Musicfest is consistently one of the highlights of my year.
My parents first took us there when I was 10 years old, and my younger brother was 7. In the 16 years since then, we have seldom missed a year, and it’s become a family tradition for us. A very good one at that. We never really knew what an amazing festival it was until we started being part of other music festivals around BC at which point we realized how truly unique and amazing it is. From the festival culture, the family-friendly vibe, the outstanding and diverse range of music, and the sheer density (and positivity) of impressions. The workshop sessions are always one of our favourite parts.
I’d say it’s been one of the single most important things in my musical education, and my learning to appreciate and enjoy a wide range of different music.
Each year we attend as a family (usually between six and ten of us) and make a week of it. Part of the tradition is that one member of our family (usually our wonderful mother) makes a beautiful big chocolate cake (that recipe is now officially dubbed “Musicfest Chocolate Cake” ) and we spread out a tablecloth on the grass at some point during the weekend and eat it together. Usually while talking about all the great music we have seen so far during the weekend, which have been our favourite sessions, and which bands everyone else has got to see! Several years back, two of my brothers and I tried volunteering for the first time. Since then we’ve never looked back, and usually there are three to six of us spread out on your various volunteer crews. It is so much fun. Thank you, thank you, thank you!
“I come all the way from Colorado US to see friends, relax and enjoy the first-class musicians, warm people and beautiful area. Kuddos!”
Holly from Colorado
“MusicFest, above all else, is where we gather with our Tribe, each year. It’s as important a part of our vacation planning as our annual family camping trips. Our first visit was in 2005-6, and we’ve been coming every year since that time. It was our first real music festival, and it will always be our favorite.”
Nicki at Home
Sharing some of the MusicFest memories people have shared with us recently!
“From music making POV:
1. my favourites are the small stages: traditional folk music and talks by the musicians about how they make songs, music and instruments. I love sitting or lying amongst the fragrant greens hearing the sounds, sometimes the river and excited children’s voices as they splash.
2. I also love the jam session at Grierson – the surprised musicians as they create new harmonies and the contented attendees who quietly expect the unexpected.
From a volunteer POV:
1.the large happy crowds in front of MainStage, walkways willing to guard belongings or to move over so someone can squeeze in.
2. Tiny and crew bombing around in the large jeeps, ensuring safety and reasonable behaviours.
3. Greeting guests at the various gates – many of whom are long-time regular attendees and who know many volunteers. It is reunion time.
From a consumer POV:
1.the hot small doughnut balls in a paper bag.
2. the colourful vendor stalls
3. sunset amongst the tall trees, while listening to good musicians
MOST of all: 10,000 happy people enjoying the outdoors -”
Running through the water misting sprays during the hot and dry 2018 MusicFest to stay cool… like being a kid again 😊
Hats off to the water bottle filling carts that year – they are a great fixture at MusicFest.
As well as the great music… in 2018 – Ry Cooder, Arlo Guthrie – YEA to that era!!
Jim Byrnes in 2017 always a classic. John Prine in 2016… say no more – he’s a king.
Enter the Haggis – what a fantastic surprise 😊
Patricia & Bruce
I have a memory of MusicFest from 33 years ago! My husband, our 2 year old, and myself were driving back to Nanaimo from camping at Elk Falls, and saw the signs for the music festival. It was the afternoon of the last day, so we were welcomed in free of charge just so we could have a walk about, not sure if there were any bands still playing. It had been a wet weekend, and the grounds were muddy, covered in the usual festival litter (not seen for years now!), and many of the people were wearing hippy-style clothing, long skirts, bright colours, etc. My first impression was that we had walked into the Island’s version of Woodstock, and I was smitten! Everyone was so friendly and welcoming, and encouraged us to come back the next year. Our son, now nearly 36, still remembers the funny people with bare feet, standing in the mud and offering to have him ride on their shoulders while on stilts! I am still so impressed with the genuine happiness of the people at the festival, despite the mud and rain. It had a huge impact on us new Islanders, made us very glad that we had moved to the Island, where this kind of thing happened. And we’ve been back a few times, sometimes for the day, once to camp for the whole weekend, and once for an overnight at a nearby campground.
Just wanted to share that special memory, from “back in the day”.
