unsuspecting partiers, are the most annoying of all revellers. Don’t be one. There’s plenty of time to get your drink on after the headliner wraps up.
What to Wear to the George Street Festival
If you’re heading down for the openers, the main act, and then staying to club hop and check out the late night acts you’re going to want to be cute…but comfortable.
- Wear closed toe shoes. The street can get really crowded and drunk people aren’t known for being graceful. Protect your pedi and wear closed toed shoes to GSF.
- Pack a cheap disposable rain poncho. The weather here is unpredictable and umbrellas don’t work in Newfoundland.
- Don’t wear something that’s dry clean only. The likelihood of beer spillage, by you or those around you, is high.
- Don’t bring a backpack. It’s just annoying in a crowd. Use a crossbody or belt bag instead. That way you can have your hands free to hold your beer cup.
Tips for Enjoying the George Street Festival
- This first one is an important one: once you’re on the street, you’re on the street. Your ticket is single entry only so you won’t be able to leave the area and come back without buying another ticket.
- Know that parking and cabs will be at a premium so, if possible, stay somewhere within walking distance.
- Have a glass of water now and then. Nothing ruins your festival fun faster than puking in a bush before the laser show.
- Take part in the time honoured tradition of Regatta Roulette on the Tuesday night. Will Regatta go ahead the next day and we’ll get a holiday or will we all have to go to work? It’s anyone’s guess! Have another drink!
- If you want to experience the street but don’t care for the main stage bands, you can wait until 11pm and then pay $15 to get onto the street for the after party.
- Be sure to have some Gatorade, Pepto Bismol, and Advil on hand at home for the morning after. ;) GSF can get messy.