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article imageCanadian west coast music festival much more than headliners Special

By Mark J. Allan     Jun 17, 2015 in Music
Courtenay - Vancouver Island Music Festival on the west coast of Canada is about much more than headliners, says a man who should know.
Doug Cox, longtime MusicFest artistic director/executive producer, agrees readily that festivals need headliners, whose star status attracts many music fans.
Lyle Lovett and His Large Band, Buddy Guy and Graham Nash are the 2015 headliners.
“We only have every year probably a maximum of five headliners. To the average person who isn’t a real music fan, we might have only one or two,” comments Cox, an outstanding dobro player in his own right.
On behalf of Vancouver Island MusicFest, though, he annually books four or five dozen acts to populate six stages and some to mingle with the crowd at the Comox Valley Exhibition Grounds for two and a half days on the second weekend in July.
“I think it’s important that people see MusicFest for the quality that we’re presenting, which doesn’t necessarily push as many buttons commercially as it could some years,” Cox states.
“We present very high-quality music, mostly roots music, from all over the world.”
Cox is proud of the daytime programming, which begins at 10 a.m.
It includes MusicFest’s signature “workshops,” as Cox calls them, sometimes referring to “collaborative jamming for musicians who have never met each other.”
The schedule is peppered with these Cox-programmed sessions, which often begin tentatively as the players and singers feel out people they have never played with. Magic often results by the end of a set as the audience witnesses the creative process right in front of them.
Other festival attractions include “song circles, introductions through dance, music and talk with different cultures and different styles of music.
“That is really what the festival is,” Cox summarizes, “a sharing of music and art and community. If you’re just pulling in at night to see your favourite act, you don’t necessarily pick up on that.”
Besides the headliners, MusicFest always offers musicians who don’t have widespread recognition, but don’t lack talent.
Jason Wilson is a two-time Juno Awards nominee and Canadian Reggae Music Award winner from Ontario.
Blending British folk influences and jazz atop an unexpected bed of reggae, the multi-instrumentalist singer-songwriter has performed and recorded with UB40, Alanis Morissette, Sly and Robbie and many more. He played with Scottish troubadour Dick Gaughan at MusicFest in 2009.
This time, he’s coming with legendary saxman Pee Wee Ellis, a former music director for Van Morrison and James Brown. Known as The Man Who Invented Funk, Ellis created that sound and welded it onto Brown’s lyrics on his seminal 1967 smash hit Cold Sweat.
How does an Ontario boy from the Toronto suburb of Downsview get to perform with a musical legend?
“I just called him up,” recalls Wilson, who loved the horn arrangements on some 1990s Van Morrison albums and noticed Ellis listed in the credits.
After Wilson meekly asked Ellis if he’d consider playing on a new album, Ellis asked for samples of Wilson’s work, liked it, agreed to record with Wilson – and offered to play live with him.
“I took a deep breath and said, ‘Sure, why not?’ Since then, we’ve played Scotland, England, Jamaica … it’s been amazing … truly the most gifted musician I’ve ever worked with.”
Some other non-headlining acts to watch for at MusicFest 2015:
Leftover Salmon featuring pianist Bill Payne of Little Feat The polyethnic Cajun slamgrass group was among the first to mingle bluegrass with rock.
Maddy Prior and Steeleye Span Prior’s strong, clear voice was a worthy contemporary of Sandy Denny (Fairport Convention) and Linda Thompson (Richard and Linda Thompson) in the early U.K. folk-rock movement.
Maggie Bell and Dave Kelly Scottish blues belter Bell was the uncredited female voice with Rod Stewart on Every Picture Tells a Story, and dueted with Long John Baldry on Lead Belly’s Black Girl. Kelly is a highly regarded slide guitarist in London, England.
Hot Rize The Colorado quartet is a great modern bluegrass band.
The Bros. Landreth Cox praises this Manitoba quartet, which sounds like they’re from the American South.
Bassekou Kouyate and Ngoni Ba Ngoni Ba is an important modern band in Mali, keeping alive that northwest African nation’s traditional sound.
Amos Garrett This MusicFest veteran played the perfect, hang-in-the-air guitar solo on Maria Muldaur’s Midnight at the Oasis.
Geoff Muldaur Maria’s former husband was once described by brilliant singer/songwriter/guitarist Richard Thompson as at least two of the only three white blues singers who matter.
Petunia and the Vipers Led by a singer with a possibly unique high and lonesome wail, the Vipers serve a peppery stew that includes rockabilly, swing and country blues.
Cousin Harley This is the rockabilly facet of talented Vancouver guitarist Paul Pigat’s multiple musical personalities.
Big Little Lions This mostly upbeat, hook-happy band is a collaboration between the Comox Valley’s own Helen Austin and Paul Otten from Cincinnati.
Bruce and Judy Wing The other local content in this year’s festival features Judy’s beautiful, mature voice backed by Bruce’s sympathetic playing.
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