The tide is forever shifting when it comes to summer music festivals on Vancouver Island, with plenty of schedule alterations, lineup changes and festival inaugurations and cancellations each year.
The upcoming run of Island festivals offers more of the same. VIC Fest, for example, drops back to one day from two on June 14, while the Phillips Backyard Weekender (July 25-27) jumps to three days from two — the same course undertaken by Rock the Shores, which begins its expanded three-day run on July 11.
The Resonance Festival, an electronic music event held in the woods of Cowichan, is scrapping its 2014 edition entirely. The Victoria Electronic Music Festival, which was expected to return after its 2013 postponement, appears to have gone dark for good, as well.
In spite of the changes and tweaks, there’s no shortage of sights to see and sounds to hear. In fact, the upcoming season marks what could be the biggest, broadest festival year in Vancouver Island history. Fans will need to be on their toes as festival overlap is rampant; the weekend of Aug. 1, for instance, is a blitzkrieg of offerings, with a half-dozen must-see events on tap.
The downside of having so many entertainment options is that some will thrive and some will falter, no matter the quality of offerings. Which is a shame.
That said, there is something for everyone. The decision is yours. Choose wisely.
1. VIC FEST
June 14, Victoria
The Vancouver Island Cultural Festival enters its fourth year the same way it did its first two editions: As a one-day event. Though it reduced its run-time from 2013, the offerings at this gem of a downtown festival — from sets on two stages by Said the Whale, Bear Mountain and Towers and Trees, to beer and wine sampling and songwriting workshops — are no less impressive.
2. TD VICTORIA INTERNATIONAL JAZZ FESTIVAL
June 20-29, Victoria
The details of the city’s annual jazz festival — Jazzfest to you and yours — are remarkable, indeed. Nine stages. More than 320 musicians. And a total of 85 performances. Good? Throw in sets by everyone from Bobby (Don’t Worry Be Happy) McFerrin and Cassandra Wilson to Maceo Parker and Wilco’s Nels Cline, and what you’ve got qualifies as great.
3. TALL TREE MUSIC FESTIVAL
June 27-29, Port Renfrew
Despite the remoteness of its Port Renfrew location, Tall Tree has defied the odds and become one of the most talked-about summer events around these parts. Heading up an otherwise uninhabited mountain to watch three days of music from the likes of Dan Mangan, the Dudes, Jon and Roy, the Matinee, Head of the Herd and Lindi Ortega is part of the fun of attending Tall Tree. Add a picturesque setting, and you’ve got a weekend to remember.
4. VICTORIA SKA FEST
July 1-5, Victoria
Barrington Levy, Shaggy, Fishbone, Lynval Golding of the Specials, the Aggrolites — if what you want from a festival is quality ska, reggae and rocksteady, there’s no other place to look than the annual Victoria Ska Festival. Now in its 15th year, this multi-venue monster (which employs four indoor/outdoor venues) is primed to make the days following Canada Day ones to remember.
5. VANCOUVER ISLAND MUSIC FESTIVAL
July 11-13, Courtenay
Courtenay’s biggest yearly event remains the gold standard where Island roots festivals are concerned. Bonnie Raitt, the Mavericks, Blind Boys of Alabama, Angelique Kidjo and the Lowrider Band (a WAR offshoot) are among the acts set to take various stages spread throughout the wooded site. You’d be wise to act fast: Day passes are the only option available at present, and they’ll be gone soon.
6. ROCK THE SHORES
July 11-13, Langford
Rock the Shores succeeded in getting bigger and better, with more variety, for its third edition, which continues the steady growth the Colwood event enjoyed during its first two editions. Now at three days, the rock festival is expect to draw more than 30,000 fans this summer, thanks to headliners including Billy Talent, Our Lady Peace, Tom Cochrane, Loverboy, the Wallflowers, Current Swell, the Cult and more.
7. VICTORIA INTERNATIONAL BUSKERS FESTIVAL
July 18-27, Victoria
British Columbia’s largest street performers’ festival attracts buskers from across Canada, Europe, Sweden, Australia, South America and the U.S., so the scope is massive. And with stages spread throughout downtown Victoria, including one on the grounds of the Royal B.C. Museum, its breadth is impressive, too. You’ll find everything from jugglers and circus performers to singers and comedians at the Buskers Festival.
