The fourteenth annual Bella Coola Music Festival was blessed with perfect weather, fabulous musical performances, and a wonderful array of attendees and artists. It all added up to one of the most successful Festival’s ever, and the community thoroughly enjoyed it all.
The weekend kicked off Saturday morning with performances by Helen Austin and her delightful family. Austin, an acclaimed singer/songwriter originally from the UK, performed with her daughter, Daisy, 15, and her son, Charlie, 11. “I never thought I would be so lucky to perform with my kids,” said Austin. “It’s my dream come true!”
Later in the afternoon local rockers Ak’eh took to the stage and, to the delight of the crowd, performed all original tunes. The attendees were also treated to the baritone-esque crooning of master storyteller Scott Cook and the sweet melodies of fabulous string quartet, the Fretless.
One of the most anticipated acts of the Festival included our very own local youth. Roland (Rollah) Mack, Elaina Pootlass, and Qla Hood were paired with the talented Anishinaabe singer/songwriter Leonard Sumner. Sumner, who has family ties to Bella Coola, spent two days mentoring the three performers prior to the Festival.
“It was a great experience to be in Bella Coola, and an honour to work with these talented youth,” said Sumner onstage. Mack and Pootlass performed two songs together, with Sumner and Hood joining them for the final debut. It was an excellent performance that captivated the crowd.
As the evening progressed The Steadies took to the stage and got everyone dancing with their infectious energy. A real crowd favourite, The Steadies are the creation of front man Earl Pereira, who was a part of the award-winning group Wide Mouth Mason. Pereira, who performed at the Festival with his former band, was thrilled to be back and had a great reception from the crowd.
Following The Steadies were the big-band sounds of Latin sensation Locarno. Fronted by Mexican-Canadian singer Tom Landa, Locarno combines the best of traditional Mexican folk with a ‘groove-heavy mix of Cuban Son and Latin Soul.’ Not only did Locarno enjoy performing in Bella Coola, but they were also treated with a trip to the petroglyphs by Nuxalkmc Lance Nelson, which left them in awe.
“Lance took us to the petroglyphs where he performed some traditional songs and told us Nuxalk stories,” said Landa. “It was an absolutely amazing experience. We are feeling very blessed.”
Wrapping up the Festival’s first day was legendary Six Nations rocker Derek Miller, and he did not disappoint. A huge crowd was on hand for the show, and Miller pulled out all the stops for his fans, performing classics such as ‘Devil Come Down Sunday,’ and ‘NDN Car.’
Besides his genius guitar skills, it was impossible not to sense Miller’s charisma and high-energy: he simply radiates rock star quality. Playing for almost two hours, the crowd wasn’t ready to quit and Miller obliged with an encore performance that didn’t wrap up until after midnight.
Sunday was a day for the kids and the Children’s Site was busy all day long with a climbing wall, crafts, dancing, musical performances by Helen Austin, and the ever-present Bounce House.
Most of the performers were back for the day and a unique teaming up of Leonard Sumner and Derek Miller got everyone’s attention. Besides the fun banter between the two, these musicians tackled some pressing issues with their songs and captivated the audience.
Local Anahim Lake cowgirl Allison Altherr was on hand for her first Festival and had a great experience. “What a great Festival, we enjoyed playing for such a nice audience,” she said.
Sunday evening progressed into the final act of the Festival: Daniel Wesley. Known for his distinctive sound that blends rock, ska, reggae and west coast style, Wesley had always wanted to see Bella Coola and was taken with the beauty and relaxed Festival vibe. Performing some of his most requested songs such as ‘Ohh Ohh’ and ‘Pilgrimage,’ Wesley rocked the stage until well after midnight and kept the crowd dancing right to the end.
The finale of the night was a funny and heartwarming ‘Bella Coola style’ rendition of Bobby McFerrin’s 1990s classic ‘Don’t Worry, Be Happy.’ Forty-plus talented musicians gathered on stage to close the show, bringing their own style and lyrics to this iconic song.
As with any event in Bella Coola, it wouldn’t have been possible without the volunteers. They put in hundreds of hours to ensure this Festival went smoothly and successfully, and all of the artists were so impressed to learn that this professional event is run almost entirely by volunteers! A special mention should also go to the cooks this year; the musicians were so taken with the food that most would return simply for the cooking!
Thanks to everyone for making it a success – see you in 2014!