Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Midsummer's Festivals

We live in the BC Rainforest. No doubt about it. A friend of mine told me he had lived here thirty years and never saw a summer so bad.

I've been hitting the summer music festivals in the Valley. First there was Smithers. That really is held on “midsummer's eve”. So of course I stayed up all night and sang songs with a select drunken few, including a scotsman from Terrace who insisted on singing this Stan Roger's song over and over again.

The old Kitimat Indian village, at the head of Douglas Inlet, is a beautiful setting for a music festival,. Thank god they didn't have camping and we stayed in a motel as it rained and rained. And you wonder why we don't have an outdoor music festival here in town. Let's face it, camping does not work well in Prince Rupert.

A certain musician I know insists that our town should have a proper covered bandstand like the one in Terrace. I don't know, Third Ave around city hall worked on Earth Hour. It would work even better with amplification. A festival can use a mix of indoor and outdoor venues. That's why the rodeo grounds in Smithers and Kispiox work so well.

Of the three music festivals I went to Kispiox outshone them all. Certainly the weather helped. But it was also the crowd. There was a wonderful mix of all ages: from babies to grandparents and a lot in between. And the feeling at Kispiox was relaxed and laid back. The perfect atmosphere for a music fest.

There were a good number of Rupertites at Kispiox. Three of our bands were playing: Mermaid Cafe, The Grifters, and Nonsuch. We all did well and got a good reception.

I love that song of the Grifters: “I'm not adapting well” It's kind of like what I feel at music festivals. So much music, so many people. Too many choices. I ended up turning in early and missing a fantastic late night drum circle with some real African drummers.

Smithers had the best jam sessions, both formal and impromptu. I especially enjoyed Skeena Skiffle, Ray Leonard's new band that features Cynthia Pyde, James Powell, as well as former Prince Rupert musician Paul "Ammo" Sametz.

One of the high points for me was the Akasha Belly Dancing Workshop at Kispiox. Krystyna Moss is a Belly Dance teacher in Terrace. She gave the workshop to a group of about thirty women. I was the only guy there, but I wasn't dancing. I got to play Middle Eastern drum beats on my “doumbek” That's an Arabic type of drum that's usually featured in Belly Dancing. I had a wonderful time. One of the great things about Belly Dancing is that a woman doesn't have to be shaped like a ballerina to do it well. Why can't Prince Rupert have Belly Dancing classes? Only in Terrace and Smithers, pity.

Now Prince Rupert has two great dance acadamies that are training a lot of good dancers. We host a provincial dance competition, but we're behind the other towns in this Valley in musical events.

My favourite concert at Smithers was the Valley Youth Fiddlers. It was a whole lot of kids from Smithers playing fiddles together, accompanied by an adult rhythm section. For them to play that well, required a lot of dedicated parents and teachers. Smithers has got a really well established support network for all kinds of musicians, and you can hear the result. It is impressive.

Kispiox, has got the atmosphere down though. Partly it's location, out in the country beside the Kispiox River, it just seems made for it. One of the organizers told me it takes six months out of the year to organize the festival. The volunteers at all the festivals made it all possible, setting everything up , cooking for the musicians, cleaning everything up.

By the time we played at Kispiox I was getting better at doing announcements and microphone patter between songs. I made a point of thanking the Skeena Watershed Conservation Coalition for all the work they've done in publicizing Royal Dutch Shell's proposed coalbed methane drilling in the Sacred Headwaters. They had set up booths in all three of the festivals this summer. Shannon Mcphail first brought this issue to my attention, and her organization has done an amazing job of getting this issue out in public view where it needs to be.

It's our water they're messin with. People all up and down this valley are deeply concerned about the risks to salmon and wildlife. We need to bring our concerns to the BC government and to Shell Oil. We have a lot in common with people from the other towns in the Skeena River Valley.

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