8. ISLANDS FOLK FESTIVAL
July 18-20, Duncan
It’s crazy to think that what began as a folksy, small-scale event staged on the grounds of Providence Farm is now celebrating its 30th anniversary, but that is a testament to the brains behind this excellent event, which always books an interesting lineup. Spirit of the West, Alpha Yaya Diallo, Murray McLauchlan, Daniel Lapp and David Gogo lead the list of performers, which includes international and local artists.
9. PHILLIPS BACKYARD WEEKENDER
July 25-27, Victoria
Last year’s edition, which drew 4,000 fans over two days for sets by the Cat Empire, De La Soul, the Dirty Heads and more, was a trial run to see if the city could use another outdoor festival. Indeed it could. The Phillips Backyard Weekender is primed for its three-day with an expanded daily site capacity of 3,000 and a lineup bolstered by the likes of the Original Wailers, Holy F---, Charles Bradley, Shad, the Budos Band and Jay Malinowski and the Deadcoast.
10. ROCK OF THE WOODS MUSIC FESTIVAL
July 25-27, Cowichan
The fourth edition of this Cowichan Valley event, hosted at the Rock of the Woods Ranch near Duncan, is taking a step forward talent-wise in 2014. Georgia rapper Bubba Sparxxx, Vancouver/Portland indie rockers Wake Owl, Vancouver garage-punk duo the Pack A.D., and Washington state electronic artist Robert DeLong are the big draws this year, though the festival’s bigger artistic budget doesn’t come at the expense of the festival’s green-friendly mandate. The thinking is still small-scale at Rock of the Woods.
11. SUNFEST COUNTRY MUSIC FESTIVAL
July 31-Aug. 3, Duncan
You won’t find a better country music festival in this province than Sunfest, the Duncan-based hootenanny. Consistently increasing its scope, Sunfest is gunning for the big time this year with Tim McGraw, Jake Owen, George Canyon, Dean Brody, Aaron Pritchett and more. Country music is the biggest genre in North America, in terms of concert sales, so don’t expect anything less than a sun-filled good time when these stars step on stage.
12. VICTORIA FRINGE THEATRE FESTIVAL
Aug. 21-31, Victoria
For more than a quarter-century, Intrepid Theatre has brought the best in alternative comedy and theatre to town both with an eye on quality and a nose for fair-priced entertainment. There’s a subversive nature to the unjuried artists who present at the Fringe, but with 300 performances over 11 days at 11 venues, you’re bound to find some comedy, drama, dance or spoken word that suits your fancy.
13. VANCOUVER ISLAND BLUES BASH
Aug. 30-Sept. 1, Victoria
This longtime Labour Day weekend standout has history on its side. With a built-in audience of followers, a healthy contingent of blues fans make the pilgrimage to the Inner Harbour stage each year to sample what the Victoria Jazz Society has on offer. Often, the lineup is something to behold, and while this year’s roster will not be announced until mid-July, expect a gathering of acts from home and abroad.
Sept. 11-14, Victoria
There’s nothing to report just yet, but the organizers of what is arguably Victoria’s best festival will no doubt come up with an announcement of note very soon. The festival’s seventh instalment is facing some pressure, what with the sound issues at Royal Athletic Park that resulted in community complaints as far away as Oak Bay in 2013. No matter. Plans are in place, we have been told, that will satisfy everyone — no one more important than Rifflandia’s legion of longtime supporters.
The Best of the Rest:
SOOKE RIVER BLUEGRASS FESTIVAL
June 13-15, Sooke
Beloved annual Sooke River Campground event featuring bluegrass acts from across Canada.
CULTURAL AND ARTS FESTIVAL OF INDIA
June 28-29, Victoria
A two-day celebration of Indian food, music and dance held at the Victoria Hindu temple.
VICTORIA PRIDE FESTIVAL
June 29-July 6, Victoria
Everything from karaoke contests and the annual Pride parade to the Mr. & Ms. Gay Vancouver Island Pageant are on tap.
VICTORIA CANADA DAY
July 1, Victoria
A day-long celebration of activities and concerts (Jon and Roy, Towers and Trees, etc.) culminating with a fireworks display.
