There’s the music and there are the moments. Lots of them.
The 19th annual Vancouver Island MusicFest once again filled the Comox Valley Exhibition Grounds on the weekend with sweet sounds and sights, magical moments and random acts of kindness. The Black Creek couple selling mini donuts, as an example, were each handed lemonade out of the blue by a former professional football player as they feverishly served customers.
Water crew volunteer Susie Williams received a hug from a thirsty patron. Another offered her an ice cream.
“We did water crew last year, and we were so appreciated we thought we’d come back again,” she said.
“People love us,” her husband Simon added.
Cool liquids were a hot commodity all weekend, which kicked off Friday evening at the concert bowl and indoors at the Barn. The main stage featured a Guitar Heroes session with James Burton — who was Elvis Presley’s bandleader — and the smoky voice of country music Hall of Famer Kris Kristofferson. The latter was followed by the high-energy Walk Off The Earth — a stark contrast to the mellow Kristofferson, who was joined for a couple of tunes by his daughter Kelly.
“Aren’t you glad you paid money to see an old fart blow his nose?” Kristofferson joked at one point in the show.
Saturday headliners included the Grammy-winning folk-rock duo Indigo Girls and singer-songwriter John Hiatt, who thanked the audience for allowing him to play music for a living. The 24th Street Wailers blew the roof off the Barn Saturday night, then reappeared for a few impromptu numbers before Afrobeats/hip-hop artist Blitz The Ambassador took over the concert bowl.
Sunday featured the multi-Grammy Award-winning Mary Chapin Carpenter — among a select group of women inducted into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame — and Marc Cohn, who penned the Grammy-winning ballad Walking in Memphis.
Six stages featured a host of local and international artists throughout the weekend. For the first time, evening performances were held in the Barn. Another new element was musical theatre provided by Jackie Richardson in the role of Willie Mae (Big Mama) Thornton, who wrote Hound Dog before Presley made it a hit.
Winnipeg singer-songwriter Leonard Sumner, who hails from Little Saskatchewan First Nation in Manitoba, performed for a second time at MusicFest.
“I had a lot of people come up to me and tell me they enjoyed it last year,” said Sumner, 29, whose style fuses hip-hop, country, and rhythm and blues. “This year I had a CD in hand that I can sell them.”
Sumner shared the Grierson Stage on Saturday with Island musician Jenny Ritter, Christa Couture of Vancouver, Twin Peaks of Fort St. John and American actor-musician Ronny Cox. Shortly thereafter, Sumner was at the barn strumming alongside Burton, Dave Kelly, Bob Livingston and the Albert Lee Band.
Twin Peaks has mostly played local venues, and embarked on a pair of B.C.-Alberta tours in its two years of existence. The band is working on its second, six-track EP.
“This festival is out of control,” band member Lindsay Pratt said. “Like, free massages? Where else would that ever happen? It’s actually bad because we’re setting ourselves up to be disappointed at every other festival we go to…It’s so well organized, and we were told that by everyone that’s played here.”
For the second straight year, MusicFest sold out in advance.