Skip to content
Join our Newsletter
Join our Newsletter

Comeback season: After two pandemic years, Greater Victoria's festivals are back

They’re back after COVID interruptus. Mike Devlin takes a look at the best of the summer fests and who’s taking centre stage

With signature events like Rifflandia, Victoria has fought hard to earn its reputation as a cultural centre, and averages more food, music and cultural events per week between March and September than the majority of other cities its size.

But for two years, Vancouver Island’s summer-events calendar has been almost empty, a startling stretch of inactivity for a region known for its abundance of festival programming.

Signs are pointing to a Godzilla-sized comeback, however, with help from a variety of municipal, provincial, and federal entities.

Record amounts of funding have ensured that the majority of summer staples will return. In the months since provincial health restriction were lifted, attendance at events that have gone ahead has been strong, despite the iffy weather.

That bodes well for everyone from producers and service providers to artists and attendees. When the sun returns, watch out.

Rifflandia — which turned multi-day, multi-genre, multi-venue festivals into a viable entity in Greater Victoria — is back in September for the first time since 2018, bolstered by its best lineup to date.

The festival is on pace to post record attendance numbers, with chart-toppers Lorde and Charli XCX liable to attract off-Island fans by the hundreds. Reverberations from Rifflandia could be felt in the market for years to come.

Competition is everywhere, of course. Laketown Ranch, the Lake Cowichan site that hosts three large festivals this year, including country music behemoth Sunfest, will be another big player on the festival front.

Big or small, there’s plenty to sample. From one-day events such as the TD Art Gallery Paint-In and Northwest Deuce Days to mid-Island staples like Courtenay’s Vancouver Island Music Festival, summer is going to be a rollercoaster ride of epic proportions.

Buckle up, festival fans.

VICTORIA SKA & REGGAE FESTIVAL

June 22–26, Victoria

victoriaskafest.ca

Reggae icons The Wailers are among the headliners for the 23rd annual Victoria Ska & Reggae Festival, which is held at four venues throughout the downtown core. Dozens of acts are scheduled to appear, from as far away as Jamaica, Brazil, and New Zealand. Plenty of programming is offered free of charge, which has earned Skafest its ”Festival of the People” moniker.

VICTORIA PRIDE FESTIVAL

June 23–July 2, Victoria

victoriapridesociety.org

A full schedule of events, the majority of which are free, includes the popular Pride Parade on June 26. A new route (winding from Vic West across the Johnson Street Bridge) and festival layout at MacDonald Park in James Bay will give a new sheen to this enduring — and increasingly popular — event.

TD VICTORIA INTERNATIONAL JAZZ FESTIVAL

June 24–July 3, Victoria

jazzvictoria.ca

Producers of the 39th annual Jazzfest are staging events in Esquimalt for the first time ever this year, evidence that the longest-running multi-day festival on Vancouver Island is still finding new ways to pique interest. A whopping 10 days of concerts are on the books, including performances by Gregory Porter, Lisa Fischer, Gogo Penguin and the Brubeck Brothers Quartet.

LAKETOWN SHAKEDOWN

June 30–July 2, Lake Cowichan

laketownshakedown.com

Buzz over headliners Wu-Tang Clan has been loud in recent weeks, pointing to big attendance numbers for Laketown Shakedown, held over the summer’s first long weekend. Expect sets by Arkells, the Glorious Sons, Sugar Ray and Everlast of House of Pain (replacing Big Boi from OutKast) to be boisterous — befitting a shakedown held on a 250-acre private site.

VICTORIA’S CANADA DAY

July 1, Victoria

canadadayvictoria.ca

Main Stage performers for the city’s first official Canada Day celebration in three years have yet to be announced, but there’s a lot  to like about what has been confirmed, including a performance by the Lekwungen Traditional Dancers. Though it was in doubt at one point, the event will include a dazzling fireworks finale.

VANCOUVER ISLAND MUSIC FESTIVAL

July 8-10, Courtenay

islandmusicfest.com

A true gem of Vancouver Island festival culture, Musicfest has a multitude of things in its favour, including the picturesque Comox Valley Exhibition Grounds, near the Tsolum River. The music is always top-tier, and sets this year from Femi Kuti, Taj Mahal and John Boutté mark the festival’s return to full strength in soulful style.

