Ed Robertson of the Barenaked Ladies was in top form Sunday at Vancouver Island MusicFest. (Erin Haluschak photo)

Vancover Island MusicFest lineup one of top three: producer

If Sunday morning’s lineup was any indication, there were many believers who made the annual pilgrimage to attend Vancouver Island MusicFest. By 9:30 a.m., the Comox Valley Exhibition Grounds were quickly filling for the gospel/spiritual set on the Concert Bowl Stage where ‘Delta Lady’ Rita Coolidge delivered a Cherokee version of Amazing Grace.

On Saturday, the captivating voice of Coolidge kicked off an eclectic evening of mainstage music that included DakhaBrakha of the Ukraine, the Haitian-born Wesli, iconic Canadian singer/songwriter Bruce Cockburn, and pedal steel guitarist Robert Randolph and The Family Band — whose set included Jimi Hendrix, ZZ Top and Black Sabbath.

Earlier Saturday, Cockburn gave a taste of what was to come as he shared the Grierson Stage with several musicians. One of those was Welshman Martyn Joseph, who sang the praises of Cockburn, and of Bruce Springsteen (he wasn’t there, but Joseph sang a wonderful rendition of One Step Up).

It’s the smaller venues of MusicFest where patrons feel as if they’re sitting in a performer’s living room. Sunday at the Woodland Stage, for instance, a few hundred people became better acquainted with Joseph, who doesn’t mind poking fun at himself.

“A Melody Maker review once said that I make Leonard Cohen sound like Julie Andrews.”

Like Cohen, Joseph is a man who sings from the heart and soul. One of his songs, Rose, was written for his 82-year-old mother and her devotion to her husband, who has Alzheimer’s.

Friday’s headliner was country superstar Emmylou Harris, who performed at MusicFest 2012. Sunday it was the Barenaked Ladies, who still ‘have it’ — musicianship and stage presence — even without the vocals of former frontman Steven Page. The ‘ladies’ have widespread appeal. Their set included a children’s song called Raisins. For their encore, singer/guitarist Ed Robertson took over drums from Tyler Stewart, who belted out Led Zeppelin’s Whole Lotta Love.

“I thought it was maybe in the 20 years of doing it, one of the top three lineups we’ve had,” executive producer Doug Cox said. “Happy to hear how many people were pleasantly surprised. Lucia Micarelli, I thought was absolutely stunning on Friday night. It was the first time we presented a classical thing…It was a super satisfying year for us.”

Besides the music, the annual gathering in Courtenay is about so many other things: volunteers, ethnic foods, glow sticks, parents carting face-painted children around in wheelbarrows, and standing crowds that make room for the vertically challenged. It’s all in keeping with what Cox calls an unwritten ‘no jerk policy.’

“It was beautiful to see,” he said, noting the number of children in attendance. “So many of the festivals are struggling with their demographics now. I heard from many younger people who thanked me for the lineup, and said they loved it. That fills me with hope, that we can continue to book what we think is high quality music without worrying too much about today’s favour.”

An accomplished musician, Cox has been inducted into the BC Entertainment Hall of Fame as a pioneer star.

“It’s nice that some people put my name forward,” he said. “It’s kind of a shock. I guess I think I’m still 20. But it’s very nice. It’s a huge compliment.”

See page 6 for more pics.