In anticipation of the first-ever Fraser Valley Music Awards, I sat down with FVMA Coordinator James Kasper to talk about the awards and the local music scene. As well as being a musician and a founder of Mighty Speck Records, Kasper started and organized the Vancouver Island Music Awards (VIMAs) for 11 years.
Thundering drums of protest echoed across the Superstore parking lot last month as over a dozen members of the Wild Salmon Defenders Alliance intercepted patrons with leaflets detailing their mission: to ban ocean-based salmon farming.
Nestled between lake and mountain 10 kilometres north of Agassiz, the sleepy village of Harrison Hot Springs provides a picturesque setting for more than a week of high-calibre world music every July.
Kicking off its 38th year Saturday, July 9, the Harrison Festival of the Arts occupies a unique position in a crowded field of southern BC summer music festivals. Besides the breathtaking setting, artistic director Andy Hillhouse says the mid-size event, spread out over nine days this year, cultivates a laid-back atmosphere with ample opportunity to absorb and reflect on the art you experience.
“It’s not like a gated festival where you go in for three days and you’ve got sensory overload,” he says. “But I love those festivals too, and they’re all important in their own way.”
Harrison’s mission to connect the local arts community with innovative and talented world music acts — rather than focusing on popular music — also sets it apart. This year’s program features a eclectic slate of musicians from contemporary Hawaiian performer Kaumakaiwa Kanaka’ole to Haitian hip-hop fusion artist Vox Sambou and Québecois traditional, rock, and electro combo Mélisande. The line up goes on and on in this manner, drawing on music from all corners of the globe with surprises at every turn.
As an ethnomusicologist, Hillhouse says he is especially capable of articulating this mandate and how it’s reflected in the program.
“You get a pretty good sense and understanding of the value of music in culture,” he says. Ethnomusicologists examine “how music is used in everything from ritual to concert performance to religion, everything.”
When it comes to the non-profit Harrison Festival of the Arts, Hillhouse looks to strike a balance between challenging global artists and those with a wider appeal.
“We try to draw a broad audience, but at the same time, you’re trying to educate people and expose people to new things, things which have a cultural value.”
A perfect example of this duality on this year’s line-up is Yemen Blues, a unique group that blends traditional Yemenite chants with “funky, African inspired music.” Hillhouse says that the band represents an intriguing cultural blend that translates into “very dancy, very upbeat festival music.”
One of the themes of this year’s program is “re-working tradition,” which returning festival-goers will find contrasts nicely with last year’s emphasis on traditional music passed down through generations.
“We had a musician here last year from Mali who, I don’t know how long his ancestors played for the kings. I knew of some artists who were digging into tradition, but they didn’t necessarily grow up with it. But they’re researching it and re-imagining the tradition in their own way. [This theme] allowed me to bring in some people I was interested in, like Jayme Stone’s Lomax Project.”
Fashioned by virtuoso banjoist Jayme Stone, the Lomax Project re-works many of the original folk recordings collected around the world by anthropologist Alan Lomax with the help of many collaborators from the folk music community.
Harrison’s marketing and administrative manager Bryan Cutler says that he enjoys watching themes emerge as Hillhouse ssembles the program.
“He takes a lot of input and he tours around to different festivals,” Cutler says. “And then he looks at it and he says, ‘here’s what I did here, and here’. Themes come out organically from his programming.”
While this is Cutler’s first year in his new role with the festival, he’s been working behind the scenes on the production side for nine years. That’s rooted his work in the festival’s history while allowing him to branch out in new ways.
“We’re trying to stick with what Ed and Phyllis [Stenson] started and developed, but we’re making slow changes here and there,” he says.
It’s important to maintain a sense of the festival’s identity and place in the Fraser Valley, according to Cutler.
“Where Harrison kind of fits is, we kind of strip it all back, and we go right back to the roots,” Cutler says.
Beyond watching performances, Cutler and Hillhouse have also been looking for to get people to participate.
“I’m always trying to think of ways where we don’t just present music or other forms of art, but we engage people, too,” Hillhouse says. This includes workshops, a literary café, and a daily market of artisan vendors peppering the waterfront.
Hosting a variety of performances and activities near the excellent cafés and restaurants of Harrison Hot Springs contributes to the relaxed and slow-paced vibe. Most days, visitors can take in free music on the beach each afternoon, or browse the market before migrating indoors for ticketed headline performances at the Harrison Memorial Hall.
“Children’s day is completely different,” Cutler says. “That’s sort of a nut-ball kind of day.”
Harrison Festival of the Arts runs July 9 to 17 in Harrison Hot Springs. You can find tickets online at harrisonfestival.com
Chilliwack’s Central Community Park is an open green space with a large depressed stone plaza at its centre. Paths branch out under archways and weave alongside trees and gardens. It was the perfect setting for this year’s Art Under the Umbrella, an annual event organized by the Chilliwack Community Arts Council.
Circumventing the plaza and the surrounding green space was a row of tents under which a variety of artists and arts vendors showcased their talents and wares. Acoustic guitar floated through the air, carried along by an unexpectedly strong wind. Soon a violinist occupied the opposite corner. Patrons wandered from booth to booth, admiring an eclectic array of art, from paintings, pottery, woodworking, wire art, glass blowing, and dance to farm goods, jewellery, soaps, and honey.
Several organizations had booths, such as the Chilliwack Cultural Centre, showcasing their upcoming children’s programs; as well, the Fraser Valley Arts Guild was present, showcasing the array of talent under their wing. For some artists, it was their first time presenting their work publicly.
“Our mission is to promote arts in the community; not just provide an opportunity for our artists to sell their artwork but to help patrons appreciate the work and the creativity that goes into the art,” said Patti Lawn, the executive director of the Chilliwack Community Arts Council.
Every artist and vendor was approachable, forthcoming, and friendly. There was a great deal to talk about with each artist, and they were more than willing to share their stories.
Chilliwack’s Education Centre — under the Chilliwack School board — had a booth setup displaying the art of up and coming high-school artists. Curated by Bonny Burgess, several of the young artists waited eagerly by the tent, ready to discuss their art. Their keenness and sincerity in their work was inspiring. They had works in a variety of mediums, coming from their school’s multi-media program, including paint, pencil, pastel, and photography.
“We were very happy with the event and the turnout in spite of the windy day!” Lawn said. “We guess-timated over 100 [visitors] during the course of the day.”
Although Art Under the Umbrella was designed to take on the Fraser Valley’s stereotypical rainy setting, it was not wholly prepared for the storm brewing over the northern mountains. Even from the early hours, tents lashed down with stone and water pails were beginning to move and tip, caught like kites in an unexpected gale.
The wind was unforgiving, in some cases blowing away works of art, knocking over tables, or even lifting away entire tents, lodging them in nearby trees.
However, this did not deter most artists. Many of them, with the help of some kind patrons, would go around assisting other fallen tents. Though by early afternoon, a few had no choice but to pack up.
Despite harrowingly windy conditions, Art Under the Umbrella was a joy, filled with the energy of young artists excitedly showcasing their work to the Fraser Valley. Storm or no, their art will persevere, and so will their energy.
“We will be back next year on June 10,” said Lawn. “We are adding an event the night before. Hopefully the word will spread and Art Under The Umbrella will be even bigger. Let’s hope there won’t be any wind, just sunny skies.”
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