Mary & Helge
“One of the things that sets this festival apart from the others is the beautiful Tsolum river and the cedar groves that grace her banks. Without the river the festival would be a dusty hot place. We need to honour and respect the Tsolum that is one of the arteries that feeds life into the Comox Valley. And which creates the magic of this festival. Thanks”
“When I put a sign on my chair to use it when I was not using it myself, people DID and they left me notes of appreciation and even some candies. One lady hugged me for being so kind. Sharing is Caring at Musicfest.”
There is for me a MusicFest moment every year – a magical moment when I feel a wave of amazement, joy and a huge sense of gratitude that I am present in a magical moment that will not come again. It often happens when performers who have never met each other make a connection on stage. The 5 mandolin players in the barn; a young woman playing with Amos Garrett – she was amazed to be there with him, very star stuck but she rose to the occasion; the child from the valley had stopped singing so she could pick up her life as a regular kid, who sang At Last when Doug Cox brought her on the main stage at an intermission her voice bounced off the mountain and came back to us; Ruthie Foster singing in the people’s key of G and all of us singing along. Pure magical musical moments that create memories I cherish, when music touched my soul and my heart. That moment always comes. Every year.
I have gone 3 times now! Love that the river is so close to cool off on the hot days. Met so many friendly MusicFest goers. I also loved that you can just dance wherever the music moves you! freedom to just be yourself.
Looking forward to next year. I volunteer and they treat you so special. I will volunteer again for sure !!
by Gary Stevenson
Musicfest has become an integral part of my family’s life, kind of like Thanksgiving and Christmas. The first time we attended our 2 daughters were 6 and 3 and we were hooked. A safe environment, stunning music, and community….what more could you ask for in a festival? And now at 31 and 28, both daughters have volunteered many years and that is the greatest testament to the community building of this festival. It is imperative that we continue to foster a young audience for if not, who will future musicians play to?
Over the years we have been afforded the best music in the industry and we all love the fact that it is just that…..a music festival….not a rock, blues, bluegrass or a folk festival, but a festival that embraces all kinds of music.
Oh, and the absolute brilliance of the Grierson Stage with festival magic that we await while holding our breath. Plus the constant evolution of stages with the Barn added and The Grassy Knoll big tent!
We respect profoundly the incredible job that Artistic Director Doug Cox and his Team have done over the approximately 25 years at the helm. The fact that Doug is a traveling musician himself affords him a different perspective in that he knows the experience of the weary minstrel traveling the land, plying their artistic trade, and all the ups and downs that entails. He has somehow managed to create a festival that meets the needs of the artist and the audience at the same time….no easy feat. The fact that major artists phone and ask if they can come is a testament to the reputation of “our” little festival. I have heard professional musicians call Musicfest the “Feel Good Festival’ and have heard other musicians say it reminds them of wonderful festivals from the 70’s in California…..loose and comfortable like your favourite pair of shoes.
The fact that there are over 1200 volunteers needed is also a testament to our local community and the heart that it has. The same people year after year, working the parking lot, working the gates and all with big grins on their face….brilliant.
We think that the advertising industry has it wrong……the happiest place on earth is….Vancouver Island Musicfest!
Here are a few memories over the years
Walk off the Earth’s second visit….stunning pop professionalism and the last appearance of Beard Guy before he went to the big gig in the sky.
Bare Naked Ladies…fabulous and closed with a stunner…”Whole Lotta Love” by Led Zep and did they ever tear it up. Really demonstrated what great musicians and singers they are.
John Prine….One of the most amazing performances ever! Played all of his hits from 5 decades and commanded the audience…..all by himself. And he had a ball, smiling, energized, a true professional.
Lyle Lovett and his really large band- possibly one of the top 5 acts ever at Musicfest. Brilliant musicianship and we were introduced to one of the greatest rock drummers of all time….Russ Kunkel(look him up) as “your homie” who at the time was living quietly in the Comox Valley.
Graham Nash- Amazing performance and storyteller. We learned where “Our House”…I’ll light the fire….and you put the flowers in the vase” came from. He touchingly shared that he still loves Joni Mitchell to this day. He talked about the pain of leaving the Hollies in their peak and going to North Africa where on a train he dined with an old woman who was about 65….he paused realizing what he said…..and then said full voice into the microphone….”Geez, I’m 72….what the fu*k happened?”….and the entire audience laughed because we all felt what he was experiencing. It seems like yesterday we were all 17. And then …”Teach Your Children Well” as poignant as the day it was written.
Little Feat…..so profound and touching with Richie Hayward’s last performance. It was a privilege to have been there.
