On the Edge of the World Music Festival

  • Jul. 27, 2005 4:00 p.m.

Submitted by Pat Carrie Smith, Festival Director
What is a music festival? I don’t remember what my impressions were prior to taking on the organization of our annual island music festival. But I think that I would have said things like summer, musicians playing outdoors, people sitting around on grass in the sun, little children running around, and the smell of hot dogs. I would also have remembered my indelible memory of a bluegrass festival that I attended years ago: a swollen, brown river just below the rough, partly-treed grounds we were gathered on, a barn with hay stacked in the loft, people in overalls, fiddles being played like I’ve never heard before or since.
Behind the scenes, the amount of work required to organize and stage a music festival is countless hours of dedication. But no matter how much planning has been done and how much experience has been applied, things happen. Alternate Plans B and C often have to be put in place.
In July, our Haida Gwaii festival had monsoon-style rains such as have not been seen here in recent memory. It rained and rained, then it rained harder, then it rained even harder, and so on for almost two hours. The pathway at the entrance was a river, mid-calf high. We struggled to construct a makeshift ramp and bridge over it with pallets and boards. The entire centre of the field was a huge lake. And the music went on. Those under the main tent were mostly oblivious. For others, two changes of jeans were required during the afternoon, since going from one place to another on the grounds resulted in very wet clothes. Then the rain stopped, and the field was transformed into what could have passed as a lake on a Saturday afternoon with children wading and playing with floating things on the water. Within a couple of hours, it was gone.
The weekend musical experience was intense, from classical string music to hard rock and rap, with a lot in between. Backstage, and in every corner of the grounds, intense activity was in evidence, keeping events moving on schedule. Dancing in rubber boots was also an unforgettable experience. As darkness fell around midnight, we all gathered in a huge circle and watched a fire-spinning group dance and twirl burning poles in their hands, creating magical circles of light. Much later some of us crawled off to our beds in tents or campers, and others went off to jam sessions, which lasted until well after daylight. Just a few hours after that, we were up to start all over again.
This went on from Friday evening to late Sunday afternoon, opening and finishing with Haida songs and dances. On Friday evening, we celebrated our 30-year history with a “roots session” which brought together musicians from the early years to play together after many years of separation. We had over a thousand people present that evening, the music was enveloping and entrancing, and everyone sensed a positive energy. Those impressions stayed with us through the other days of the festival.
I was asked by the artistic director, as we stood at the microphones in front of the audience on Sunday afternoon, whether I would come back to be the director next year. I replied that he would have to ask me again later! I still don’t know the answer.
I would like to thank every coordinator and every volunteer who gave so much, in spite of the weather, to make this year’s festival the success that it was! Thank you, Howa!

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