July 12-13, Victoria
Military drumming and piping top the program at this popular Save-on-Foods Memorial Centre event.
July 12-14, Victoria
A celebration of Mexican-Canadian culture highlighted by free Centennial Square concerts.
VICTORIA INTERNATIONAL ACCORDION FESTIVAL
July 18-20, Victoria
Artists from Russia and China, along with a selection of locals in competition, are on-deck for this eighth annual event.
TD ART GALLERY PAINT-IN
July 19, Victoria
A whopping 180 artists will showcase their work along Moss Street for this ever-growing walkabout event.
TASTE FESTIVAL OF FOOD AND WINE
July 24-27, Victoria
A wine festival and culinary experience rolled into one, with plenty of Vancouver Island wines being showcased.
CHEMAINUS BLUEGRASS FESTIVAL
July 26-27, Chemainus
Camp on site and jam into the wee hours at this festival headlined by bluegrass acts from B.C. and San Francisco.
COLWOOD ROTARY ART AND WINE FESTIVAL
July 27, Colwood
Fort Rodd Hill and Fisgard Lighthouse are the backdrop for this third annual Colwood Rotary Club fundraiser.
July 31-Aug. 9, Hornby Island
Incorporating venues across this winsome Gulf Island, you’ll find everything from classical to Latin music at this hidden gem.
COOMBS BLUEGRASS FESTIVAL
July 31-Aug. 3, Coombs
Four days of bluegrass and bonhomie have kept this diamond in the rough going strong for 36 colourful years.
VICTORIA TANGO AND LATIN ARTS FESTIVAL
July 31-Aug. 3, Victoria
The Alix Goolden Hall and Hermann’s Jazz Club will host sizzling acts from Argentina, San Francisco, Montreal and elsewhere.
Aug. 1-4, Comox
The largest juried arts and crafts festival in Western Canada also has music, including the Kerplunks, David Gogo and Daniel Wesley.
Aug. 2-3, Victoria
Freeride mountain bike riders launching themselves off an Inner Harbour ramp, in concert with food, beer and music? Win-win.
VICTORIA SYMPHONY SPLASH
Aug. 3, Victoria
Tens of thousands of people, the Victoria Symphony and fireworks. That’s this well-attended annual event in a nutshell.
Aug. 11-17, Victoria
Flamenco music and dance will fill Centennial Square at this second annual event, which includes free lunch-hour performances.
Aug. 15-17, Courtenay
A lineup of 35 acts, including A Tribe Called Red, Chali 2na, and Tanya Tagaq, ignite this inaugural Camp Gilwell event.
CANADA DRY VICTORIA DRAGON BOAT FESTIVAL
Aug. 15-17, Victoria
The dragon boat races through the Inner Harbour are only part of this 20th annual festival. Music, food and beer add to the atmosphere.
ROMP! FESTIVAL OF INDEPENDENT DANCE
Aug. 19-23, Victoria
Suddenly Dance has yet to reveal the program for its 16th annual festival of independent dance, but you can count on it being a thrill ride.
Aug. 22-24, Nanaimo
Maffeo Sutton Park will be home to 18 blues acts over three days, including Bill Johnson, Harpdog Brown, Jim Byrnes and Canned Heat.
OTALITH MUSIC FESTIVAL
Aug. 22-23, Ucluelet/Tofino
Hosted in both Tofino and Ucluelet, Otalith welcomes during its second year acts ranging from Bright Light Social Hour to Shred Kelly.
Aug. 22-24, Aug. 29-Sept. 1, Victoria
Two action-packed weekends of Greek food and entertainment that annually push the parking lot of Commonwealth Place to capacity.
GREAT CANADIAN BEER FESTIVAL
Sept. 5-6, Victoria
“Lots of happy punters” is how the organizers behind this massively popular craft beer event describe Beerfest. Couldn’t have said it better.
VICTORIA INTERNATIONAL CHALK ART FESTIVAL
Sept. 13-14, Victoria
Tourists love seeing chalk art on display across various locales during this festival, dubbed the biggest of its kind in Canada.
BREWERY AND THE BEAST
Sept. 21, Victoria
Beer, meat and music: Therein lies the gist of this wildly popular — read: already sold-out — annual outdoor event.