Northword’s Summer Music Festival Review

🕔May 28, 2007

We at Northword are suckers for a good music festival, so it is with pleasure that we offer you a comprehensive, up-to-date read on Northern BC’s music festival offerings for this summer.

There are at least 17 events to choose from, but the ArtsWells Festival of All Things Art, hosted by the Island Mountain Arts Society in Wells on the August long weekend, deserves special mention.

Wells started as a company town, managed by the Cariboo Gold Quartz Mine in the 1930s, when more than 4,500 people lived there. During its Cariboo Gold Rush heyday, Wells was the largest town and cultural center of the Cariboo and Northern BC.

Since mine closures of 1967, Wells’ winter population has dwindled to about 250—but its gold-rush romance and colourful heritage buildings continue to draw summer visitors in droves.

“About 30 years ago, there was a migration to Wells of artists, hippies, neo-revolutionaries,” says Wells resident Christina Zaenker. “Today, Wells has a strong sense of community and a really vibrant arts scene.”

Zaenker, along with Julie Fowler and Beth Holden, co-directs a local festival called ArtsWells Festival of All Things Art, which now draws about 700 visitors annually.

Thanks both to their personal and professional connections, plus Wells’ location (about five hours’ drive from Vancouver), ArtsWells boasts relatively easy access to a large pool of touring musicians as well as the atmosphere of a tiny, scenic mountain town.

Artswells is still small enough to be intimate, but this independent, volunteer-driven event is charging into its fourth year with a diverse lineup that will impress any lover of innovative new music.

This year’s lineup features more than forty independent music acts from across the country, including 2007 Juno award winner Leela Gilday, Canadian Folk Music Award winner (best emerging songwriter) T. Nile; instrumental hip hop duo and Vancouver Folk Festival hit No Luck Club, Toronto’s Hunter Eves, alt-country crooner Rae Spoon, “absurdist pop” artist Wax Mannequin, and rockabilly toe-tappers the Joey Only Outlaw Band.

ArtsWells events happen in several venues in Wells and nearby Barkerville, including the 1930s-era Wells Community Hall, the Wells-Barkerville school, and the old Kelly Saloon. Visitors will also enjoy hands-on workshops, an Art Walk around town, and a One-Minute Play Festival hosted by Penticton Art Gallery director Paul Crawford.

Music festivals are often best experienced from the inside, as a volunteer—and ArtsWells is no exception. Contribute 12 hours to the festival and they’ll waive your $45 weekend admission fee, feed you and offer you a free place to camp.

Artswells takes place August 3-7. For general or volunteer-related information about Artswells, call 1.800.442.2787 or visit

Annual Old Time Fiddle Contest (Quesnel)
June 2
Fiddlers from all over BC and Canada meet at Quesnel’s rec centre for a traditional Canadian old-time fiddle contest all day Saturday, and a dance on Saturday night. Each competitor is required to play one waltz, jig, and reel. Pancake breakfast on Sunday. With up to 50 competitors, live music usually continues until noon Sunday. Camping onsite for RVs and some tents. More info: 250.992.5081.

Rolling on the River Festival (Prince Rupert)
June 3
This day-long event takes place noon to 7 pm at North Pacific Historic Fishing Village, and raises funds for the North Pacific Cannery Museum. Typically features local and regional bands, including Mudcats, Ditto Sisters, Skeena Skiffle, Lil’ Kiki, Jimmy & the Wolf, Musicworks Kids, Mermaid Café, Freedom 35, and Triple Bypass, on up to four stages. More info:

Stikine Valley Gospel Music Festival (Dease Lake)
June 21-25
Very informal, Christian-oriented, music/worship event near Dease Lake. Typically attracts about 100 people to festival site at Stikine Canyon Ranch at km 437 on Highway 37. Everyone is encouraged to pitch in for this free event; for more info, call 250.771.4301 or visit

Midsummer Music Festival (Smithers)
June 22-24
Great selection of music; 2007 lineup includes Ridley Bent, Cousin Harley, Rachelle Van Zanten, The Plaid Tongued Devils, Cody Westman and Neil Ryan, Joanna Chapman, Steve Palmer, and children’s entertainer Norman Foote. More than 70 local/regional bands. Family-friendly with activities-packed kids’ area and alcohol-free atmosphere, free shuttles available to local campgrounds. (Onsite camping for performers, staff and volunteers only.) Contribute 14 hours work in exchange for a weekend pass and all meals; for more info or to sign up to volunteer, visit

Atlin Arts & Music Festival
July 6-8
Features music, visual and performing art. Strong focus on Canadian performers; includes many music and art workshops, comedy, theatre, history, dance, storytellers, children’s performers, clowns, and film. This year’s acts include David Francey, the BeBop Cowboys, the Cracker Cats, Steve Slade, Gary Comeau, Ed Peekeekoot, John Spearn, Tamara Nile, M’Girl, Shiloh Lindsey, Melwood Cutlery, Joanna Chapman-Smith, Mike Stevens, Hot Toddy, Brett Dillingham, Done Gone String Band and more. This is an alcohol-free festival. Advance tix recommended. Free day pass for 5 hours’ volunteering; call 250. 651.7598. More info:

Gingolx Crab Festival (Kincolith, a.k.a. Gingolx)
July 6-7
This hospitable Nisga’a village at the mouth of the Nass River has had road access for only a few years now, but that doesn’t stop high-end classic rock, R & B, roots and high-profile aboriginal performers from animating this event! 2007 acts include Nazareth, Jeff Healey, Powder Blues, Kenny Shields and Streetheart, the Wailin’ Jennys, Legends of Rock and Roll (impersonators of Elvis, Roy Orbison and Buddy Holly), Green River, The Rightful Ownrz, Peat Moss and the Fungi, Gitmaxmak’ay Nisga’a Dancers. Great seafood, casual friendly atmosphere. Moor boats for free. Limited local facilities, so come prepared for camping ($20 for RVs, camping fees negotiated with locals), weather, cooking, cash purchases. Volunteer 14 hours for a weekend pass; sign up at 250.326.2322. More info: or 250.326.2322.

