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Vancouver Island Music Festival 2014 a success

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Vancouver Island Music Festival 2014 a success

view from crowd

What: Vancouver Island Music Festival
Where: Courtenay, B.C.
When: July 11-13, 2014
Who: Various

Performing under a brilliant supermoon, Saturday night headliner Bonnie Raitt praised MusicFest 2014 for its creative lineup.

Sounding utterly sincere, as she did throughout her set, Raitt also noted the three-day festival honours longtime bluesmen, naming fellow slide guitarist Roy Rogers as one.

After going overtime on her professionally paced, crowd-pleasing set, Raitt delighted about 10,000 people with a generous four-song encore.

Having sung John Prine’s poignant Angel From Montgomery earlier, Raitt opened her encore with I Can’t Make You Love Me before really opening the tear ducts with Dimming of the Day by brilliant songwriter Richard Thompson.

Punctuating an earlier remark about honouring veteran bluesmen, Raitt brought out Rogers for one upbeat number. A persistent festival rumour was realized when Colin James, who performed the night before in Victoria, joined her for one final tune.

Raitt still has some stamina. She and her veteran band, which includes keyboard player Mike Finnigan (who played on Jimi Hendrix’s 1968 Electric Ladyland album), didn’t finish until after 1 a.m.

Raitt was in the Comox Valley for her considerable artistic merit, but she was also the 20th annual festival’s big-name ticket-buying incentive.

With a reputation for consistently high levels of musicianship, diversity, camaraderie and sunshine, MusicFest refuses to be categorized as a festival for any specific genres.

If you strolled around the six performance stages, you would have heard blues (Rogers, for example), folk, country, gospel (Blind Boys of Alabama), lots of world music and rock.

Other exotic sounds and unlikely collaborations booked by artistic director defy stereotypes.

For instance, Leyla McCalla is a cellist of Haitian descent discovered playing on the streets of the French Quarter in New Orleans. Her songs, many containing words by poet Langston Hughes, are unexpected and compelling.

Holger Peterson, host of CBC Radio’s Saturday night Blues, has been coming to MusicFest for nine years. He echoes what Raitt and many other visiting musicians have been saying about the festival for awhile.

“I’m a huge fan; I love coming here,” said Peterson, a former artistic director of the Edmonton Folk Music Festival.

“(MusicFest artistic director) Doug Cox does a remarkable job of putting together combinations of things that work and getting a lot of special guests.”

Peterson noted that Cox, an excellent dobro player who sometimes tours internationally, has connections to many high-level players.ughesGH


Performers come from as far away as the other side of the globe and as close as the host Comox Valley, a hotbed of creative talent even on arts-rich Vancouver Island.

This year’s international content included the sensational Mokoomba from Zimbabwe, drum-pounding Dulsori from Korea, Beppe Gambetta from Italy, Angelique Kidjo from the African nation of Benin and Tony McManus from Scotland.

For several days each year, the Comox Valley Exhibition Grounds becomes a United Nations complete with unusual attire as well as various accents. Music is the common language spoken by all.

Age is another way the festival exemplifies diversity. Performers this year ranged from teens in Twisted String (founded by the late Toronto violinist Oliver Schroer) to 81-year-old bluesman Leo Bud Welch.

The many musical highlights began on opening night. After a sprightly set by Rogers, the Royal Southern Brotherhood made many new fans. They are led by Gregg Allman’s son Devon, who impresses with his guitar playing and singing, and singer-percussionist Cyril Neville from the famed New Orleans Neville family.

Friday night headliner Kidjo galvanized the audience, at one point getting fans on stage to dance during her high-energy show. The Mavericks did not disappoint when they closed the festival Sunday evening.

Other musical highlights too numerous to list included what Cox calls “workshops” (25 of them this year).

Although visiting musicians are sometimes flummoxed to learn they are expected to share a stage and interact with people they have never met, they almost always find common ground and make some magic.

The nearby Tsolum River and roving entertainers are just two other factors that help to make MusicFest a success.

The biggest reason, of course, is the music. Bonnie Raitt wouldn’t lie about that.

By: Mark Allan

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