The best of the west

🕔Jun 02, 2010

The very first music festival I went to marked me for life. I pitched my tiny tent with those of my friends around me, took off my wristwatch, and lived for three blissfully impractical days in sandals and my favourite blue dress, eating my way through a loaf of bread and a jar of peanut butter which was for some reason the only food I had brought for the entire trip. That misty, moisty weekend by the river, I danced unabashedly in public for the first time since about age four, taking off my shoes in the sawdust and mud in front of the stage, and I felt the power of high-quality live music stir something within that has never left me since.

I will never lose my love for the northern BC music festival, and I suspect I’m not alone. Since that first heady experience, I’ve attended as many as possible each summer as time, money and sometimes sketchy transportation options have allowed. Whether it’s the last main-stage act of the evening or the gathering around the campfires later on, there is something about the midnight energy of a northern music festival, the memory of which sustains me through those dark days of November when summer seems so far away.

Stuck in front of a computer under artificial light, I crave that sense of fleeting existence within a bubble of voice and light and sound, nestled amid mountains, pulsing beside oceans and rivers. Browsing luxuriously through festival vendor stalls on endless Saturday afternoons, I’ve found so many treasures: handcrafted pottery, exotic textiles from far-away lands, and delicate silver baubles to daily remind me of festivals past.

Over more than a decade, I’ve watched my friends dance with their babies, and then seen those babies begin to dance on their own little feet; I’ve seen northern lights and phosphorescent ocean waves that seemed to throb in time with the bass and drums on stage; and I’ve witnessed some of the most memorable musical acts out there, both home-grown Canadian and international, on rustic wooden stages protected from the elements by weathered blue-and-white striped canvas. From Haida Gwaii to Dunster, and practically each stop on the road between and beyond, there’s a fabulous musical experience and powerful memories waiting to be made every weekend of the coming summer.

Midsummer Music Festival, Smithers: 
June 25-27, 2010
Kick off the 2010 season at northern BC’s longest-running festival! With double the number of headline acts than last year, on-site camping, and a family-focused atmosphere with lots of great entertainment and activities for kids, Midsummer lives up to its reputation as a good time for all musical tastes and ages. Check out the stylin’ new website at for details about performers, and pick up your pass ahead of time at Mountain Eagle Books or SpeeDee Stationary to beat the festival Friday rush.
Crabfest, Gingolx (Kincolith): July 2-4, 2010

This festival is best known for being the event where classic rock acts come face to face with the rich First Nations culture of the Nisga’a people. Although organizers had not released their headliners at time of publication, past years have included Kim Mitchell and Trooper. Camping is obtainable for a fee in designated areas on a first-come, first-served basis. To get to Crabfest, head north from Terrace through the scenic mountains of the Nass Valley, or if you’re really feeling adventurous, take the backcountry route along the Cranberry Junction road. An adult weekend pass to the tunes will run you about $75.

Jam at the Dam, Hudson’s 
Hope: July 3-4, 2010
Here’s your opportunity to check out the talent of the Peace Region on stage at the Pearkes Cultural Centre in Hudson’s Hope, as well as maybe taking a side trip to see one of Canada’s largest hydro-electric dams. Music workshops, a fiddling contest, and the Sunday morning pancake breakfast are just some of the reasons to make this trip. On-site camping is available, and weekend festival passes are a smokin’ deal at only $35. For more details, call 250-783-9351.

Cottonwood Music Festival, Fort St. James: July 9-11, 2010
Chill to the sounds of roots and bluegrass on the scenic grounds of Cottonwood Park on Stuart Lake; bring your folding camp chair and relax in front of the stage in the sun. This family-oriented festival began primarily as a celebration of bluegrass, but over the years the organizing volunteers have expanded their selection of artists to include Celtic, classic rock, and world music influences. Camping on the grounds is offered for a nominal fee. For more information, visit

Atlin Music Festival: July 9-11, 2010
Unfortunately, Atlin’s annual musical shindig isn’t happening this year. Instead, a work bee will take place on the usual weekend: it’s all hands on deck to improve the festival grounds to accommodate more camping and parking areas, as well as to build more outhouses. However, there will be music on both the Friday and Saturday nights at the Globe Theatre, so if you’re in the area with your work gloves, there will still be entertainment to be heard. The Atlin Music Festival will return recharged and better able to handle the increasing attendance in 2011: view www.atlinfestival for all the info.