PHILLIPS BACKYARD CONCERT SERIES

July 9-10/Aug. 13-14, Victoria

phillipsbackyard.com

The final two installments of the first new series at Phillips Brewing (which got underway in May) in years will bring thousands back to the much-loved site, with sets over a one-month period headlined by Half Moon Run, The Beaches and Snotty Nose Rez Kids (July 9-10) and Charlotte Day Wilson, Sampa the Great and St. Paul and the Broken Bones (Aug. 13-14).

NORTHWEST DEUCE DAYS

July 14-17, Victoria

tourismvictoria.com

Though this hugely popular event is under new stewardship, interest in what is billed as the world’s largest assembly of “Deuces” — a term used to describe hot rods produced in 1932 — has only continued to grow. Need proof? Registration for the 10th edition, which is capped at 1,200 cars, hit capacity months ago.

TD ART GALLERY PAINT-IN

July 16, Victoria

aggv.ca

Upwards of 150 local artists will be showcasing their work at the 33rd annual TD Art Gallery Paint-In, which starts at the Art Gallery of Greater Victoria (1040 Moss St.) and fans out from there. Launched in 1987, the event has become one of the biggest and best-loved summer attractions for locals and tourists alike.

LAKETOWN ROCK

July 22-23, Lake Cowichan

laketownranch.com

John Fogerty, Tom Cochrane and Red Rider, Keb’ Mo’, Big Sugar, and more lead the way at Laketown Rock, a two-day rock showcase expected to draw between 5,000 and 10,000 people to the grounds of Laketown Ranch. The site will hit a fever pitch the weekend after this event (for Sunfest), but classic rock fans will find plenty of reasons to party here.

SPLASH AROUND TOWN: SYMPHONY IN THE SUMMER

July 22–31, Victoria

victoriasymphony.ca

The former one-day Symphony Splash has been replaced by a 10-day festival, with programming that covers a range of styles and venues. Steven Page of Barenaked Ladies — who performs July 31 with the full Victoria Symphony on the legislature lawn — leads a program that includes ticketed performances at the Royal Theatre and Christ Church Cathedral and freebies in Beacon Hill Park.

SUNFEST COUNTRY MUSIC FESTIVAL

July 28-July 31, Lake Cowichan

sunfestconcerts.com

Four days of music programming is a commitment, but many who attend the party that is Sunfest jump on board at the first available opportunity. This country-music staple has plenty to celebrate, from an on-site zipline to appearances by Billy Currington (July 29) and Hootie and the Blowfish’s Darius Rucker (July 30).

VICTORIA FRINGE FESTIVAL

Aug. 24–Sept. 4, Victoria

intrepidtheatre.com

The second-oldest event of its kind in Canada took a break in 2020 and returned last year with a hybrid model rolled out over a six-week period. Good news for fans of the original format: The Fringe is back to exclusively in-person performances in 2022, which means 26 shows at multiple venues populating the downtown core.

SAANICH FAIR

Sept. 3-5, Victoria

saanichfair.ca

Saanichton will host the 154th edition of this durable event over Labour Day weekend, its home since 1868. That’s a remarkable feat, but its longevity is well-earned. After a scaled-down 2021 edition, Western Canada’s oldest agricultural fair returns to normal this year, with 50,000 attendees expected to take in the event.

RIFFLANDIA

Sept. 15-18, Victoria

rifflandia.com

The city’s most widely marketable music festival is back in a big way, for the first time since 2018. Fans have clearly been waiting, as the first wave of tickets sold out in a matter of weeks — a full four months before showtime. Let that be a lesson to last-minute purchasers who want to partake. Buy now, or cry later.

