July 16, 2012
Local Family Enjoys Festival to the Fullest
The annual local ten day arts festival is over. Today the beach tents are coming down, the information booth and the signboards are being dismantled and packed away into storage. For much of the week our eldest son and the rest of the crew will be packing up and putting away all physical traces of the festival for another year. On Thursday evening, the festival society will hold a party for the two hundred or so volunteers who make this annual event possible, and then the organizers will finish up the paperwork before going off on a well deserved vacation.
Our little festival was thirty-four years old this year, and our family has been here for nine of them. I worked for the festival as a staff member for five years, coordinating the Children's Day, and various members of my family volunteer each year. Volunteers are treated extremely well. For a few hours of service we gain free entrance to every one of the ten evening shows and as I mentioned before, a party at the end of it all to thank us for our help. Amazing.
During the festival I read and wrote very little. I ran even less. Those particular habits, and habits they are, were replaced with other pursuits - listening to live music, dancing the nights away with my husband and various festival friends, and driving to and from the festival, which takes place in the resort village ten kilometers down the road. For me, the festival is a highlight of the year and a chance to see a typical beach resort community completely transformed into a place where the arts take center stage. Not only are free concerts on the beach provided by the festival to be enjoyed on the two weekends by hundreds of people who pack the lawn above the beach with blankets and lawn chairs, but an art market is set up all along the esplanade and is full of vendors selling everything from the ageless tie-dyed t-shirts to natural skin care products, to pottery and handmade silver jewelry and copper garden ornaments. The festival becomes a place one wants to be as much as possible, but of course, meals still have to be made and laundry done at home. Somehow we manage to fit that in between concerts and visits with other friends who gather to enjoy the music and art of the festival.
Over the ten days, a sort of mini community is formed among the regular festival goers, and it is a wonderful thing. I know one woman in particular who books her holidays every year to accommodate her attendance at the festival, and it is the only time I see her. Every year I get to know her a little better - she is part of the fabric of that colourful festival banner as are so many others. I know the festival is not everyone's cup of tea, but for those of us for whom it is, we are lifted up by the event, by our volunteer efforts for the festival, and by a sense of a common purpose to bring and to enjoy this ten day expression of the joy of living, the beauty of the arts, and the miraculous ability of music from many different cultures to bring so many people together: families, elderly people, teenagers, individuals with special needs (many of them love to dance), hippies, business people, community leaders and often people who have never been exposed to this kind of event - like the young man from Vancouver I spoke to when I was volunteering at the beach stage, who said he had come to the resort village for the day at the beach and been surprised and impressed by the festival. He is making plans to attend again next year. As the artistic director said in her closing speech last night before the last concert, "If only we could have that sense of community all year round."
At the Friday night concert, a fantastic band called Mike Farris and the Cumberland Saints brought their southern gospel blues from Nashville up to our northern shores. Their music transcended gospel blues to bring everyone in the building to their feet in celebration of the contribution of black gospel music to rhythm and blues music and to rock and roll in general. You did not have to be a 'believer' to appreciate their concert, and if you were, you appreciated it all the more. After the concert I got to talk to the members of the band. One of the backup singers said to me in her wonderful southern drawl, "When we were coming up here, we didn't know what to expect. We thought, 'resort town?' 'Spa?' 'Canada?' We thought y'all would be sitting up in your chairs with your hands together like this", and she performed a hilarious imitation of a prim sort of person with pursed lips and one hand on top of the other. "But y'all were ready for us. It was crazy beautiful to see! What a surprise!" That night in the hall was magic. I lost a few pounds dancing and was still dancing the next morning.
As life returns to its natural summer rhythm, I find myself re-energized. I feel fueled up and ready to carry on with all there is to do over the next few weeks. Sure, I am a bit weary from all that dancing and I know my husband will take a few days to recover from long days at work and concerts at night, but our festival fatigue is a small price to pay for all the benefits we get from taking part. Festivals are a celebration of all that is good in life, and they, despite government cutbacks have to continue some way, somehow. Communities need festivals to remind them to rise above political squabbles, put aside differences for even a short time, and allow a new and positive element to arise and give the community a renewed vision of itself.
Long live the festival!
The photo of festival tents on the beach is courtesy of our local newspaper. I know I should name the paper to give them proper credit (sorry Jessica!), but that gives a bit too much away, even if only symbolically in this day and age of social networking. I kept meaning to bring my own camera but would forget each day.