Monday, 23 January 2012

The Music Festival on Haida Gwaii 1975 - Present

By Janet Rigg 
In 1975, local musicians such as Percy Williams and Ron Souza, performed on the back of a pickup truck in Queen Charlotte City for anyone who would listen.

This was good. So they took it on the road, or should I say "boat" and one of the islands in Bear Skin Bay became the site for a joyous musical event. Again, this was good. So they did it again. Bob Bullechuk
The Community Club in Queen Charlotte became home to the first official Music Festival in 1978. The line up featured a wide range of local talent and relied on many volunteers to make it happen. Hazel McQuarrie was one such music lover who supported the festival and inspired musicians and fans to come. It was such a success that it became an annual event, until 1986 when many local musicians went to Vancouver for Expo 86 to perform. This caused a break, and there was no music festival until it was revived in 1995.

In 1995 the QCI Arts Council (now the Haida Gwaii Arts Council) sponsored the Juggernaut Jam Music Festival. Not only did this give local musicians a chance to perform to a large audience again, but organizers also began to bring in musicians from Canada and other parts of the world. This exposure to off-island talent, and the opportunity for local musicians to share ideas and be inspired by professional musicians, was a huge success. The Juggernaut Jam Music Festival continued in Charlotte until 1999, when it became known as the Edge of The World Music Festival, and moved to a large ocean-side field in a rural area of Tlell. Situated in the middle of the island, it made the festival more accessible to the island’s population.

The Edge of the World Music Festival became a not-for-profit society in 2000. Still volunteer run, it began to grow.

The festival [became] a highlight of the year for local islanders and continue[d] to entice more and more people to these remote islands. What’s the big draw?: A good small festival community feeling in a magical setting; World class musicians sharing our stage with promising emerging artists from the islands and around the world; Anyone who comes to these mystical islands leaves feeling refreshed and inspired.
Frank Wall

This singular musical event, in a field in Tlell, brought in such acts as: Spirit of the West, John Spearn, Los Gringos Salvajes, Pepi Danza, Sandy Scofield, Random Order, Mamaguroove, and Gary Comeau and the Voodoo Allstars.

The event was guided by the likes of Pat Carrie Smith, Skye Cantin, Bob Bullechuk, Debbie Pearson, Elizabeth Inkster, and Keith Alexander, among others such as Sabrina Frazier, Frank Wall, Toby Sanmiya, Sandra Beggs, Jeannie Kalamarz, Roly Thompson, and George and Donnette Farrel.

It was always a great success, however the weather was often an uninvited guest. After the large horseshoe tent over the stage nearly blew away in 2006, causing the Friday night show to be cancelled, the Festival was moved to a nicer weekend in August and the shelter of the Tlell Fall Fairgrounds.

2007 also saw the beginning of the Annual Lantern Parade. The only annual lantern parade in Northern BC, it was the creative vision of Joanne Hayward and Germain Vigneault. During the evening performances, locals who had made paper lanterns during the lantern workshops would parade through the dancing crowd. A magical moment, the parade continues to grow every year as more and more amazingly unique lanterns are made. Sadly 2011 saw the passing of Joanne Hayward from cancer, but the lantern parade goes on, carrying her light and her vision.

From 2007 to 2009, the blue and white striped horseshoe tent was still a fixture at the Edge of the World Music Festival, but it began to show its age, and the plywood stage that it sheltered began to show the strain of the weight of so many musicians having played on it. In 2010, Festival organizers decided to bring in a state of the art mobile stage unit. This unit allowed for better sound, better visibility, and better lighting. It also made for a more professional show, with many guest musicians suitably impressed by this set up.

Roeland Denooij has been the Artistic Director for the Festival since 2009. With a music degree from McGill University, Roeland’s ear has been able to pick out extremely high quality acts from the hundreds of submissions received every year.

Highlights include; The Shuffle Demons, Shane Philip, Dominque Fraissard, The Kerplunks, Wayne Lavallee, The Odds, and Kinnie Starr. However, he has never lost sight of the fact that the festival is also a time for local musicians to shine. Roeland tries his hardest to find time for every local musician to perform who applies.

 Also highlighted are the incredible Haida Dancers of Masset and Skidegate, who traditionally open and close each festival.

Each year the festival improves – with more cohesive ambiance, more food and merchandise vendors showcasing local wares and cuisine, more diverse workshops, and more fringe acts. There is now a new organizing committee in place, with a great selection of 30-somethings lending their creative talents to get this festival done.

Additionally a large number of local and off-island volunteers pitch in on the festival weekend, not to mention the local businesses that sponsor and support the festival.

 All of this effort comes together to make the Edge of the World Music Festival on Haida Gwaii unlike any other. You may even catch Percy Williams and Ron Souza, who still command attention on the stage.

1 comment:

  1. A few other key people who were both executive and hardcore volunteers involved in the transition from Juggernaut Jam to Edge of the World...the Sandspit bunch: Clemens Rettich, Michele Botel, Liisa Laakso, and from Queen Charlotte: Sam and Marsha, and from Tlell: Julia Brobbel (Loopy) and before the transition: Manzanita Snow and George Lardie. May have missed some also but all are remembered in spirit!