Hornby Festival keeps it fresh, familiar

What: Hornby Festival

When: July 31 to Aug. 9

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Where: Hornby Island, various locations

Tickets: Ticket prices for individual events vary between free and $48 depending on venue and age. Full information at hornbyfestival.bc.ca.


Those who have visited Hornby Island know that it’s a summer paradise. But for musicians with busy tour schedules, the two-ferry journey to get there can be a disincentive.

So it’s up to organizers of the 10-day Hornby Festival to lay on the charm.

“What we do is just roll out the red carpet,” said artistic director Deirdre Atkinson, who has led the festival for nine years.

“They have beautiful accommodations they stay in, we feed them really great food and we have one of the best sound techs in the country, Adrian Dolan.”

It seems to have worked. “Thousands” of musicians applied to participate this year.

“The word of mouth just starts to spread,” she said.

This year’s performers are Rose Cousins, André Laplante, the Enso String Quartet, Helen Austin, Norman Foote, De Temps Antan, Locarno, Chic Gamine, the Survivalists, the Sweet Lowdown, a family dance and a reading by author and CBC personality Grant Lawrence.

The community of about 1,000 has been welcoming artists since 1982. Atkinson said she has made an effort to keep classical music in the mix, since that’s where the festival’s roots lie. At the same time, expanding to roots, folk, soul and other forms has been a positive diversification.

“It’s just one of the wonderful things about our festival and what makes us unique. It’s multi-genre and multi-disciplinary. We just really embrace beautiful music,” Atkinson said.

Often, she said, it has resulted in crossover audiences.

Visitors who come for the classical music end up checking out performers in other genres and vice versa.

A few new festival segments added in recent years facilitate that crossover. Atkinson started “classical kids” as a way to introduce children to classical music.

“We were packed to the rafters with children who were squiggly and squirming and making noise,” she said.

She asked the musicians not to “dumb it down” with children’s songs, but instead to perform the same repertoire they would perform at a concert later in the evening.

She believes many kids left with the seed of a love for classical music.

A particularly popular event has been Art in Unusual Places, where each of the artists performs a short, free concert in an unusual venue. It might be along a trail, in front of the Co-op grocery store or even at the recycling depot.

“They travel to unusual places on our island and perform a short, acoustic set there,” she said. “They’ve become very, very popular and they’re free to the public.”

And new this year, Festival on the Radio will feature live performances and interviews with visiting artists on local radio station CHFR 96.5.

Unlike organizers of many other festivals, Atkinson intentionally avoids identifying any of the performers as “headliners.” She also only programs one concert at a time, with no overlap, so festival-goers have the opportunity to take it all in.

“We try to make each evening special,” she said.


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