Vancouver Island MusicFest returned to the stages at the Courtenay fairgrounds on the July 8-10 weekend after being limited to an online event the past two years due to COVID.
The annual event picked up where it left off in 2019, with thousands of people enjoying six stages of simultaneous performances on the Saturday and Sunday.
“That’s the story of the festival, seeing people come together,” said Doug Cox, executive producer of the annual event. “It was a lovely reunion of people in our community. It was different this year, we all hadn’t seen each other for two years. That was very heart-warming.”
He appreciates the volunteers who went the extra mile to deal with inevitable “production surprises” that come with an event of this magnitude. As an example, members of the volunteer shuttle crew transported performers in the middle of the night after nightmare travel experiences delayed their arrival by many hours.
“The spirit of the people that came together to put it on is really what it’s all about,” said Cox, noting the large number of families in attendance this year.
As always, there were no shortage of MusicFest moments. Saturday afternoon, for instance, mainstage volunteer Bruce Everett was called into action when scheduled performer John Smith was forced to cancel due to a positive COVID test.
“I am a stage hand at the main stage,” Everett said after his impromptu concert on the Woodland stage. “Somebody as great as John Smith, who is such an honourable man… he said, ‘I cannot even think of coming; I cannot take that chance,’ so I get to fill for him. I was very humbled by that.”
Everett plays with a local band called Duck Creek, who played MusicFest in 2019.
“This was my third solo set in my life, and to do that for a man as great as John, it was an honour. I just said, ‘OK, I’m up there. Thanks Doug (Cox).’”
Friday’s opening night featured the likes of William Prince, Femi Kuti and Shakura S’Aida’s HER Majesty — A Woman’s Blues Spectacular. The rest of the weekend featured Taj Mahal, Jim Byrnes, Rita Chiarelli and Matt Andersen, among others.
Andreas Werner returned to curate another fantastic show. The man behind the 2019 Muscle Shoals show returned at the request of Cox to curate Family South: The Great Americana Songbook.
“I just love to make music and I love to collaborate with people,” said Werner. “If the music is good and the people are excited, that’s more than you can ask for, really. To see the faces of the crowd, knowing people are enjoying themselves and I had something to do with that, is a great feeling for me. I love this festival. Doug Cox, the whole crew, all the volunteers – they are like family now. I will come back anytime you guys want me.”
Virtuoso pianist A.J. Croce was one of the special guests for Werner’s show. It was his first time in Canada in a few years.
“My last gig in Canada was in the Yukon, in the winter, it was cold… that’s all I remember,” he said with a laugh.
Croce, who mesmerized the crowd with his performance, said the festival show was a welcome change from his typical venues.
“Mostly I’ve been playing in theatres, and performing arts centres and opera houses, so this was a different audience. Everyone is on their feet; it is fun. It’s great. I missed it…Where people want me, I go.”
Croce said when he heard who else was in Werner’s show, the decision was an easy one to make.
“I heard about the singers – Veneece (Thomas) and I sang together 28 years ago, so it was great to see her again… and Sherman (Holmes) of course I knew him with his brothers, and it was such a great opportunity for me.”
Late last year, MusicFest received $213,442 in provincial recovery funding that helped resurrect events around B.C. that had been sidelined by COVID-19. Cox said the money provided a solid foundation after the pandemic struggles.
“It saved our butts,” he said. “We wouldn’t be here if that hadn’t have happened.”