The music community on Vancouver Island has undergone a seismic shift the past few years, with postponement or cancellation of some of the area’s biggest festivals, leaving the future of summer events in question.
Port Renfrew’s popular Tall Tree Music Festival was the first to go in 2017, followed by Ucluelet’s boutique but bountiful Otalith Festival and Lake Cowichan’s classic-rock festival Laketown Rock. The big blows were Colwood’s Rock the Shores and Victoria’s Rifflandia, both of which have been rumoured to return at some point, but passed on their 2019 editions. While fans wait for the dust to settle, other events have stepped in or stepped up.
The new Laketown Shakedown festival has emerged as likely the biggest replacement, with a rap and rock lineup set for Laketown Ranch in Lake Cowichan. It includes Snoop Dogg, Smash Mouth, and Incubus. The same site will host Sunfest, the province’s second-largest country music festival behind Merritt’s Rockin’ River Country Music Fest. Sunfest headliners Maren Morris — a Texas country-pop dynamo who won a Grammy Award in 2017 — and Georgia hitmaker Jason Aldean, whose songs have been streamed more than 600 million times on YouTube — add star power to what is an otherwise off year when it comes to star attractions.
That doesn’t mean we’re lacking in events that are worthy of your time. As with any summer season, you’ll need to map out in advance when and where you’ll want to be at various points, as many events will sell out. That becomes even more of a problem with the lack of offerings, making each event that much more appealing.
Vancouver Island certainly is not alone when it comes to its festival struggles. A recent story in the Toronto Star outlined the problems festival programmers in that city have in attracting top talent. The situation is made worse here in that we also live on an island, which makes travel more expensive. We will endure, but it will take the support of paying customers in order to do so.
TD VICTORIA INTERNATIONAL JAZZ FESTIVAL
June 21-June 30, Victoria
Now in its 36th year, the TD Victoria International Jazz Festival has officially been elevated to big-brother status among its peers. But with more than 300 musicians scheduled to appear this month on eight stages, Jazzfest is showing its still has energy to spare. Gregory Porter, Raul Midon, Laila Biali, Jesse Cook and Jacob Collier are the big names this year, but as with any Jazzfest edition, under-the-radar options also abound. Keep an eye out for the many free performances, where there are surprises aplenty.
June 28-30, Lake Cowichan
Things are streamlined at the 172-acre Laketown Ranch property this year, where rock is concerned. Gone from last year is the classic rock festival Laketown Rock as well as four smaller Laketown Shakedown installments. In their place is the three-day Laketown Shakedown, which is now the best rock festival on the Island. Snoop Dogg, Smash Mouth, Incubus, and Sublime with Rome are the star attractions. Thousands are expected to take in the entirety of what should become an annual summer highlight.
SPECTACULAR SUMMER EVENINGS AT BUTCHART GARDENS
June 29-Aug. 1, Victoria
Two months of nightly entertainment at Butchart Gardens (which is included with paid admission to the gardens) remains one of the best value-for-dollar deals going. The bigger shows this year (Los Texmaniacs and The Lone Star Amigos, July 10; Serena Ryder, July 25; and the Jim Cuddy Band, Aug. 15) will certainly push the park to capacity, so planning is a must. The entire calendar is full of surefire winners, from Pharis and Jason Romero (July 26) and Jim Byrnes (July 28) to The Waifs (Aug. 8).
VICTORIA PRIDE WEEK
June 30-July 7, Victoria
The 26th annual Victoria Pride Week is packed from top to bottom with activity, from the Memorial Dragball Game (July 1) to the ever-growing Pride Parade (July 7). Pride Week has become one of the most well-attended events in the city, if not the most vibrant. The Pride Parade is a must-see as tens of thousands of people march through the core of the city before arriving at the Technicolor party at MacDonald Park in James Bay. It’s a must.
VICTORIA CELEBRATES CANADA DAY
July 1, Victoria
The Coast Capital Savings Living Flag and a fireworks display set to canned music are certainly big attractions, but live music and dance performances at the legislature lawns are what a crowd, upwards of 30,000 people, come to see. The line-up has focused on local artists this year, with sets planned from Fortune Killers, Caleb Hart, Diamond Cafe, and Khanvict, among others, with Edmonton rockers Nêhiyawak closing out the event.
VANCOUVER ISLAND MUSIC FESTIVAL
July 12-14, Courtenay
This long-standing mid-Island gem sells out every year, and with a 2019 lineup that includes both Can-con favourites (Colin James, Tom Cochrane and Red Rider) and artists from abroad (Korea’s Black String, Africa’s BKO, India’s Amjad Ali Khan), latecomers will no doubt be scurrying for tickets once more. The good news is that some spectacular music is on tap, especially for fans of alternative-leaning country (Asleep at the Wheel) and Southern-inspired soul and rock (Muscle Shoals Allstars).
TD ART GALLERY PAINT-IN
July 20, Victoria
Works from nearly 200 local artists will line Moss Street for the enduring summer staple, which enters its 32nd year on July 20. The event gets underway at 10 a.m., but the pace is languid. No one ever seems to be in a hurry as they make their way through this Art Gallery of Greater Victoria showcase. A family-friendly beverage garden helps cool down patrons when the sun is out, adding even more upside to an already-incredible array of local artisans.
