This past weekend I had the distinct pleasure of attending the ArtsWells Festival in beautiful Wells, BC. I wrote about this festival means to me last year (see story here) and all in all it was another great weekend filled blessed with awesome and innovative music, a lovely setting, crazy people and clean air. This is the fifth year that Leanne and I have attended the festival, but the first time that Leanne has taken a pre-festival workshop, which required us to be in town for a few days in advance of the festival which was great because we got to see and interact with the town in a slightly less chaotic state.
Throughout the weekend, we were treated to some amazing experiences. I will attempt to recap a few:
Kym Gouchie – Kym is a musician and is from the Lheidli T’enneh Nation. She had a key role in both the opening and closing ceremonies at this year’s festival, leading Indigenous prayers and songs to greet the participants in the festival and to send them on their way home. I managed to see Kym Gouchie perform last year in Barkerville and she put on a great acoustic set. While I have not met Kym personally, through seeing her at the last 2 ArtsWells Festivals I don’t know that I have witnessed anyone that possesses as much grace, poise, wisdom and dignity and just exudes this both in her presence and in her words. It is truly a enriching, learning experience to see Kym play music and speak. The arts is a critical component of reconciliation in Canada and I feel Kym exemplifies this. Her presence has helped to make the ArtsWells Festival a much more inclusive environment.
Leanne managed to catch Kym’s set at the Sunset Theatre and she said it was a profound experience, particularly a song that was performed about the Highway of Tears. I didn’t see her perform a full set of music this weekend but did see her also perform with Samson’s Delilah and she rocked out playing her hand drum and performing chants during one of their songs.
Wallgrin – ‘she will melt your face off’ is what Sam Tudor said about Wallgrin and while my face is still intact, Wallgrin’s sets were absolutely stunning. Armed with a violin, finger drum pad, looping pedal, and an amazing voice with incredible range she performed some of the most dramatic, haunting and mesmerizing music I have heard in recent times. With the aid of the looping pedal, she created complex tapestries that were beyond being mere songs and being complete works of art. It was the first time I’d heard the words exosphere and lithosphere used in a song. She was also pretty funny which juxtaposed with the dramatic songs. Here is a link to a video of her performing from youtube.com:
Roadside Rattle – these guys weren’t in the program and I had no idea what I was going to see when I wandered into the Museum Stage tent. They call themselves a collective with rotating band members with this iteration seemingly including about 8 people led by a trio of singers/guitarists. Their music combined elements of blues, bluegrass, country to create some foot stomping fun. They even used a kazoo on several of their songs and there was a kick ass washboard solo during one song. This was probably one of the funnest sets I saw on the weekend.
Melisa Devost – Leanne had a singing workshop before the festival started with Melisa Devost that she really enjoyed and this prompted us to check out Melisa’s performances at the festival. The first performance we saw was Melisa telling the story about how she emerged as a signer-songwriter. It was just her standing on the stage at the Sunset Theatre talking and singing about various experiences in her life interwoven with her love of the movie ‘The Commitments’. I found the story-telling very entertaining and Melisa had a commanding but warm presence throughout the performance. The other time we saw Melisa was not so much a performance but a facilitation of Sunday morning gospel sing-along with the audience. This is an annual event at ArtsWells and I participated in the sing-along for the first time last year and really enjoyed it. It is an invigorating pick me up at the halfway point of the festival. Melisa led the audience through a number of easy to sing gospel type songs that had us all out of our seats. It was like church without the preaching and with a bit of swearing…
Corwin Fox – Corwin Fox is a folk singer and an ArtsWells fixture having performed at pretty much every festival. We have probably taken in his performances at the last 3 or 4 festivals. His performances usually evolve into giant sing-alongs that are a result of having really approachable music and the humour he infuses into his songs and his on-stage banter. Corwin, from a distance, seems like a happy-go-lucky guy. He always seems to have a smile on his face, is well-loved and has a close knit family. This made his performance last year unique in that he shared with his audience about his struggles with depression which you wouldn’t necessarily connect with him and played, for the first time in front of an audience, a song describing his battles with depression. It was a beautiful song and while I couldn’t remember the song exactly, I remember the feeling I had when he sang it. As someone who doesn’t suffer from depression but know there are lots of people that do, this song and Corwin’s description of his struggle really helped in my understanding of the kind of illness depression can be and how I treat people that may be going through this. I thought about that song a lot over the last year. He played that song again at this year’s festival and described his decision-making for including it on his new album and his decision to open up about this. All I can say is kudos to Corwin for choosing to open up.
