First timers, emerging artists, youthful exuberance - there is plenty new to celebrate at this year’s Vancouver Island MusicFest.
There are artists who are new to the festival. Some are new to the industry. And some are relatively new to the world.
All of them can be seen, along with a multitude of festival favourites, national, and international talent, as Black Press streams the entire 25 hours of programming, July 9-11.
“Poeple think the term ‘emerging artist’ means young, but that’s just not true,” said MusicFest executive producer Doug Cox. “There are so many people, from baby boomers on down, that decided later in life that they wanted to start performing, and there are a lot of them that are quite good. So ‘emerging’ doesn’t mean young, necessarily.”
Angel Forrest, while not new to the industry, is new to the Comox Valley. The Montreal blues singer ended up on Hornby Island throughout the entire pandemic, and was just nominated for a Juno Award - her first such nomination in her three-decade-long career.
“She’s sort of a Janis Joplin-type singer - just a powerhouse,” said Cox. “She’s new to the festival.”
Jeff Plankenhorn is another big name with newly local roots.
After 20 years in Austin, Texas, Plankenhorn recently moved to Campbell River. Cox is thrilled to have him at the festival.
“He has played the festival before as a side man, but this will be his first ‘feature’ performance. He is one of the finest musicians to come out of Austin.”
Some other festival first-timers include the Quadra folk roots band Willow - an all-female quartet; L∞PS, a duo out of Kamloops; and Kentucky Eileen, another group from the Interior.
“Kentucky Eileen are a phenomenal bluegrass band out of the Okanagan,” said Cox. “They will be playing with Dirt Road Opera, which is kind of a harmony-strong group, remi niscent to me of Crosby, Stills & Nash.”
Caley Watts, a young singer/songwriter from Bella Coola, will be performing as part of the Indigenous Showcase curated by Leonard Sumner.
“I really think she will be making some waves in the world, once people know about her. She’s pretty special,” said Cox.
A Comox Valley gem, Easy Street, will make their MusicFest debut. Annie Handley and Dave Devindisch are well-known local artists who traditionally spend the MusicFest weekend on the production side. In past years, Devindisch has been too busy as the monitor mixer at the Grierson Stage to get a chance to perform. Their jazzy takes on hits from the past 50 years, mixed with some fantastic original cuts, make for an entertaining show, wherever they play.
“We shot them out at 40 Knots Winery, and it was beautiful,” said Cox.
Another local duo performing is Sweet Santa Fe, who made their MusicFest debut in 2018.
“They are one of the best kept secret in some ways of the Comox Valley, in regards to musicians,” Cox said of Christine Baxter and Michael Rivero. “Michael’s musicianship is extraordinary as a Cuban guitar player, and their songwriting is really interesting. I’m really excited that they are part of the show.”
From the “young to this world” perspective, Parksville blues phenom, 14-year-old Liam Docherty will, in Cox’s words, “blow people’s minds.”
The self-proclaimed ‘red-headed blues boy’ has been performing publicly since the age of seven, recorded his debut CD at 13, and has shared the stage with such Canadian blues masters as David Gogo, Ken Hamm, and five-time Maple Blues Award winner for Piano Player of the Year, David Vest (who is also in the line-up this year).
“I can’t wait until people can actually see him in person,” said Cox. “He is part of the song circle segment that was recorded at the Tidemark Theatre (Campbell River). Getting up on a big stage like that in such a weird situation… having no audience, and seven cameras in your face, is not an easy thing to do, even for experienced artists. He did really well with it.”
Cox said Docherty’s talents are many.
“He’s not just a blues guitar player; he’s a great songwriter, and he’s playing pieces of music by people like Tommy Emmanuel, and Tony McManus, who are two of the finest players in the world, and he is just nailing it. He’s also a phenomenal Celtic guitar player. He blows me away; just a super talented kid.
“He’s not a show-biz kid. He’s a musician. That’s one of the things I really love about him. No one is pushing him into this. He’s just doing it because he really, really loves to play, and that’s pretty cool.”
The youthful talent is not limited to the front of the camera at the festival.
Doug’s son, 16-year-old Devon Cox, has been integral to the production of the online event, taking care of the bulk of the film editing.
“He has been a huge part of this,” said Doug. “Devon has saved our butts numerous times. Mike Sutcliffe has been doing the sound for the whole weekend and myself and Devon have been the main team for filming, along with Cresslynn (Brodhagen), our location manager. Mike and I are almost lining up to ask Devon questions at this point in time as we are going through the editing phase. We have problems and I tell you, he just knocks me out with his problem-solving ability; he is extraordinary, when it comes to anything with computers. Honestly, we couldn’t have done this weekend without him.”
So does Devon has a future as a festival producer?
“I think he’s too smart for that,” laughs Doug. “He’d actually be wasted as a festival producer. He has a lot more talent than that.”
Vancouver Island MusicFest - The Virtual Edition runs Friday, July 9, 7-11 p.m.; Saturday, July 10, noon-11 p.m.; and Sunday, June 11, noon-9 p.m.
For a fuull list of performers, go to islandmusicfest.com