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

Summertime On the Road

Getting there is twice the fun

Eugene Gratefeul Dead 1990

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

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