Musical Dim Sum: A Guide to Small-ish Music Festivals in BC and Washington

Originally appeared in Vancouver ObserverUncle Weed’s Dossier” column as “Musical Dim Sum:  A Guide to Small-ish Music Festivals in BC and Washington” on July 1st, 2010 with photos (uncredited with apologies as i mostly don’t have any idea who snapped them) along with this teaser:

I went searching for the small time concert gems with on-site camping and eclectic line-ups with a mix of the familiar and musical surprises. Here are the BC treats I found so load up the microbus and hit the road.

Summertime On the Road

Getting there is twice the fun

My fave thing to do come summertime is rolling out to a music festival for some tunes with friends at some splendid locale — letting loose on a grassy knoll and sleeping in tent after a few microbrews to the sound of a distant drum circle. Love it.

Lucky for all of us, BC is filled with funtimes in the summer including music fests. Maybe it’s the grey in the beard but this year, rather than the usual circuit of local civic fairs and folk fests, coupled with a couple trips to The Gorge in Washington for the big festivals, I’m widening my range in search of a few gems which will refresh my soul but still keep me employed by getting me back by Monday.

As such, I went searching for the smalltime treats including onsite camping and eclectic line-ups for a mix of the familiar and musical surprises.

Cascadian Fests Backgrounder

I’ve done my time on Grateful Dead tour starting with a life-changing weekend in Eugene, Oregon 20 years ago.

The author at WOMAD Seattle 2001(?)

In the 90s, along with heavy doses of loud shows at dingy bars, I caught plenty of outdoor concert parties including Garcia and Grisman at the top of Squaw Valley Blues Traveller in Telluride and Seabird Island for Midnight Oil during Clayoquot Summer.

Pre-9/11 (which thwarted any chance of visas for dissident poets and performers), my squad of renegades caught 4 years of Peter Gabriel’s stellar WOMAD fests in grassy lawns and canvas tents near Seattle to see the the finest world acts which brought both surprise and clarity from Polynesian Te’Vaka to Billy Bragg and Wilco playing the songs of Woody Guthrie.

Or we rolled over the Cascasdes to George for a bushel of multi-band gigs: HORDE, Further, Joni & Van & Dylan, Dave Matthews, KiSS, The Dead + the brothers Allman and Doobie. Good times but acres of chaos and commotion amongst the sublime views.

Baked bros at Phil Lesh

And yup, I’ve partied in the hot sun in Seattle for Bumbershoot with endless supply of top bands but lines and crowds to match and caught a Phil Lesh show on the 4th of July on the side of a ski hill — lovely scenery but access by crowded buses and then long drives to camp sites made it less appealing.

Certainly promoters in Pemberton and Squamish are bringing in big names (and decent ducats) but I’m off to find something a wee bit more chill ~ I guess you could say I’m seeking fewer folks at my fests.

Desired Characteristics

For this dossier, I sought out summer music fests with these requirements:

  1. Close-ish — Driveable from Vancouver on a Friday after work
  2. Thrifty — $100-ish will cover your weekend except for beer
  3. Chill — Enough people for a party but not a hectic crowd
  4. Camping — On-site tenting in natural envrions (bonus: lake)
  5. Eclectic — Mix of live music of high quality and interest

The good news, there are plenty to choose from ~ of course, i’ve missed plenty so drop a comment with your favourite.

Solid Selections

All of these fests boast enough familiar names to get you grooving plus lots of up-and-comers to discover:

Vancouver Island MusicFest (Courtney / Comox)

Web: Twitter: @VIMusicFest

Date: July 9, 10 Blurb: On-site yoga, 6 stages, art, beer, workshops, a “boogie zone” for dancing and a festival express shuttle make the ferry trip over even more worth it

Camping: Yes — too many rules to write so just read

Musically noteworthy: Plenty of old faves on the docket like Little Feat, Dan Hicks and the Hot Licks, David Lindley, Adrian Belew, Joan Osborne plus a newer country-tinged treat called Nathan (more)

Mission Folk Music Festival


Date: July 23, 24, 25

Blurb: Already into its second decade and close-in to Vancouver on the way to Harrison features some of the finest folk, world, roots, blues and other music from across Canada and elsewhere

Camping: On-site camping for $20 per adult for the weekend with pass

Musically noteworthy: I’m a fan of Te’vaka from Tuvalu and other Polynesian and Micronesian islands — and there are plenty more

Komasket Music Festival (Vernon)


Date: July 30, 31, Aug 1

Blurb: Camping in tipis and Bob Marley’s old band, plus craft vendors, workshops, kids area, swimming and camping in the Okanagan Lake — what’s not to like?

