It’s by design that Vancouver Island MusicFest artistic director Doug Cox rarely invites musical acts to return to the festival in back-to-back years.
One key to MusicFest’s success is the variety and difference from year to year.
Cox pays close attention to all the acts, and their reception in any given year, keeping notes for possible return invites in four to five years’ time. But every once in a while, there’s an exception to the rule.
Jack Semple is one such exception.
Semple made his Vancouver Island MusicFest debut in 2022, as a solo acoustic act.
Cox originally associated Semple with acoustic blues, and when he saw the whole band play, at a show just weeks before the 2022 MusicFest, he discovered another dynamic side to the guitar master.
“I saw them at the Maple Blues Summit in Toronto,” said Cox. “He was showcasing there. It’s a totally different show. Right from the opening song, I was just thinking, ‘Oh my God.’ It just floored me.”
Cox said Semple’s return is even more important to him, since the sudden passing of legendary guitarist Jeff Beck, earlier this year.
“As far as I am concerned, Jack Semple is like Canada’s Jeff Beck,” said Cox. “He does things on his guitar that basically, no one else can do. Last year he came to the festival as an acoustic musician, but seeing him play with his band is like nothing you have ever seen before.”
Semple is excited to return to the party at the Comox Valley Exhibition Grounds, just one year after making his MusicFest debut.
“I’m honoured, actually - I’m lucky, for sure,” he said, during a recent travel day between Saskatchewan gigs.
Whereas the pandemic limited Semple’s opportunities to play in front of live audiences, he’s making up for it now, as his date book is getting fuller by the week.
“As of last summer, gigs are starting to come back. Like this week, I have four gigs in four different cities in the province (of Saskatchewan),” he said. “So I have been practising a lot, making sure my chops are up to the task.”
His summer plans include a few stops in British Columbia, mostly smaller venues.
The MusicFest show, where he will be performing on the main stage, will be a chance for him to showcase his talents to a large crowd, with varied musical tastes.
Semple says festivals are unique in that aspect.
“Festival gigs usually mean a bigger audience, and it’s usually, in a festival, people are in a very carefree mood,” he said. “They see a variety of acts, and they are really open-minded… it’s called a festival for a reason. There’s a lot of diversity, and usually being outside, they have a really free and open feeling to them.”
Whether it be a solo acoustic set, or a full band set, Semple interacts with his audiences in an easy-going and sincere manner. He said that connection is what sets live performances apart from studio work.
“That’s what it’s all about. It’s the connections you make - letting the audience in on your secrets. You spend a lot of hours in your studio, in your room, practising and playing, and figuring out what people might like. You come up with something that you (like, but) you’re the only one who has listened to it. So you get in front of an audience, you hope that they are going to feel the same way as you do about it. And when that happens, it’s a beautiful thing.”
Semple will be bringing a three-piece band to the Comox Valley, with Dave Chobot on bass and Brent Jefferson on drums.
“Dave lives in Vernon, and he and I have been playing together for about 35 years - he is very efficient - and Brent is a really killer drummer from Regina,” said Semple. “He’s a force of nature this guy, he’s amazing. So yeah, it’s electric… so it’s funkier, louder, and I have lots of original tunes I will be playing.”
Vancouver Island MusicFest runs July 14-16 at the Comox Valley Exhibition Grounds. Visit https://www.islandmusicfest.com/ for tickets.