I also saw Corwin play with Raghu Lokanathan as part of their folk music combo – the Chimney Swallows. These two together were hilarious as were many of their songs. Playing at the intimate Museum Stage, they started off with a sound check and then told the sound guy to turn everything off before they started playing and went wholly acoustic. Their banter and their songs were very entertaining. When they finally asked the sound guy how much time they had left in their set, it was a bit of a surprise that they were a half-hour over because the time flew by. Undaunted by their time violation, and being the last act of the night on this stage, they played another couple of songs.
Parlour Panther – Parlour Panther is a band that plays really fun, unique and edgy rock/pop music. Great musicianship and singing combined with a strong stage presence makes them an entertaining group to watch and listen to. They were one of the first acts at the Community Hall and their show really kicked off my ArtsWells experience this year.
Naomi Kavka – we saw Naomi play in Barkerville – just her playing her acoustic guitar playing folk-country music and it was incredible. She was formerly the principal cellist with the Prince George Symphony so she has great musical acumen. What stood out was the power in her voice and how expansive it was yet under control. It felt like she could blow the doors off the old wooden church and almost to the point of being overwhelming (she wasn’t mic’d) yet she was able to draw us all in to the stories she was conveying. Her voice will stick with me for a while and I am looking forward to album coming out.
Rae Spoon – Leanne and I have been big Rae Spoon fans since we first saw them at ArtsWells a few years ago. Rae’s music is an infectious mix of rock and electronic with political and social overtones, particularly on gender and sexuality issues and colonialism, all blended with Rae’s great sense of humour (jokes about Justin Trudeau were pretty funny and pointed). They played the Sunset Theatre and they rocked it. I’ll admit, I’ve learned lots about the challenges that transgender people face and the emotions that are experienced and this has helped increase my understanding of transgender people and I am grateful for that and hopefully I am at least a little more accepting and inclusive. Even simple thing such as getting the pronouns correct or at least having the knowledge to ask I have learned is meaningful.
Uschi Tala – at last year’s ArtsWells, Uschi Tala put on a performance that was completely mesmerizing. You know a performance might be special when you see other artists lined up outside the venue trying to get in. Playing at the Tempest (an old church) during the middle of the day, all the windows were blacked out and no light shone through. The stage was candlelit and there was an artist doing a drawing throughout the set that was projected onto a wall creating a multi-media experience. The music included layers of guitar, cello, keyboards, vocals and other weird noises all looped in various fashions and included everything from operatic singing to beat box to rap. It was dark and deep and kind of frightening in some ways. I remember walking out of the Tempest after that performance a little bewildered and thinking that I had seen something totally unique and out of this world. This year’s performance at the Sunset did not approach last year’s performance but was still memorable and I am happy that I saw Uschi Tala again.
Twin Peaks – Twin Peaks in some ways is similar to seeing Corwin Fox as you know when you go to one of their shows that you are going to be entertained as they are two extremely funny and talented people who play guitar, ukulele and keyboards and are each strong singers. We saw them play in Barkerville at the old church and they put on a wonderful performance mixing great songs with extremely entertaining banter, including some great stories about their bad experiences in Saskatchewan. They also did an excellent job of facilitating the Clam Jam, which featured all female performers including the aforementioned Naomi Kavka, Britt A.M., and This Way North.
Other musical highlights of the festival were Sam Tudor, Slow Motion National Park, This Way North, The Risky Few, Betty and the Kid, and the Honey Tongues.
The other highlight of the festival was getting to stay at the Hubs Motel. This was the first time since our first year at ArtsWells that we haven’t camped in our trailer and while the motel is fairly basic, it was very comfortable and quiet and the hospitality and friendliness of Dianne, the motel owner, added to our experience in Wells as did the abundance of free cookies. If you are ever going to Barkerville, this is the place to stay (don’t bother with the ArtsWells weekend – they already have a waiting list for next year!).
I can’t wait to go back to Wells next year provided that Donald Trump and Kim Jung Whatever can resolve their conflict over whose rooster is bigger. In the meantime, I will attempt to keep the memories fresh and capitalize on the feelings of inspiration.