Camping: Tipis rentals and on-site camping available with weekend pass for $10 per person for the weekend. Note no dogs allowed but “Prizes for Most Creative Camp Site!!”

Musically noteworthy: A danceable mix including The Wailers, Alex Cuba, Dehli to Dublin, and mighty beatboxer Shamik (more)

Summer Meltdown (Darrington, Washington)


Date: Aug 6, 7, 8

Blurb: Cross the border and cruise the Cascades mountain to the shadow of White Horse mountain with vending, green village, on-site camping, and beer garden with 21+ micro brews

Camping: Tent camping included with ticket — no vehicles on site so you gotta haul in your gear though there is limited car camping

Musically noteworthy: Some familiar names ready to jam: The Presidents of the United States of America, 5 Alarm Funk, Mother Hips, Hot Buttered Rum, and (former Santana drummer) Michael Shreive’s Spellbinder (more)

Salmon Arm Roots and Blues

Web: Twitter: @rootsandblue

Date: Aug. 13, 14, 15 Blurb: A bit of a stretch from Vancouver but a big stage of solid acts along the Shuswap Lake with sandy beaches could make a perfect weekend

Camping: Limited camping for $75 for the weekend

Musical noteworthy: Looks like a Canada Day party with Gord Downie & the Country of Miracles, K’naan, Ohbijou, Shane Koyczan and The Short Story Long, Wassabi Collective are intriguing and a band called Old Man’s Beard must be good (more)

Outlier Wildcards

These don’t fit the requirements per se but worth noting for musical expeditions on street and lawns:

[Vampire Weekend love Phish — See them at Malkin Bowl — photo: KK]

Malkin Bowl at Stanley Park

Date: Throughout the summer Web:

Blurb: It’s like going to the woods to see a show but you are only a stroll from the West End so you can start with ramen on Denman before sitting on the lawn — either inside with a ticket or outside for free

Musically noteworthy: Can’t miss with any of Vampire Weekend, Flaming Lips, Swell Season with Black Francis, The National, K’Naan

Pacific Rim Arts Society Summer Festival 2010 (Tofino)

Date: July 1-15


Blurb: A variety of arts and culture events in the groovy village — pick a weekend with something you like to make your surf trip funner

Musically noteworthy: Virtuoso Russian accordionist, harp and steel duos, and modern versions of indigenous music make for a varied choice

Princeton Traditional Music


Date: Aug. 20, 21, 22

Blurb: It’s free (by donation) street fair with the streets closed down for concerts, plus panels and workshops from mining & railway songs and more plus spontaneous “mini jams and guerilla dances” in a small town 300 km from Vancouver.

Camping: Daily bus from Vancouver and camping close to site plus bed and breakfast and motels in town

Musically noteworthy: An extensive mix of early and traditional music

Further Afield

On the road

Have some time to disconnect and chill? Pack up the microbus and head to any of these exotic treasures:

Starbelly Jam Crawford Bay, July 16, 17, 18
Getting there is plenty of fun with a free ferry ride from Nelson to see Steve Kimock, Blackalicious and Chad VanGaalan near Creston on Kootenay Lake

Kispiox Festival July, 23, 24, 25
Down home style community music and arts festival waaaay up between Prince George and Prince Rupert near-ish Smithers and Terrace for rustic fun

Discovery Coast Music Festiva July 24 & 25
Family fun (read: no beers) with kids acts, along with the very adult Jim Byrnes, nestled in the heart of the Coast Mountains

Edge of the World Aug. 6, 7. 8
Seems like heaven up on Haidi Gwaii if you can get there to see Scatterheart rock out (twice) or Crabapple Creek Electric Jug Band go old-timey funny

Shambhala Music Festival Aug. 6, 7, 8, 9
They say, “Shambhala is a journey, an adventure, a life altering experience” So go hear mostly electronic music near Salmo and “just let loose and dance, dance, dance”

More Hi-jinks

Dead Vegas -- Are you on the bus or what?

So … are you on the bus or what? Good, i thought so.

Which gigs did i miss? Drop a comment and let me know where I’ll see you boogie-ing-down this summer.

Just look for the grey beard, shady visor and a big smile.

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