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Garden City Grooves expands its artistic footprint this weekend

Oakland, California's Will Magid and Balkan Bump are among the headliners at this year's Garden City Grooves festival. HANDOUT


Featuring: Balkan Bump, Slynk, The New Groovement, Monkeydragon and more

Where: White Eagle Polish Hall (90 Dock St.)

When: Thursday, Feb. 23 through Saturday, Feb. 25


Garden City Grooves will always be associated with a strain of music that is rooted in rhythm. That foundation of soul and funk music will always be part of its DNA, according to producer Dane Roberts, even if the multi-day event moves in more expansive directions for future editions.

“We had some good traction last year, which was diverse in terms of the type of acts we programmed,” Roberts said. “I went with the overall spirit of Garden City Grooves, but mixed in more electronica.”

Capacity restrictions for live events were lifted just in time for the 2022 edition, which was one of the first Victoria festivals to return following two years of unpredictability. The break gave Roberts the chance to reflect and retool, and heading into its ninth edition he’s making only minor artistic adjustments, not major ones.

Nathan Ambrose and Reuven Sussman co-founded the event in 2013, motivated to do so by the music of Daptone Records, an independent funk and soul record label based in Brooklyn, New York, that came into its own at the close of the 2000s.

The leading lights were Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings and Charles Bradley, who were untouchable artistically for the better part of 10 years. But when Jones (who died in 2016) and Bradley (who died in 2017) passed away less than a year apart from each other, the neo-soul genre seemed to lose some steam. As a result, Garden City Grooves went on hiatus in 2017.

Roberts and the Victoria B.C. Ska Society were brought on board as producers in 2018, as they had experience promoting soul music concerts in Victoria. “Daptone Records was the inspiration, when there was a huge excitement for that kind of music all over North America,” said Roberts, who founded the Victoria Ska & Reggae Festvial.

“But then Sharon Jones and Charles Bradley died. Soul music is always appreciated and will stand the test of time, but there wasn’t that much of a scene anymore.”

Garden City Grooves followed a similar soul-funk formula in 2018 and 2019, before shutting down in 2020, due to the arrival of COVID-19. The festival was digital-only in 2021 so Roberts waited to begin his artistic expansion until 2022, bringing in acts more electronic in nature, and some with a world music influence.

Roberts said the thinking was to reach more people “by being a bit more broad,” and the approach worked. Several shows were sold out.

Performers from both Canada and the U.S. will appear during three days of programming this week, including Balkan Bump, Slynk, The New Groovement, Johnnie 5 Brass Band, Kia Kadiri, and Monkeydragon, a new project from Adham Shaikh and Buckman Coe. All-ages and family-friendly events will be held at the White Eagle Polish Hall, a James Bay gem built in 1954 that Roberts said he returns to often for the sake of his dance-happy supporters.

Though some of the music at Garden City Grooves has changed over time, his mandate when it comes to the tone and feel of the festival has not. “It’s a beautiful banquet hall which has seating but gives people a lot of room to dance,” Roberts said.

“It’s really inviting for people who don’t want to go to a bar. I remember producing a Kobo Town show there [in 2017] and people in their 90s were at the hall. But I know if I put that act into a bar, those same people would not come. There’s a lot of people who prefer to see things in a hall. That really takes down the barrier for people who want to be in a different space. We think that’s important, and want to give families and youth an opportunity to come.”