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Coldplay Meets Gumboots on BC’s Summer Festival Stage



by Sue Kernaghan


“It’s magic. You walk through the gates and you feel like you’ve stepped into a different time and place – a mini-city of people, food and music from around the world that appears for three days, and then it’s gone, destined to reappear a year later. We call it Brigadoon.”


That’s how Barbara Chirinos, Managing Director of the Vancouver Folk Music Festival, describes the enduring appeal of one of BC’s best-loved summer festivals.


Now drawing its third generation of fans and volunteers to Vancouver’s Jericho Beach Park, this 31-year-old event showcases more than 70 hours of world, folk and roots music on eight outdoor stages – all set against Vancouver’s famous ocean and mountain backdrop.


Named one of the top 10 outdoor events in North America by USA Today, this year’s Folk Fest will increase its family programming and, for the first time, offer free admission to kids 12 and under. “We hope to introduce a whole new generation to roots and blues, hip hop, gospel, Appalachian music, bhangra and more. Folk is, after all, more than a guitar and a banjo,” observes Chirinos. 


The Vancouver Folk Music Festival is just one of a galaxy of events and celebrations taking place in BC this summer. Leading the buzz is July’s inaugural Pemberton Festival, with headliners Coldplay, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, Nine Inch Nails, the Tragically Hip, and several dozen other rockers playing in a mountain-fringed meadow just north of Whistler.


Sure to be a hot ticket (snap those tickets up sooner than later), this new event, already fielding comparisons to the Glastonbury Festival, will host 50 bands on two stages; fans can camp on site or hop a festival shuttle to one of Whistler’s boutique hotels. 


Big stars, remote mountains…no problem. The folks behind the Merritt Mountain Music Festival have been mixing celebrities and scenery for 16 years. This summer, thousands of country fans will once again flock to this ranching community in BC’s Thompson Okanagan region to hear, among others, a reunited Wynonna and Naomi Judd, Hank Williams Jr., Sugarland, Sara Evans and more.


BC is also a major stop on the summer jazz circuit, with two big urban fests -- the TD Canada Trust Vancouver International Jazz Festival and Victoria’s JazzFest International -- both set for late June. The two events share dates this year, but it’s easy enough for fans – and artists – to catch at least some of both. Watch for Dave Brubeck and Wynton Marsalis take the stage at both festivals.


These big festivals are the stuff of summer memories, but so too are the dozens of smaller events filling BC’s summer nights. From Aboriginal festivals in the north to Okanagan harvest celebrations, these mini-fests -- almost always in scenic settings -- typically offer homemade food, kids’ entertainment, on-site camping, a mix of touring musicians and local acts.  A cross-section of unique offerings span the province including Salt Spring Island’s Gumboot Dancers performing at various island festivals through the summer and Nanaimo’s bathtub racers going for the gold at a one-of-a-kind world championship event on Vancouver Island.


A festival tour could start in Northern BC, where June events make the most of long summer nights. At Smithers, for example, the Bulkley Valley Folk Music Society’s Midsummer Music Festival celebrates its 25th anniversary this year with three nights of folk, roots, blues, ska and rock.  There’s even an old-time barn dance and an opportunity to festival-goers to camp under the stars.  In July, the pretty Gold Rush village of Atlin in BC's far northwest hosts the Atlin Arts and Music Festival, with Ashley MacIsaac and Ray Bonneville headlining a celebration of music, visual arts, dance, storytelling, comedy and film. 


Also in July, the annual Crabfest in the remote Nisga'a village of Gingolx offers a rare opportunity to experience traditional Nisga’a music, visual art and food. First Nations music and dance is also central to the eclectic mix of world, country, blues and more at the delightfully named Edge of the World Music Festival at Tlell on Haida Gwaii (Queen Charlotte Islands).


Vancouver Island has its share of music festivals, starting in mid-July with Comox Valley’s Vancouver Island MusicFest, where fans can squeeze in a yoga class or a swim in the river between shows. Next up is the Islands Folk Fest near Duncan where 150 performers offer three days of non-stop music.  


In August, music fans move inland to the Kootenay Rockies, where a floating stage, mountain backdrop and small town vibe helped the Kaslo Jazz Etc. Summer Music Festival make the USA Today top ten events list. Blues fans can wind up their summer in the North Okanagan, where the 16th Annual Salmon Arm Roots & Blues Festival welcomes the Neville Brothers to one of
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