Bonnie Raitt_ A true industry professional. When she had trouble with her mic buzzing(her own personal mic that she tours with) she just carried on and didn’t make a fuss of it. We couldn’t hear it and it didn’t marr the performance. I checked off a bucket list item….Bonnie Raitt singing “I can’t make you love me” from only 50 feet away. And I have news for her…..she did!
Lowrider Band-possibly the most fun band ever (with the Maverick’s) and hearing Lee Osker on harp was brilliant. The “Lowrider” song has more meaning than ever now!
The Mavericks-brilliant choice to close the festival. There has never been a more fun party band ever and Raoul Malo’s soaring voice was just ethereal.
Royal Southern Brotherhood- great swampy music with the New Orleans influence. This was the last appearance of Mike Zito before he went on his own. Devon Allman was seen running all over the place taking pictures of stilt walker and fire dancers…he had fun.
Blind Boys of Alabama- legends, absolute legends. Their version of Amazing Grace sung to the melody of House of the rising Sun was very, very, emotional.
Guitar Heroes-James Burton, Albert Lee, Amos Garrett, and David Wilcox- a stunning group of guitar twangers and rascals. The history and recordings of these 4 are legendary.
Walk off the Earth-Their first appearance was groundbreaking. Such polished professionalism combined with instrument acrobatics(throwing their instruments offstage and having the new ones thrown back to them sometimes over 20 feet).
KD Lang-best soundcheck ever!!! Like a real concert. What a voice! was loose and happy to be here,,,, so much so that she hung around the Grierson Stage to catch many other acts.
KD Lang-best soundcheck ever!!! Like a real concert. What a voice!
Richard Thompson-killer guitar licks, great deep voice, and “1952 Vincent Black Lightning” was astounding.
Laurie Anderson-controversial….but I “got it”. Avant-garde as always and great use of multi-media in the performance. Loved her with her Rod Serling voice commenting on the billions of planets in the galaxy and the fact there must be life on other planets….therefore there must be other Pope’s….so who’s the head pope? Funny. Would have loved to have her husband here( Lou Reed) before he too moved on to the big gig in the sky.
Buffy St. Marie- How can this woman possibly be 78?? Such energy, youthfulness and continued activism….brilliant. Universal Soldier was never more meaningful.
Matt Anderson- 1 man….1 guitar….1 voice! Yet he commanded the entire stage.n His version of “People Get Ready” was one of the best audience-interactive moments ever. He had the ladies sing the “oohs” and the men sing the “ahhs” to sound like a train in the song. When he was finished his set and walked off the stage to huge applause, the “oohs and Ahhs” started again as a tribute and….out he came back for a rare Musicfest encore!
Allison Krauss- sublime, spiritual and the tightest band ever!
David Crosby- not even cantankerous, beautiful songs of life, love and struggle.
Randy Newman- just a grand piano, a singular voice, and stunning lyrics. No wonder he’s got a room full of Grammies….and rightly so. Louisiana 1927 was tear-inducing and You Got a Friend in Me was uplifting. Of course…Short People was a huge hit. Sarcasm at its best.
Albert Lee and John Jorgenson- 2 masters of their craft united. John would eventually have 3 tours of Mfest and Albert 2. I will never forget the look on their faces as they watched Celso Machado’s performance with his twisting of his strings around the neck of his guitar….while he’s playing. A real stunner they had never seen before.
Little Feat….their first appearance and so much fun…on stage and off. A highlite!
Joan Osborne-Fabulous singer hot off her appearance in the documentary “Standing in the Shadows of Motown”!
Dan Hicks-A festival fave with wacky songs and the crowd fave….The Lickettes. Another performer we have lost.
David Lindley-Wacky, crazy, brilliant, and master of anything with strings! He sang a song about his vegetarian daughter being served “head cheese” in Scotland…very funny!
Del McCoury Band-the legend c/w most of his family in the band. Stunning bluegrass. This provided the best Sunday Morning Gospel ever with Jim Byrnes, Steve Dawson, The Sojourners, Leon and Eric Bibb and a host of other musicians. Jim Bynes commented that he had opened for all the greats, performed in movies and TV(even with Johnny Depp) but that moment on stage with his hero Del McCoury was the greatest moment in his career…and he was serious because he had followed Del since he was a boy.
Los Lobos-Tight, energetic, greasy grimy music….the best. Hands down the best ever version of La Bamba!
Jennifer Warnes- Not sure if everyone “got her” but I sure did. What a career with 2 number one worldwide hits and of course Famous Blue Raincoat. It was so special….like hearing a unicorn sing.
