Islands Folk Festival caters to grown-up fans and their kids

What: Islands Folk Festival
Where: Providence Farm, Duncan
When: July 20, 21, 22
Admission: $20 and up (for passes/tickets see islandsfolkfestival.ca)

At 34 years, one of the longest-running festivals in the province, the Islands Folk Festival, is old enough that some people who attended as kids are now bringing children of their own. That’s why artistic director Kelly Nakatsuka has to strike a fine balance between maintaining the festival that people love and bringing in fresh new acts that attract younger audiences.

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In his second year in the role, the former CBC radio host said the diverse lineup set to descend on Duncan’s Providence Farm this weekend has something for everyone.

“This is a festival that has a really dedicated fan base who come every year,” Nakatsuka said. “The artistic lineup got younger last year, and I stuck with that this year in bringing in a good chunk of younger artists with the aim of bringing the demographic age down a bit.”

Performing this year is Winnipeg-based singer/songwriter Alexa Dirks, a.k.a. Begonia, best known for her role in Juno Award-winning harmony group Chic Gamine. Her solo career is turning heads as her jazz vocals carry a serious Adele-inspired punch.

Canadian folk legend James Keelaghan, often called the poet laureate of the folk-music world, will also perform.

Jeremy Fisher will provide something for the kids, with songs from his new children’s album Highway To Spell. He’ll also perform a set for the adults with the greatest hits from his decades-long, award-winning career.

First Nations performers Leela Gilday, Logan Staats — the first artist to win CTV’s music competition series The Launch — Leonard Summer, and world champion hoop dancer Alex Wells will round out the festival, which is held on Cowichan Tribes territory.

“A real commitment for me is to highlight the amazing array of First Nations artists here in the country and beyond,” Nakatsuka said. “I'm looking to increase our co-operation and interactivity with Cowichan Tribes. We very much want the festival to be part of the reconciliation conversation.”

Other acts include Jon Brooks, Martin Kerr and local folk hero Paul Ruszel, Aerialists, the Sweet Lowdown, the Unfaithful Servants and, from Sweden, the eclectic quartet Frander. For country fans, Matt Patershuk brings an old-time authentic sound. Award-winning boogie-woogie bluesman Alan Gerber is set to play, as is former Islander Leeroy Stagger.

The festival is family-friendly and features a Sparkle Zone that includes arts, activities and games for kids. Younger festivalgoers are also treated to up-close and personal live music performances on the tiny Sparkle Zone Stage.

Last year, the festival attracted 1,500 people and Nakatsuka hopes to match or exceed that this year. The Islands Folk Festival is a community-driven event made possible by hundreds of volunteers mostly from around the Cowichan Valley, he said.

Many people are expected to camp or set up RVs and trailers on the property. “It will be a forest speckled with Gore-Tex and nylon,” Nakatsuka quipped.

For tickets and information visit islandsfolkfestival.ca.

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