PHILLIPS BACKYARD WEEKENDER
July 26-28, Victoria
Programmers of this popular festival with an urban appeal went head first into hip-hop this year, with a few very interesting outliers. Danny Brown, Shad, K-Os, Merkules, and DJ Z-Trip represent the hip-hop nation, with everyone from Steel Pulse (reggae), Dirty Projectors (indie rock) and Yamantaka // Sonic Titan (experimental rock) representing the opposite end of the musical spectrum. The rear lot of Phillips Brewery is the place to be in late July.
ISLANDS FOLK FESTIVAL
July 26-28, Duncan
Few venues can compete with the natural beauty of Providence Farm, which is home to this quaint folk festival. Now in its 35th year, the Islands Folk Festival offers a typically varied line-up, with 2019 appearances from Ridley Bent, Pharis and Jason Romero, the Shuffle Demons, Carmanah, and the Jerry Cans. Free park-and-ride shuttle services from Duncan will ease traffic concerns on site, so fans have to focus only on enjoying themselves. That’s a win-win.
SUNFEST COUNTRY MUSIC FESTIVAL
Aug. 1-4, Lake Cowichan
The largest paid festival on Vancouver Island gets underway Aug. 1, but crowds will arrive en masse for the mainstage sets on the weekend. U.S. country stars are the big draw here, with Jason Aldean and Maren Morris leading the way, adding to an awe-inspiring resume of past headliners that includes Carrie Underwood, Eric Church, Tim McGraw, Keith Urban, Dierks Bentley, Little Big Town and Toby Keith.
VICTORIA SYMPHONY SPLASH
Aug. 4, Victoria
Music by the Victoria Symphony, which performs Tchaikovsky’s epic 1812 Overture from a floating barge, has filled the Inner Harbour with bombast each summer for the past 30 years. Expectations are that the event will draw another huge crowd — 40,000 people or so — and the night will be capped by a rousing fireworks display. Symphony Splash has become one of the beloved events in the area, in part because it’s free — but mostly because it’s incredible.
VICTORIA FRINGE FESTIVAL
Aug. 21-Sept. 1, Victoria
Theatre, comedy, dance, and spoken word are just a few of the forms that will be on display at the 33rd Victoria Fringe Festival, one of the oldest alternative theatre festivals in the country. The lineup has not yet been announced, but word has it fans can expect great things from UK artist Charles Adrian Gillott (in Dear Samantha), Florida’s Tymisha Harris (Josephine), and Montreal’s Erin Scott-Kafadar and Alexander Richardson (Into the Tango). Look for artists from across the globe when the schedule is released August 1.
The Best of the Rest
THE BREAKWATER BARGE SERIES
May 31-Sept. 6 (gvha.ca)
CAR FREE YYJ
June 16 (carfreeyyj.ca).
VICTORIA SKA AND REGGAE FESTIVAL
June 19-23 (victoriaskafest.ca).
June 21-22 (fernwoodnrg.ca).
VICTORIA INDIGENOUS CULTURAL FESTIVAL
June 21-23 (indigenousbc.com).
June 23 (fernwoodnrg.ca).
DOWNTOWN VICTORIA BUSKERS FESTIVAL
July 3-7 (victoriabuskers.ca).
EVENTIDE MUSIC SERIES
July 5-Aug. 23 (eventidevictoria.com).
July 12-14 (skam.ca).
CHEMAINUS BLUEGRASS FESTIVAL
July 13 (chemainusbluegrass.com).
July 13-14 (victoriamexicancanadian.org).
VICTORIA BICYCLE MUSIC FESTIVAL
July 21 (vicbikemusicfest.ca).
VICTORIA FLAMENCO FESTIVAL
July 25-28 (victoriaflamencofestival.com).
FREE-B FILM FESTIVAL
Aug. 2-31 (freebfilmfest.com).
Aug. 1-10 (hornbyfestival.com).
FILBERG FESTIVAL (Comox)
Aug. 2-5 (filbergfestival.com).
COOMBS BLUEGRASS FESTIVAL
Aug. 2-4 (hrco.org).
VICTORIA DRAGON BOAT FESTIVAL
Aug. 9-11 (victoriadragonboat.com).
FIVE ACRE SHAKER (Port Alberni)
Aug. 9-11 (fiveacre.ca).
Aug. 17-18 (cumberlandwild.com).
Aug. 17-18 (iccavictoria.com).
VANCOUVER ISLAND METAL FESTIVAL
Aug. 22-25 (vimetalfest.com).
SUMMERTIME BLUES FESTIVAL (Nanaimo)
Aug. 22-25 (nanaimobluesfestival.com).
VICTORIA CLASSIC BOAT FESTIVAL
Aug. 30-Sept. 1 (mmbc.bc.ca).
VANCOUVER ISLAND BLUES BASH
Aug. 31-Sept. 2 (jazzvictoria.ca/blues-bash).
ESQUIMALT RIB FEST
Sept. 6-8 (esquimaltribfest.com).
ONE WAVE GATHERING
Sept. 7-30 (pacificpeoplespartnership.org).
BREWERY AND THE BEAST
Sept. 22 (breweryandthebeast.com).