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Islands Folk Festival celebrates 40 fabulous years in Cowichan

Get folked up with this year's Island Folk Festival featuring new additions such as contra dance and more group jamming

The Cowichan Folk Guild is thrilled to be celebrating four fabulous decades of bringing community together though music with their annual Islands Folk Festival, which will take place at Duncan's Providence Farm from July 19 to 21.

"It's amazing to have had it at Providence Farm for the last 40 years and we look forward to welcoming both returning and new festival-goers for a weekend of fantastic music, food, and camaraderie," said artistic director Jack Connolly. 

The three-day festival that was originally created by local musicians as a one-day fundraiser 40 years ago, boasts a big lineup of both local and worldwide talent including artists Jenny Allen and Newfoundland's Scott Parson who played the initial festival in 1984. 

"What we are doing with this year's lineup is that we are trying to elevate our local folk heroes," said Connolly. "We have people like Ed Peekeekoot who is an amazing storyteller and guitar picker who makes these incredible sound paintings with his guitar. We're also bringing back Eugene Smith who means a lot to so many people in Duncan. He is now 80, so we really wanted to give him another Duncan night where the lights come down, and the people there give him that roar."

Connolly said the guild is also excited to be welcoming back some folk hero veterans this years such as James Keelaghan who has gone on to become a writer of classic Canadian folk songs, and Valdy. Both have been lending their talents off and on to the event since its inception. 

"Valdy has an extensive history with this festival, and this year we are having him back with a band," said Connolly. "These guys are getting up there but it's so great that they are healthy and will be performing here again, having them back after all these years is really special."

Connolly said that this year the guild's lineup will also first time festival players such as Tai Williams and Murray Porter, who is an an Indigenous blues performer from Vancouver. 

"Murray has never played our festival before so the Indigenous community is very proud to have him come play here for the first time," said Connolly. "We also have a new band called Infinite Atom and they are a group of hippy kids who just rock and are just so excited to be playing this year's festival. Eileen McGann is another folk hero from around here, and when you hear her, her voice is just as clear as a bell, she's a folk genius."

Connolly said a few other not-to-miss acts include New Zealand’s Mel Parsons on Friday, Scotland’s Shooglenifty on Saturday who will be rocking out with their brand of fusion-dance-Celtic music, while Florida's Lee Boys who are part of the sacred seal gospel music tradition take audience members to church on both Friday night and Sunday morning.

"They just rock gospel music so hard," said Connolly. "It will be an hour and 15 minutes of balls to the wall gospel music on Sunday morning."

Other acts lending their talents to the three-day festival include Big Little Lions, Sacred Steel Summit Revue, Calvin Cooke, Firebird, Twin Embers, Clanna Morna, Claire Coupland, Shineolas, Hardly Handsome, From the Earth, Luke Wallace, King Cardiac, Richard Garvey, Marina Avros, Ghostly Hounds, Desmond Day, Dave Gallant, The Tzinquaw Dancers, and the Lila Community Choir. Depending on whether you choose to camp out for the weekend or drive up for the day tickets range in price. To view the full schedule and purchase tickets visit

The Islands Folk Festival is family friendly with its popular 'Kids Zone', and some of the acts doubling as children performers.

This festival is a special one for Connolly who also turns 40 this year, and is fondly remembered for first playing one of the guild's coffee house events at the tender age of 12, then three years later graduating to playing the Islands Folk Festival. Connolly feels much pride that he is now the artistic director for the long running festival that he's sharing a birthday with.

"A lot of the kids that have been involved with the 'Kid's Zone' over the years are now involved with organizing the festival," said Connolly. I've personally been coming to this festival since I was 15, and it feels incredible to now be involved with putting it on each year. You just never know how long something is going to last for in your life. This opportunity seems to rhyme with the rest of my life, and I am very happy that I have it, because I have played the festival over the years, to still be in involved in the capacity that I am feels like a really good moment in my life."

Along with the festival's five stages there will be a beverage garden, food and crafts, songwriting and storytelling workshops — plus new additions to help build community. The Cowichan Contra Dance Society will be leading a partnered dance on Saturday night, plus there will be plenty of opportunities to get your jam on.

"It's all about participating in music together which is part of the culture of a healthy music festival," said Connolly. "Messy and imperfectly, it doesn't matter, we want people to grab ahold of the music and go for that ride together. My hope is that people take away that experience of the music coming down from those high and famous places right down into our own hands, and into our own lives."

About the Author: Chadd Cawson

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