Irish Mythen and Sarah Hagen are vastly different entertainers with one thing in common: both will be mainstage acts at this summer’s Vancouver Island MusicFest. File photos

Tales from Vancouver Island MusicFest: Two remarkable female performers at this summer’s festival

Robert Moyes

Special to Black Press

You know an artist has won over the crowd when she gets a standing ovation in the middle of her performance.

That’s what happened to Irish Mythen at last year’s Island MusicFest, where the five-foot-nothing performer was standing tall as one of the Festival’s “buzz acts.” And that’s far from the only reason she is being brought back for 2019. Aside from being that year’s top artist in terms of CD sales, she got booked into a follow-up show that sold out immediately.

Related: Tom Cochrane coming to MusicFest

So, who is this performer who went from being a complete unknown to a headliner in a single weekend?

The P.E.I-based Mythen – she moved to the Maritimes from Ireland in 2007 – is a well-travelled troubadour who has taken her larger-than-life solo act from the Sydney Opera House to the muddy fields at Glastonbury where she performed for over 100,000 people.

“It was blood, sweat, and tears for 10 years, but my career has really been taking off lately,” says Mythen.

Despite writing socially conscious songs, she insists she’s not a singer-songwriter.

“I’m an entertainer, and it’s all about connecting with the audience,” says Mythen, who never uses a set list, preferring to play off the mood of the crowd.

She’s in the tradition of Irish storytellers, and loquaciously introduces her songs – “like the trailer for a movie,” as she puts it. Often outspoken and loud, the charismatic Mythen is impossible to ignore … or forget.

“The market is flooded with dainty-voiced female singers and I’m not one of those,” she chuckles. “Some people get a bit of whiplash when I start to perform.”

But the large-lunged, protest-minded Mythen can turn down the volume and sing 55 Years, a tender heartbreaker about an old man she met, recently a widower, who was suddenly sleeping alone after more than a half century of marriage. Mythen easily merits the title “force of nature” so don’t dare miss her triumphant return to Island MusicFest.

Hagen comes home

An equally impressive – but wildly different – performer is classical piano virtuoso Sarah Hagen. An international star who has played throughout North America and Europe, Hagen has a lot of awards on the mantelpiece and several fistfuls of laudatory press clippings (“outstandingly inventive” and “played with great sensitivity and heart” capture the tone nicely).

Not just a superlative pianist, she is also considered to be an innovative visionary, someone who often incorporates elements of dance, photography, projected imagery and spoken word into her performances. Her many collaborations range from performing with renowned cellist Ariel Barnes and jazz pianist Søren Bebe to the remarkable touring show Exultation, in which she explores the legacy of renowned Russian composer Sergei Rachmaninoff in tandem with Canada’s National Slam Poetry champion, Brendan McLeod.

ALSO: Colin James coming to MusicFest

And were not done yet. Hagen put her rollicking sense of humour to work in 2016 when she toured her acclaimed one-woman musical comedy, Perk Up, Pianist!, to numerous cities on the Fringe Festival circuit. And when all those Beethoven and Schumann piano recitals make her thirsty she can always do some research for the wine reviews she blogs in “Artist Wines! – Uncorking musician-priced cellar secrets.”

There’s a personal aspect to Hagen’s appearance at the festival that is worth noting. She was raised in the Courtenay area – her dad was Stan Hagen, who served as a provincial MLA representing the Comox Valley. (There’s even a Stan Hagen Theatre located at North Island College.) So when the globetrotting virtuoso who grew up here makes her debut at Island MusicFest, sitting centre stage at a grand piano, it will represent a remarkable homecoming. And it will be another first for a festival that has always prided itself on its eclectic programming.

–Robert Moyes is a Victoria-based arts journalist with a particular interest in music

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