Music Fests

🕔Jun 07, 2006

Big-budget, urban music festivals offer a rich variety of high-quality music for discriminating music-lovers and we at Northword love ’em all! But we’re equally smitten by the kind of festival that you just don’t find in large urban centres, and which BC’s north has plenty to boast about.

Held in fairgrounds, parks, and private acreages, these community-driven music festivals often cultivate a neighbourhood feeling by allowing family camping onsite. They can be the place to catch cutting-edge Canadian musicians on tour before they hit the big time. And they promote maximum interaction between professional and amateur musicians at casual campfire jams.

These festivals help develop local music culture by celebrating the contributions of local musicians with as much fervor as they do imported headline acts. They also actively appeal to a wide range of audience ages and tastes, frequently incorporating activities and entertainment geared just for teenagers or kids.

We’ve gathered all the information that was available at press time about this summer’s northern BC music festivals including one-day, annually-occurring events where music is a primary focus. If you know of any events that we’ve missed here, please tell us for next year: email

We’ve also included information about opportunities to contribute your time to festivals. Volunteering is a great way to meet people, build your local music community, create memories and access top-notch entertainment for free, as many festivals reimburse your volunteer time with a day- or weekend pass.

In addition to offering you a readily useable guide to summer festivals, we’re spotlighting the newest kid on the festival block: The Robson Valley Music Festival (RVMF), Aug. 25-27, 2006.

The RVMF is the lovechild of Mamaguroove, a creative, charismatic band which came into being in 1999 in Dunster, BC The band has released two CDs, with a third in the works, has been alternately described as “tribal funk” or “mountain eclectic.”

“We do not restrict ourselves to any musical genre, and all of us write songs,” says Seth Macdonald, the band’s lead guitarist. “There are no holds barred as long as we can feel it and feel like dancing to it.”

They are consummate entertainers, with a high-energy stage show that has won them legions of “mamaguroopies” throughout northern B.C. and beyond.

What their songs have in common is that they usually convey a message about freedom of all kinds—social, will, movement, speech and art. Although song lyrics often embrace political issues, they’re ultimately positive, frequently humorous and solutions-focused.

One unique characteristic about the band is their love of theatrics: dance, crazy costumes, props (like the huge paper mache head worn by one band member last year), clever contraptions which literally launch musicians or simulate acts of levitation, and the odd bit of pyrotechnics.

“It’s a huge part of our success with audiences, for sure,” says Macdonald, recalling times when they’ve definitely pushed creative boundaries, such as the memorable year at the Kispiox Music Festival where all band members suddenly dropped their clothes on stage. Last year, Macdonald was able to “fly” across the stage, playing his electric guitar all the while, thanks to a rig designed by a seasoned rock climber.

Often as not, these stunts are barely rehearsed, if at all, and sometimes dreamed up just hours before a show. Macdonald loves to imagine the day when there would be cordless mics for all band members, well-rehearsed theatrics, a cadre of staff to pull off big stunts with finesse, and lots of high-profile pyrotechnics.

Expect Mamaguroove to trot out their finest for guests at this year’s RVMF.

It’s hard to find a more beautiful setting for this old-fashionedfestival: a grassy, tree-fringed riverside clearing in Dunster, about 40 km east of McBride.

The festival’s 2005 debut was sweetly memorable, boasting a wide range of local and regional talent, such as Shae Morin and Yael Wand, in addition to seasoned pros hailing from Calgary: Senegalese Juno-winning world music artist Youssou Seck, Manuel Jara (longtime guitarist for five-time Juno winner Oscar Lopez), and master percussionist Brent Van Dusen.

The on-stage and campfire jams that occurred at that festival remain unparalleled in the minds of many of the participating musicians, including Macdonald, who considers it one of the highest moments of his musical life.

Macdonald is thrilled to ramp it up this year with some impressive headliners: Van Dusen and Manuel Jara are back, with Jara’s 10-piece Latin dance band Manjar (he’s cutting out from Oscar Lopez’s tour to do this!). Also featured are the Fabulous Beefeeders, a funk/rock/experimental group from Edmonton, and the Calgary-based Plaid-Tongued Devils, whose violin-driven gypsy rock is known to drive dancers into kamasutric rapture. You’ll also see Earthbound, Yael Wand, the Cutbank Cats, and Alberta country music legend Larry Gustafson.

Expect high value for a modest $30 weekend pass; volunteers are welcome to come work off the value of a pass. For more information about the Robson Valley Music Festival, including directions, visit and

© Larissa Ardis 2006