Arlo Guthrie-World’s greatest storyteller! Alice’s Restaurant…..all 18 minutes of it! What a life he’s led!
Taj Mahal-Absolutely fantastic performance by the sexiest 300 lb. man you will ever hear sing! A true master of the blues. Please, please come back.
Sparrow Quartet with Bela Fleck-beautiful sophisticated music…2 banjo’s, violin and cello….wowser!
Jerry Douglas-his earliest appearance and what an impact. Jerry has been (I believe) 4 times now in different formats and loves Musicfest. The dobro never sounded so good.
Don McLean-One of the greatest acts ever at Musicfest. Vincent(Starry, Starry Night) made the entire audience cry. His version of Blue Bayou was one of the best ever and he had a huge radio hit in the US with it. But….I say but with respect…. American Pie was revelatory! 10,000 thousand people all singing at the same time right from the first lyrics…”A long long time ago, I can still remember how that music used to make me smile!” The chorus of Bye Bye Miss American Pie tore the roof off the sky. People singing in lineups, vendors signing, people in porta-potties singing. It was very, very, special and it was for Don and band also as they were obviously humbled by the adoration and response.
Joan Armatrading- Incredible performance on the heels of her stunning release “Into the Blues”! This album she recorded while playing every single instrument on it…every one! Beautiful bluesy rock and great guitar chops.
Guy Clark- the consummate Texas singer/songwriter/poet. During his mainstage performance, the sun was setting and the sky turned a fiery purple and Guy asked the band to “take it down” and he leaned into the mic and said in his deep Texas drawl, “There’s nothing purdier(prettier) than the sight of the sun going down on a bunch of old filed hippies!” 10,000 people laughed!!!
Dougie Mclean-Such a privilege to see and hear Dougie….the Scottish master of poignant folk songs.
Steve Earle-The The year of the tantrum Steve had a meltdown on stage and tore into a woman in the audience who shouted…”Copperhead Road” after the first song. Then he went on a tirade about how Canadians are becoming just like Americans and that George Bush had a new bitch….named Harper. Then he veered into the loss of power for unionism. It was hot, angry and real and all of it….full voice into the microphone. Stunning.
Sonny Landreth- Nobody, nobody play glass slide like Sonny. Virtuoso performance.
Bo Diddly- The legend. Sure, all his songs have the same beat but that is what he was known for. Not a fan of cannabis as he kept complaining about the odour!
Bill Frisell/David Lindley- the look on these 2 pros face when for the first time ever, they got to play together on “the happening stage, the Grierson”. They were grinning ear to ear and so was the audience…Mr. Cox included.
Eliza Gilkyson-sublime, surreal voice with tales of love, treachery, and hope. A Musicfest favourite for sure. We had an amazing singalong to a song that her dad made famous and we all know and it goes….”Look for the bare necessities, the simple bare necessities..” ….and you know the rest!
Dr. Hook- Bit of a novelty act but the sound was actually not bad. The fight on stage between Ray Sawyer and his son was entertaining….that’s showbusiness. Many announcements were made about fire hazards and specific smoking areas with water buckets present. Then….hundreds of funny twisted cigarettes were lit to the first note of the first song!
Jonell Mosser- possibly the most underrated female singer to ever play Musicfest. Beautiful bluesy raw voice….huge talent.
Bernie Leadon- what a privilege to see and hear and original member of The Eagles.
Texas All-Stars- Augie Meyers/Louie Ortega/Ernie Durawa/Bill Flores-Texas legends that burned up the stage with their brand of original foot stompin’ music. Very real.
Richie Havens- the “Some times I feel like a motherless Child” performer did not disappoint. He must have sand that song 10,000 times since Woodstock but he played it as if it was the first. A true gentleman too. Another great we have lost.
Amazing Rhythm Aces-incredibly tight raw band. I finally got to hear “3rd Rate Romance, low Rent Rendezvous” live!
John Hammond-A true legend and masterful performer who has had 5 marvelous decades in the music industry.
Bruce Cockburn- What possible accolades can be added to Bruce’s repertoire? There he was on stage in a lime green sweater, commanding the audience with instrument, voice and song. While standing backstage watching, Freddie Roulette(American Blues performer) turned to me while puffing on his pipe and said….”I don’t get it! What’s with this guy?” I said…”he’s kind of like our version of Jackson Browne and he said “Oh…I get it. Protest guy”.
