Originally published in BC Musician Magazine, September 2016
A Summer’s worth of music festivals has left my hair tangled, my skin sun-drenched, my ears ringing, my band shirts stocked, and my iPod loaded. And I didn’t even have to leave B.C.’s Interior. Summer is usually the time that I depart from my hometown of Prince George and zig-zag Canada’s highways playing shows far and wide. This year, however, I chose to stay home and see what I could see, see what I had been missing, all those Summers away. As it turns out, I had been missing a heck of a lot.
What strikes me, is the variety of festivals available within four-hour’s drive of Prince George. I kicked the season off with the 33rd Annual Midsummer Music Festival in Smithers on Canada Day long weekend. I saddled up my van Flo, collected my bandmates, Crones, and we tumbled up Highway 16 for a Friday night appearance on the ‘B’ stage. Upon arriving, we were greeted with a beauty of a campsite (hot showers, say whaaaaat!), as well as the trill of excited children running around while Welkin’s ethereal grooves emanated from the mainstage. Nestled in the beautiful Bulkley Valley, mountain peaks and lush meadows created a postcard backdrop for the mainstage and vendors. The weekend brought some stellar new music to my attention, dispersed among the outdoor mainstage, indoor ‘B’ stage, and covered, intimate 4-H stage. Whether it was cutting a rug to Blocktreat and Dada Plan, rocking out to Mathias Rock and Fountain, or shedding a tear to Kym Gouchie’s heartfelt tunes, Midsummer delivered the goods and I was humming new melodies on the way out the door. Families were plentiful at Midsummer, and it’s easy to see why. An intricate jungle gym area was set up for the kids, with a family stage hosting magicians, performance artists, and even a children’s set by Rachelle Van Zanten. Smithers’ Midsummer Music Festival was a true gem for families and singles alike, and provided a warm and exciting platform to jump into festival season from.
Next up was Hootstock Festival in Forest Grove, BC. In it’s fifth year, Hootstock is growing quickly, and a lot of that can be attributed to founder Astrid Hensey and her husband Steve’s welcoming, DIY approach. Just a skip off of the path to 100 Mile House, Hootstock is located at Forest Grove’s Old Bradley Creek School House, built by community pioneers in 1936. After a serene drive through picturesque forests with lakeside views, a clearing comes into sight, full of dancing people. With one main stage attached to the schoolhouse, and a separate side stage sharing the crowd space, Hootstock provided an intimate, yet fully charged concert experience. All the details were marked with the fingerprints of Astrid, Steve and their volunteers, whether it be the infrastructure, the handpainted signs, or the beautiful clay medallions that performers received as mementos. A lot of love goes into putting on this festival, and the lineup was a true testament to that as well. Just to name a few, Sober Becky graced us with her conscious folk-punk, High Society got us moving with their heavy-hitting funk, and Argentina’s Los Entangados had the crowd leaping in the air with their latin-infused dancehall rock. Hootstock provided a stellar experience with a group of wonderfully colorful people, where artists and patrons alike shared the space as music appreciators. This is a festival to catch in it’s infancy, while the family vibe lasts.
After a reprieve to Green Lake to catch some sun and get water logged, I made my way back North to attend Artswells. The magical, incredible Artswells. Enveloping the entire township of Wells, and a little slice of the nearby historic Barkerville, rolling into Artswells was like rolling into the land of Oz. Brightly coloured, historical buildings are adorned in local art, pennant banners are strewn across the roads, and radiant people in lively costumes are scattered amongst vendor row and gathered outside of the many venues that will house music over the weekend. Over 100 music and live performance acts were housed by twelve stages, with workshops, independent film showings, and fire-throwing performance artists being the icing on the cake. Each performance was the best one, in it’s own right. Memorable performances include Carolyn Mark’s brazen country stylings in the Downstairs Hall, Walter TV’s new wave minimalism in the historic Sunset Theatre, West My Friend’s perfectly melancholy harmonies in Barkerville’s Methodist church, and The Pack AD’s heavy riffs ripping through the crowd in the Main Hall. However, that is just a snippet of the spectrum of acts on the schedule, as the miscellany is excitingly broad. Artswells Festival is a spectacle and a delight, and it’s conclusion left me with a nostalgic melancholy that insists I return next year.
After a short rest in Prince George, I packed my bags for the next big festival on my radar, Music on the Meadow. Just two hours West of Prince George in Fort St. James, MoM is on its seventh year, and delivered a rock and roll line up with a dash of folk and a smack of country. Trading back and forth between two beautifully put together outdoor stages, legendary Canadian punk band D.O.A. shared the evening with local country heavies The Joey Only Outlaw Band, while Sam Tudor ramped up the evening with his folk-pop ditties and The Party on High Street molded D.O.A.’s mosh pit into a group of groovy movers. The days were graced with performances by Raghu Lokonathan and Frontal Lobotamy, amidst many other talents from the region and beyond. The campgrounds were plentiful and even, with artists gathering in clusters amongst camper vans and tents, to create spontaneous songs.
The last festival of my season was the First Annual Metalocalypstik, a festival based in Valemount that showcases metal and hardcore bands with female members. After a beauty of a drive through the Robson Valley (and a quick stop in Valemount to fill up my Three Ranges Brewing growler), I followed the Metalocalypstik signs to Canoe River Campground, just five minutes drive outside of Valemount. After a meander through a lovely forest lane, the trees opened up to a vast field with mountainous backdrops for camping, and the sound of heavy riffs emanated from the covered stage in the distance. Featuring 19 bands on the mainstage over the course of the weekend, the tent was full with listeners at all times. Loaded with face-melting solos, powerhouse vocals, and a beer garden, it was easy to see why. Not only does Metalocalypstik showcase regional and national acts such as Dead Asylum and Scythia, they bring in acts from all over the world, Brazil’s Nervosa and New Mexico’s Suspended being two of many I was able to catch over the weekend. Metalocalypstik provided a true metal experience while showcasing the women taking space in the genre, and created a venue that was welcoming and accessible.
Being rooted at home in Prince George this Summer was a good reminder of the scope of talent that we have access to up here in the BC Interior, not just onstage but behind the scenes as well. The magnitude of work and vision that goes into putting together a festival is gigantic, and I was able to catch five very distinct, but equally fun and inviting festivals over the season. The crazy thing is, there are many I wasn’t able to take in, that I know were just as fun (Metallion, Robson Valley Music Festival, and Cambala being the three that come to mind). I am thankful for yet another reason to see my home in a positive light, and my old van Flo was surely thankful for the little jaunts and long rests, as opposed to another cross-Canada adventure. I sit with the memories of this Summer feeling not unlike Dorothy after she awakes; for your own heart’s desire, sometimes you need not look further than your own backyard. There really is no place like home!