Cedarvale Jamboree
July 6-8
Bluegrass, country and country rock music, with onsite camping for the entire family in tiny Cedarvale (Highway 16, about 45 km west of Hazelton). Very casual atmosphere; focus on local/regional bands; safe and family-oriented with clowns, open campfire music jams, food available from vendors. Economic at $20/person for weekend; 14 and under get in free. More info: 250.849.5060.

Music and Friends (Kitimaat Village)
July 14
This festival seeks to encourage music and the arts, especially among youth; this year’s event will raise funds for the construction of an elders’ care facility in Kitamaat. At least four imported headliners, typically rock, classical, country, blues, plus many local/regional bands. For more info, call 1.800.664.6554 or visit

Billy Barker Days concerts (Quesnel)
July 19-22
Absolutely free event attracts 5,000-10,000 and bills itself as “BC’s number-one family festival.” Not strictly a music festival, but features non-stop musical entertainment throughout; themed entertainment on Seniors’ Day, Kids’ Day. Featured Friday/Saturday night performers include the Headpins and Harlequin. Camp at nearby campgrounds. More info: or 250.992.1234.

Cottonwood Music Festival (Fort St. James)
July 20-22
Bluegrass, old-time country, classic rock, Celtic, Metis and folk at this family-oriented, alcohol-free festival. This year’s offerings include the Debbie Bergeron Band, Backporch Swing, Gary Fjellgaard, Skeena Skiffle, Bonifyed, Lakeside Ramblers, Old Country, Sinkut Mountain, The Hommys, Special Delivery, Deep South, Country & Stuff. Held at Cottonwood Park on the beach at Stuart Lake; onsite camping permitted. Volunteer 4 hours for a day pass; sign up at 250.996.7023. More info: or 250.996.8524.

Prince George Folk Festival
July 27-28
One of northern BC’s largest, and newest, folk festivals. This corporate-sponsored event always features a high-powered pro music lineup; held in Fort George Park in downtown Prince George. 2007 performers include The Paperboys, New Orleans Social Club, Eccodek, Corb Lund, Donne Roberts, Watermelon Slim and the Workers, Jason Collett and Amy Millan (of Broken Social Scene), Angus Lyon and Ruriadh Campbell, Chad Van Gaalen, Don Ross, Andy McKee, Joel Fafard. More info:

Kispiox Valley Music Festival (near Hazelton)
July 27-29
Top-notch scenery; consistently high-quality, eclectic selection of music from roots and rock to jazz and hip-hop; renowned for plentiful campfire music jams! Headliners this year include Cousin Harley, Christa Couture, Janet Panic, Blue Island Trio, teen First Nations band M.E.B. plus a huge slate of regional performers. Organizers hope to feature a story-tellers’ corner this year. Onsite camping allowed. Volunteer for weekend pass or day pass by signing up at 250.842.6442. More info: or 250.842.6390.

Grizfest (Tumbler Ridge)
Aug 4-5
This family-oriented festival highlights imported high-quality rock acts, country, classical and more. 2007 lineup includes Headley, Rex Goudie, Damian Marshall and more TBA. Children’s activities, beer garden, shuttle to nearby campgrounds. Contribute 14 hours for weekend pass; sign up or get general info at 250.242.4246 and visit

Fourth Annual ArtsWells Festival (Wells)
August 3-6
See festival profile on page XX.

Edge of the World Music Festival (Tlell, Queen Charlotte Islands)
Aug 10-12
Wide-ranging high-quality music arts—including roots, blues, jazz, funk and rockabilly—and workshops. Stunning location adjacent to Tlell River, with the beach nearby. Well worth braving occasional coastal weather to camp at nearby provincial park! Headliners this year include Cousin Harley, Todd Butler, Brickhouse, Helene Duguay/Murray Porter Band. Volunteer 8 hours for a weekend pass. For more info, visit

Robson Valley Music Festival (in Dunster, near McBride)
Aug. 24-26
The intimate atmosphere of a small festival, with the quality music more commonly heard at big-budget festivals. Very eclectic selection of funk, rock, country, Latin, reggae and more. This year’s acts include Juno-nominated Mr. Something Something, Samsara, Ellen Mcllwaine with Cassius Khan, Mihirangi, Don Alder, Random Order, Rae Spoon, and Mamaguroove—the charismatic northern BC band on whose private acreage the festival takes place. Volunteer at least 20 hours for a free weekend pass, free camping and amazing food. More info: 250.968.4411, visit

BC Rivers Day Festival (Prince George)
September 30
A free event which celebrates BC Rivers Day and the many reasons we value rivers. This noon-5 pm event features roots, rock, country, jazz and more, and happens in Fort George Park in downtown Prince George. Performers TBA; keep an eye on

Festivals taking a well-deserved break (look for them next year!):
Terrace Riverside Music Festival
Kispiox Gospel Mountain Music Festival
Dawson Creek Peace Country Bluegrass Festival
Prince Rupert Blockstock/Seafest concerts

© Larissa Ardis 2007