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Islands Folk Festival celebrates 28 years of musical memories next weekend

Maggie Rich, of the Vancouver Island University tech crew, records the live performance of the Jayme Stone Band with her iPad and simultaneously streams onto the big screen during last year
Maggie Rich, of the Vancouver Island University tech crew, records the live performance of the Jayme Stone Band with her iPad and simultaneously streams onto the big screen during last year's Islands Folk Festival.
— image credit: Andrew Leong/file

Ecology and Environment is the green theme of next weekend's Islands Folk Festival.

IFF, in its 28th year at Providence Farm, is toasting its green sheen as an eco-example to other festivals, explained Robert McCourty, artistic director of the hosting Cowichan Folk Guild.

"With site recycling, becoming a zero-waste event is one of our goals and we were one of the first festivals to do so.

"We're putting our money where our theme is."

Ecology is the theme of this year's Islands Songwriting  Contest, being judged Friday.

Eco-kids' workshops on the environment are also being hosted by Holly Arntzen and Kevin Wright.

"The whole energy is toward music helping sustainability," McCourty said of IFF 28 backed by 400-odd volunteers.

Bass veteran Steve McKinnon has played IFF since 1991, and supports the event's environmental initiatives that have gained strength since then.

"Our festival is a great testament to what the original people (IFF founders) have left," he said, ready for performing-MC duty again this year on the Islands stage — among six venues — under renovations with a B.C. gaming grant.

McKinnon cited light-and-sound quality as key to the festival. "That's what made people come to our festival in the 1990s."

One IFF fan on this year's roster of 50-some acts is iconic coastal troubadour Valdy, who recently earned the Order of Canada.

"The Islands Folk Festival is a delightful," Sir Valdy said of the Friday-to-Sunday arts bash perennially capped at 3,000 tickets.

"There are few festivals left of such a (manageable) human scale. They grow exponentially to take up all available space, and that hasn't happened at the IFF — I don't feel crowded when I'm there."

Neither does McKinnon.

"You can't get too big by virtue of the (Providence) space."

But the site's more than ample to hold a ring of vendors, food sellers, a popular KidsZone, beverage garden and more under the wink of Mt. Tzouhalem.

"Ours is a more intimate setting, a bit more family friendly, with a very good vibe of community and music — and that makes us very special," McCourty said.

Special enough some folks test Cowichan's fest and get hooked.

"I'm still amazed after 28 years some people don't even know we have a folk festival here. Where have they been?

"About 75 % of our attendees are returnees. I'm trying to appeal to that other 25 % — allow yourself to have some fun for a weekend, and you'll have memories for a lifetime."

Memories of scarce parking are becoming history as many folks ride festival shuttles to hear global acts McCourty starts booking a year or more in advance.

"We're comparable to larger festivals — it's a world-class line up."

He applauded Irish musician of the year, Niamh Ni Charra; British and European festival favourite Shooglenifty; Turkish-delight HuDost; Canadian songsmith John Brooks; songbird Mary Gauthier; world-music masters Minor Empire; dynamic folk duo Stephen Fearing and Andy White; Celtic crusaders Rant Maggie Rant; Austin's rockabilly Atomic Duo; and the U.K.'s 100 Mile House mark IFF 28's musical menu with festival-founders Deb Maike, and Mike Ballantyne with the Hokum Steamers.

They're all part of what IFF faithful see as the best little fest in the west.

"We're not getting bigger, we're getting better," McCourty said.

 

Your ticket

What: Islands Folk Festival

When: July 20 to 22

Where: Providence Farm, Tzouhalem Road, Duncan

Tickets: Day passes sold at gate only. No advance day pass sales. Friday and Sunday day passes, $40; Saturday, $70 (all day passes include Saturday evening); Saturday evening pass after 6 p.m., $40. Early-bird weekend pass rates end July 15. Call 250-748-3975.

 

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