Morfee Mountain Music Fest: July 16-18, 2010
Home of the world’s largest tree crusher, MacKenzie (120 km north of Prince George) also hosts this two-day celebration of community and musical artistry. This year’s line-up includes outlaw folk singers and artists who intertwine Celtic sounds with country and pop. Camping is available at the festival, which is held at the Mackenzie Elks Rodeo Grounds. This event is glass-free, so leave those bottles of Dad’s root beer at home and bring tetra-packs of juice instead. For ticket prices, a detailed list of performers and other tidbits of useful information, direct your web browser to

Kispiox Valley Music Festival, Hazelton: July 23-25, 2010
Cradled in a bend of the Kispiox River and sheltered from the heat of the summer sun by tall cottonwoods, this festival sports a spectacular main stage fronted by a grassy amphitheatre just perfect for sprawling out on your blanket. The scenic on-site camping is organized into different sections for those who like to get a full night’s sleep and those who like to stoke the energy of the last act until the wee morning hours. The kids are guaranteed to be entertained at the children’s stage; the food and martketplace vendor selection is unparalleled. Surf your way to for more details.

Grizfest, Tumbler Ridge: July 30 – Aug 2, 2010
The organizers of this festival make an effort to select a variety of musical acts, so there’s something for everyone to enjoy, whether it’s the professional face painter or the horseshoe tournament. Bring your picnic blanket and the lawn chairs to the festival grounds; though there is no on-site camping, the festival grounds are within walking distance of Tumbler Ridge’s downtown restaurants and accommodations. Get your tickets before July 15 and save. Get the down and dirty at

Artswells Festival, Wells: July 30 – Aug 2, 2010
Voted one of the top 10 festivals in Canada by CBC Radio 3’s Searchlight Contest, Artswells is a musical and visual all-you-can-eat (hear? see?) buffet. With more than 70 live performances taking place in various venues around this creative community, it’s hard to find a musical genre that isn’t represented. Learn how to make a book from a single sheet of paper, tap into your inner fire-spinning self with a poi workshop, or coast down from the musical high with an outdoor yoga session. For those of us living closer to the coast, it’s a bit of a long drive, but well worth the extra fossil fuel to get there. has everything you need to plan.

Edge of the World, Haida Gwaii: August 6-8, 2010
It’s about as far west as you can go without getting your guitar full of sea-water. This family-friendly event attracts a world-class selection of headliners, which this year includes Kinnie Starr, as well as a generous assortment of both on-island and off-island local northwest performers. Food and merchandise vendors are organized in a horseshoe around the stage, so you can browse tasty and beautiful wares without going out of earshot of the music. Camping is not available directly onsite, but the BC Parks campground across the road provides a place to pitch your pup tent on a first-come, first-served basis. Peruse for more information.

Robson Valley Music Festival, Dunster: August 20-22, 2010
Brought into being by the members and friends of the uniquely incredible Mamaguroove, this is an exciting weekend of high-quality music and heart-felt camaraderie. This year’s headliners include a 13-piece afro-funk band from Montreal called Papagroove (appropriately enough) and the gypsy-ragtime fusion of Linda McRae. There will be vendors, workshops, and all kinds of bright and colourful experiences to occupy the kids. Buy your weekend pass early to save your pennies, and take note: attendance is limited to only a thousand people.

Music on the Mountain, Fort St. James: August 27 – 29, 2010
Held out at the Murray Ridge Ski Area, 15 minutes northwest of Fort St. James, it’s an occasion for three days of music, magic and mayhem. Rock out to the punk-ska beats of Toronto’s Random Order, or take in the alt-funk-roots sound of Australia’s Aurora Jane. With more than 30 acts, on-site camping, roving theatre, and workshops for all ages and musical abilities, this is a fabulous way to wrap up the festival season of summer 2010. More details can be found at