And there’s more

  • RENDEZ-VOUS June 21-Aug. 18 rendezvousvictoria.com
  • TOFINO JAZZ FESTIVAL June 23-26 tofinojazzfestival.com
  • FERNFEST June 24–25 fernwoodnrg.ca
  • BUTCHART GARDENS SUMMER ENTERTAINMENT July 1-Sept. 3 butchartgardens.com
  • NANAIMO MARINE FESTIVAL July 1-31 bathtubbing.com
  • RED ARROW SUMMER CONCERT SERIES (Duncan) July 1 redarrowbeer.ca
  • ONE LOVE FESTIVAL (Ladysmith) July 2 1lovefestival.ca
  • SKAMPEDE July 6–10 skam.ca/skampede
  • EVENTIDE MUSIC SERIES July 6, 13, 20, 27 eventidevictoria.com
  • LANGFORD BEER FESTIVAL July 16 victoriabeersociety.com
  • PARKSVILLE BEACH FESTIVAL July 14-17 parksvillebeachfest.ca
  • DENMAN ISLAND READERS AND WRITERS FESTIVAL July 15-17 denmanislandwritersfestival.com
  • CHEMAINUS BLUEGRASS FESTIVAL July 16 chemainusbluegrass.com
  • FLAMENCO FESTIVAL July 16–24 victoriaflamencofestival.com
  • SOOKE FINE ARTS SHOW July 22–Aug. 1 sookefinearts.com
  • ISLANDS FOLK FESTIVAL July 23 islandsfolkfestival.ca
  • MUSIC BY THE SEA July 23-30, August 1-5 musicbythesea.ca
  • HORNBY FESTIVAL July 28-Aug.6 hornbyfest.com
  • FILBERG FESTIVAL July 29-31 filbergfestival.com
  • WONDERMENT July 29–Aug 1 wonderment.ca
  • COOMBS BLUEGRASS FESTIVAL July 29-31 coombsbluegrass.org
  • EATS AND BEATS July 30 colwood.ca
  • FIVE ACRE CO. SUMMER CONCERT SERIES (Port Alberni) Aug. 5-7 fiveacre.ca
  • VANCOUVER ISLAND MARKET SUMMER BLOCK PARTY (Nanaimo) Aug. 6-7 vancouverislandmarket.com
  • VICTORIA LATIN FESTIVAL Aug. 6 vvlf.ca
  • VICTORIA BICYCLE MUSIC FESTIVAL Aug. 7 vicbikemusicfest.ca
  • FESTIVAL MEXICANO Aug. 8 victoriamexicancanadian.ca
  • SUMMERTIME BLUES FESTIVAL (Nanaimo) Aug. 11-14 nanaimoblues.ca
  • NANAIMO FRINGE Aug. 11-21 nanaimofringe.com
  • FREE-B FILM FESTIVAL Aug. 12-13, 19-20, 26-27 victoriafilmfestival.com
  • EAST WEST MURAL FEST Aug. 15–28 ecah.ca
  • CUMBERLAND WILD Aug. 20-21 cumberlandwild.com
  • HARBOUR BLUES ‘N ROOTS FESTIVAL Aug. 25–28 jazzvictoria.ca
  • OUT THERE ART FESTIVAL Sept. 2–5 alterarts.ca/festival
  • VANCOUVER ISLAND INTERNATIONAL DRAGON BOAT FESTIVAL Aug. 6-7 fgpaddle.com
  • VICTORIA LATIN FEST Aug. 6 vvlf.ca
  • VICTORIA DRAGON BOAT FESTIVAL Aug. 12–14 victoriadragonboatfestival.com
  • VICTORIA CLASSIC BOAT FESTIVAL Sept. 2-4 mmbc.bc.ca
  • ONE WAVE GATHERING Sept. 3–25 pacificpeoplespartnership.org
  • PERSEVERANCE FOLK FESTIVAL Sept. 3 (Cumberland) cumberlandmuseum.ca
  • ESQUIMALT RIBFEST Sept. 9-11 esquimaltribfest.com
  • GREAT CANADIAN BEER FESTIVAL Sept. 9-10 victoriabeersociety.com
  • BREWERY AND THE BEAST Sept. 25 breweryandthebeast.com
  • VICTORIA FESTIVAL OF AUTHORS Sept. 28-Oct. 2 victoriafestivalofauthors.ca/