Last summer, I wandered around downtown Kitchener one balmy night in June. I listened to a poetry slam on Queen St., hung out on a rooftop patio at Vidyard and drank some great local beer, and wandered down a pedestrian-only King St. late in the evening, marvelling at my packed and vibrant downtown.

I, of course, was hanging out in the first Summer Lights Festival. Summer Lights is an interactive street festival that combines music, art and food in pop-up spots around downtown Kitchener.

It’s back this year.

Saturday, June 20 — the night before the summer solstice and the longest day of the year — downtown Kitchener will turn into a celebration and collaboration of local artists, makers and creators. The event runs from 8 p.m. to 1 a.m.

Last year, Communitech was a supporter. This year, we are excited to be a sponsor. We’ll be hanging out at the old Entertaining Elements spot at 179 King St. W.

We are sharing the space with KwartzLab, Pout, and Palette. You may just spot V-Bot from Vidyard hanging out, too.

We’re participating because we love seeing what’s created in an evening of possibilities. We love seeing the spaces we, and our companies, call home come to life.

To learn more about the event itself, I sat down with the Summer Lights self-identified “bus driver” — Charlene LeDuc.

Q – What is Summer Lights? How did it happen?

A – Summer Lights Festival was a question that was raised by local arts organizations, artists, and culture institutions about three or four years ago: What would happen if we threw something on the longest day of the year? That was how it was born.

The conversation happened for a few years. It was curated with the City of Waterloo and the City of Kitchener, but their capacity to take it on just wasn’t possible. Basically, I came aboard and made it happen, with extreme support in the first year (2014) from the City of Kitchener and the City of Waterloo.

It has changed and evolved authentically, which is great. So now it is a showcase, a large street festival, and we have four guiding pillars that everything we do is based on: collaboration, diversity, experience and belonging.

Q – Why are you so involved? Why are you so passionate about Summer Lights?

A – At the end of the day it’s more than a festival to me. To me, it is bringing people together in unique ways, with unique spaces, and collaboration and providing a sense of belonging for programming, sponsors, for people coming to the festival. Hands down it’s the collaboration that really excites me.

Q – What can people expect this year? 

A – Food, art, installations, street games, large video games, music, dance — those are the general genres people can expect.

To be really specific, you can expect things like: KW Nerd Nite Rock Band; Kwartzlab; Communitech and their partners; over 60 musical performances; two major EDM (electronic dance music) parties along King St. and Goudies Lane, a marche (a market) and you can play in Bobby O’Brien’s volleyball pit.

There are artists, tours. You can play large Scrabble on the street. There’s so much.

Q – What ages do you attract?

A – That’s a hard question because it’s all ages. Last year we saw the super “well-seasoned” to the young individual…

Not only do we attract the university crowd, that 19-, 20-, 21-year old living here temporarily, but they all brought friends out to experience it last year. 

I’ve also met so many well-seasoned individuals who are also excited because they can bring their grand-daughters out, they come out with their partner, and bring their dog and this is their community. And they can discuss architecture, music, and everybody was kind of aligned.

Q – How would you describe your role in this?

A – I’m the bus driver… So as the bus driver, I open the doors, let people come on. I open the windows. I make sure they know the rules and regulations. I make sure they’re happy. I probably even sing to them.

I bring everyone together and I make things happen.

And you’re only as good as the people on your bus, right? So if you have a bunch of unruly bus passengers then (stuff’s) not going to happen. But I have a great team.

Q – What else would you want to add?

A – When we first started this was a conversation. We literally gathered around the table the festivals that were happening before and after and asked, ‘How do we support each other?’ So I really think it sets the tone of collaboration.

Summer Lights is open to anyone who wants to come and play and dream up and do something. I think that’s really great.

It’s not necessarily curated, so to speak. It’s not like a Nuit Blanche. This festival belongs to everyone.

***

Summer Lights runs this Saturday night starting at 8 p.m. and will be night of exploration on King St. between Francis and Queen. If you’re looking for more to do, I see and hear that… Open Ears, a biennial festival of music and sound, is hosting Between the Ears 2015 this weekend, June 19-21. Of special interest may be the free performance happening at Communitech June 19 at 4 p.m. As a preview for the event, three members of SUPERCOLLIDER will bring their performance art to Area 151 in the Hub, 151 Charles St. W., Kitchener… This Saturday, June 20 sees the Uptown Waterloo Town Square (75 King St. S.) turn into a beer market during the Solstice Sampling. The event, which runs from 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. features food and drink from local eateries. Tickets are $5 for entry and $1 each for food and drink samples… The first Open Streets Uptown Waterloo is this Sunday, June 21. The event runs 1-5 p.m. and sees the side streets and buildings around King St. in Waterloo (think Willis Way, the Parkade, The Button Factory and the Waterloo Town Square) become open spaces for musicians, artists and local community groups.