Sonny Rhodes-the master of blues with a jewelled turban on! Fantastic….had the whole festival site hopping!
Duke Robillard-top jump bues performed by the best. Exceptional musician.
The Waifs-incredible lyrics through rich Australian accents. The Waifs are one of my all-time faves at Musicfest. Their song “Bridal Train” about the train that went across Australia picking up brides to be to American GI’s after World War 2 will make you have to take salt tables because of tears…..stunningly beautiful. They played Mfest twice and once at the Sid Williams. Please come back!
Jesse Winchester-The ultimate southern gentleman shared songs of joy and love like nobody else can write or sing….a true revelation.
Pinetop Perkins-an an absolute legend in piano blues who has joined that great gig in the sky.
Dutch Mason with the West Coast Flyers-Such an honour to hear Canadian legend Dutch before his passing. That deep baritone voice was so unique. It was sad to see him so deep in the depths of alcoholism and diabetes at the time….with a bottle of vodka on the stage for him at all times.
John Hartford- a bittersweet performance by one of the best ever. Beautiful sweet man with huge talent . I remember him always closing the Smothers Brothers TV. He wrote the massive hit for Glen Campbell…Gentle on my Mind …and received many Grammies. What we did not know at the time of his performance was that he was in chemo for non-Hodgins Lymphoma that would eventually take his life a year or so later. He was very very nauseous form his treatment and someone took him back in the woods with some local “herb” to help him through. His set was masterful and nobody even knew he was sick. Here’s to you John!!!
Doug Sahm and Amos Garrett- the dynamic duo did not disappoint. Absolute treasures and obviously thrilled to play together.
David Lindley and Wally Ingram-2 of the nuttiest, most fabulous musicians to ever grace the stage. Wally with a hard hat on while drumming which had a fire bell on it which he kept hitting. They also came back and played the Native Son’s Hall to a packed audience.
“MusicFest is a family time for us. Santa brings us tickers which have their specially Santa made (my amazing husband) ornaments that announce the tickets are in place. Our daughter attended her first music festival in Edmonton at 5 months old and has been at that one or ours most years since. She now works in Vancouver and comes home for the weekend – we all bike to the festival together, rendezvousing at different venues and then having a beer – on our deck – each evening sharing our festival highlights. We always know that Doug will have assembled a stage of musicians who rarely have met before and who create amazing music – in the Barn – each year. We now try to anticipate which of those gatherings will be THE one that will blow us away!
Can’t wait for this year!”
At a festival lineup that featured Ry Cooder, Walk Off The Earth and Arlo Guthrie I surprisingly relished my festival experience in a tiny intimate forest setting where Madagascar Slim offered his quixotic guitar twists and humour. That was a movie that constantly plays for me when I think about being at VIMF, but I also loved seeing the many deer walking around, not knowing they were considered not so welcome!
– Derek Andrews, Artistic Director, Mundial Montreal.
The year was 2007 and I attended with my daughter and my 4 year old grandson. It was a beautiful clear evening. Balloons that had escaped from little hands were gently floating up into the air. Don Mclean was on the Main Stage singing “Vincent” and I was dancing with my sleepy grandson in my arms to one of the most beautiful songs of all time. It was one of those special moments in my life that I will never forget.
The heart of MusicFest is not to be found on the Main Stage; the magic happens when you put a bunch of musicians together, give them a theme, and ask them to jam. I often wonder whether the musicians are enthusiastic about doing this, or whether they are either persuaded or coerced into participating. Either way, it seems that almost always have a good time when they arrive at the Grierson or the Barn, and, fairly frequently, they seem to have a transcendently wonderful time that one imagines they might remember the rest of their professional life. Certainly, sitting in the audience for these jams and musical excursions is a real privilege.
I look forward to MusicFest all year – it’s the most important date on my calendar. Thanks so much to everyone that brings this amazing event to my doorstep and please don’t stop.
If I had to pick from all the amazing memories, the first thing that comes to mind is the magic feeling when the sun goes down and the lights come on. The sprites and fairies on stilts.
Looking across the field at the sea of happy people. The sounds, smells and sights of the food booths, the friendly volunteers with water and squirt guns The swimming hole. The exuberant and shameless dancers. The intimate feeling at the woodland and crossroads stages.
I could go on and on – but it’s not something easily put into words, it’s more of an atmosphere.
Thanks so much again for all that you do. When I have more time on my hands I definitely want to volunteer and be part of this amazing festival.