Colin James (right) and his band put on a great show at the Comox Valley Exhibition Grounds as part of the 2019 Vancouver Island MusicFest. Photo by Terry Farrell

Comox Valley’s music fest feels like ‘best ever’ to organizer

Vancouver Island Music Festival didn’t sell out but still saw strong turnout

The latest installment of the Vancouver Island Music Festival is over, but the work continues.

Executive producer and artistic director Doug Cox says his staff members are on site for the tear-down through much of this week. Meanwhile, he’s been busy putting together an application for a grant he just found out about.

“I’m trying to get my eyes uncrossed to do that,” he said.

On top of all of the follow-up work, Cox is off to play the Vancouver Folk Festival this weekend, so there’s no time to catch his breath. Planning for the fest is a year-round endeavour.

As far as this year, he was impressed by the spirit of the volunteers and everyone at the festival.

“We get so many comments from performers that it’s the best festival they ever go to,” he said. “They’re always astounded. A lot of them don’t know where they’re coming, and they’re quite nervous about it.”

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While this year’s event did not sell out, Cox says the numbers ended up pretty strong, probably bringing in about 9,000 people each day, but at this point it’s too early to have a firm number.

“We had lots of people there,” he said, “and the music – I feel like it’s the best festival I’ve ever booked…. The variety and the quality of the music was as good as it gets.”

Along with headliners like Colin James and Tom Cochrane, playing with a reformed Red Rider, there were some special events, such as Saturday night’s Muscle Shoals Allstars. Led by bassist David Hood, the large group played a spirited set of soul classics and were joined by special guests like Billy Swan, Buzz Cason and Tommy Talton for a few hits of their own. This performance was not part of a tour but put together for the Vancouver Island Music Festival, as was the Friday show by Lost Texmaniacs and the Lone Star Amigos.

Also on Friday, Mayor Bob Wells of Courtenay officially proclaimed the weekend for the music festival, highlighting that over its 25-year lifespan, the festival had brought in approximately $100 million in economic activity to the region.

“We were really happy to finally get that kind of recognition,” Cox said.

As with any festival, there were a few close calls in getting artists to the site, such as with Sunday night’s closers. Guitarist Robben Ford managed to arrive in time, telling the crowd he and his band had just gotten to town from Rome a couple of hours earlier.

Cuban-Canadian artist Adonis Puentes, who followed Ford to close the festival, had also been halfway around the world the day before. In that case, he had been performing at a wedding.

“A couple from India fell in love with his music,” Cox said.

The groom flew Puentes in to surprise his bride by having Puentes sing the first song at their wedding. Then it was time for the singer to fly to Canada for the festival.

“They just flew him out for the wedding, which is a lovely story,” Cox said.

As far as 2020, the planning continues and will do so, as Cox and his team get the process rolling.

“It’s hard the first couple of weeks after the festival,” he said. “In the modern world, everyone expects immediate response, and you just want to go stick your head in the sand for a couple of days.”

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