Supercrawl's growth is off the charts

In four years, festival attendance has grown more than 20 times. Now, Supercrawl organizer Tim Potocic is shooting to bolster out of town fans.

In four years, Hamilton festival's attendance has grown more than 20 times

Supercrawl organizer Tim Potocic says he's trying to get more people from out of town to make the trek to downtown Hamilton for Supercrawl. Here, he's pictured in the lot by the Tivoli Theatre, where the first Supercrawl stage was set up in 2009. (Adam Carter/CBC)

In four years, Supercrawl has blown up in a way few people expected.

In 2009, the downtown music and art festival started with fairly modest beginnings — 4,000 people, a couple of stages and one single block closed to car traffic.

But that number grew fast. Last year, 80,000 people came downtown to see K'naan and a host of other bands, while wandering through the art installations lining James Street. This year it will be even bigger, covering more ground with a new waterfront stage.

That kind of growth that fast is no small feat. "It wasn't expected," said Supercrawl organizer Tim Potocic. "But clearly there was a need on many levels."

But it was also a "right place, right time" scenario, he says. When Supercrawl started four years ago, Hamilton was starting to sell itself in a way it hadn't in some time. A kind of homespun civic pride latched onto the festival, helping catapult in quickly to where it is today, he says.

"A lot of people rallied around it," Potocic said. "If the community didn't rally around us there is no way we'd be as big as we are. We're building this with the rest of Hamilton."

"If we started this eight years ago, I don't think we would have seen the growth. The stars aligned."

But the crowd that organizers are starting to increasingly covet is the elusive out-of-towner. They're being methodical about it, too — slowly booking more bands from outside the area year after year to spread the word about Hamilton.

And that's clear from the headliners: Passion Pit (from Massachusetts) Yo La Tengo (New Jersey) and the recently announced Wintersleep (Halifax). Potocic says he wants those bands to have a solid experience, go back to their respective booking agencies and generate a buzz for the festival and the city.

"We want the word to spread," he said. "We don't want to settle on this being just a local festival."

Remember the duck face mannequin by Brandon Vickerd from Supercrawl 2012? (Adam Carter/CBC)

But it already isn't. In 2009, those 4,000 fans were no doubt almost all local "except for one guy from Australia," Potocic says.

But according to a rough estimate from surveys the organizers conducted and numbers coming in on special GO trains, about 10,000 people came out last year from Toronto alone. "That is staggering," Potocic said. In fact, about one quarter of attendees were from out of town, he estimates.

"We don't want to outpace ourselves, but we want to grow that number."

The growth Supercrawl is experiencing doesn't come without a heavy workload. Anyone who sees Potocic around the time of the festival knows that it can be hectic.

His sleep schedule doesn't help. "I pretty much stay up for 60 hours with periodic naps," he laughed, promising that he's going to spread out the responsibilities a bit more so he can get some sleep.

Plus, he's one of those people that enjoys how chaotic organizing something this massive can be. "I kind of feed off of that kind of stuff. The more you can pile on me the better."

"It's super exciting — and I couldn't ask for a better job."

Supercrawl is free and runs on September 13 and 14 in downtown Hamilton. To get you in the mood for this year, check out the sights and sounds from last year: