Wednesday, August 27, 2003

Reviews and Articles: Vancouver Island MusicFest (Steve Harvey)
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Vancouver Island MusicFest (2003)
Article by Steve Harvey (July 2003)

Reading Mark Gregory's article on "Laying Siege to Empire" and the National Folk Festival, made me think of the last Vancouver Island MusicFest here in Courtenay, British Columbia.

This festival has grown from a small, locally-oriented festival to a large, and financially successful, festival that can attract some pretty big names (this year, for example, Robert Cray, Richie Havens, Chris Hillman, Pablo Moses and the Revolutionary Dream Band) I should hasten to add that they still make room for the considerable local talent that exists here.

I've been volunteering at the festival for the last five years and I always have a good time. My only complaints would be the amount of commercial advertising and sponsorship, and what has been the lack of a political element. I suppose one could argue about what constitutes 'political' music, but, of course, I'm referring to music where the lyrics contain a pretty "up-front" political element.

This year things changed in a subtle way, I believe. Well, having Anne Feeney and Chris Chandler is hardly subtle, I suppose! They were very well received and represented really the first performers at the festival to have a mainly political focus. Some other performers, however, represented varying degrees of 'political' content.

War Party, a First Nations (Canadian Indian) hip-hop group from Edmonton, Alberta gave a perspective from the viewpoint of First Nations youth. It was great to see the enthusiastic response that they got from the young people present. Many local young activists could be seen dancing energetically, front and centre. Also, having Andy Everson from the Comox Band give a greeting and blessing from the Comox people ( meaning the First Nations who were here when the Europeans arrived) from the mainstage was well done. Even Dya Singh, whom I suppose many Australians are familiar with, mixed a spiritual message with an ecological one.

Of course, Richie Havens, whom I've never thought of as a particularly political performer,and Pablo Moses and the Revolutionary Dream Band certainly have that aspect to them. As well, local performers such as Gordon Carter, Norbury and Finch, Todd Butler, and Sue Pyper have songs with a political message amongst their repertoires.

So, while there wasn't quite as much of the Feeney/Chandler-type material as I might have liked, there seemed to be a subtle shift in the nature of the festival and a welcoming response from those attending the festival.

While it's a stretch to hail this as the political awakening of the Festival, I certainly could feel a subtle flavour of Arundhati Roy's dictum to lay siege to Empire in all our creative ways possible. It's often in these joyful ways that the seeds of our ability to resist are planted.

Many thanks to Steve Harvey for permission to use this article on the Union Song web site.

Check out the Vancouver Island MusicFest website:

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