Festivals for the Frugal

Harrison Lake is pretty spectacular on a sunny day

My sweetheart and I love going to all kinds of festivals, especially if they have free or inexpensive options. This summer, we attended the Harrison Festival of the Arts (HFA). This festival runs for a week each July and might be the best kept secret in the world.

HFA is truly an arts festival: there are theatre presentations, literary readings, music concerts, workshops and a fantastic arts/crafts market. Some of the concerts/events are free and some you pay for but the costs are really affordable.

Mid-week, we saw an amazing performance of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night put on by the Chilliwack School of Performing Arts for only $17.50 – when was the last time you paid that little for excellent theatre? The staging, the projection/lighting, the sound, and the acting, all superb. If you get a chance to see this anywhere, take it!

The Aerialists

We returned to HFA on Friday and took in two free concerts on the beach: The Aerialists, a band made up of Canadians and one Scotswoman, who play an eclectic mix of folk/jazz/indie/rock featuring violin and harp.

their harpist is originally from the Isle of Skye in Scotland

Their violinist studied Norwegian folk music so their music has a cool blend of that, gaelic fiddle tunes, and jazz

We first discovered them at the Jazz Festival last summer. We loved them so much, we were thrilled to be able to hear them again.

Afro-Cuban band, Okan

Then we were introduced to Okan, a Cuban/African band that defies genrifying. Super high energy, tons of fun.

amazing percussion

so much energy!

These women look like they stepped out of Harlem but sound like they stepped out of Cuba… which they did. Their music was infectious.

And then, dear reader, we took in Dwayne Dopsie and the Zydeco Hell Raisers. I know, right? Best name ever. We read about Dwayne in the Vancouver Sun and when I read “blues accordion”, I said, “What?”, watched a You Tube video, and promptly bought tickets. Friends, this was maybe the best concert I’ve ever been to – ever – and it cost me $25.

Dwayne and Paul, the washboard guy, took their instruments to a whole new level of art. it was unreal.

For $25, we got 3 hours of fantastic music, amazing musicianship, and unreal entertainment. The Harrison Hall is a small venue, so no bad seats in the room. The sound and lights were great. They even served local craft beers at the concession.

he played like a madman AND he could sing!

The band had us dancing, clapping and singing along from the get-go. Dwayne and his washboard player came off the stage and into the crowd and played right amongst us.  They came out during intermission to sign CDs and interact with the audience. The second half was just as energetic and entertaining as the first. We had a solid 3-hour concert – for $25!

I truly appreciate festivals that recognize that not all of us can spend, say $90, (the cost for a weekend pass at the Mission Folk Festival ) or $160 (the cost for the same thing at the Vancouver Folk Festival ), even if that is a smokin’ deal for a whole weekend of really great music. While both of these events let children under 12 in free, neither of them offer free events to the public.

Other festivals, like the TD International Jazz Festival, the Vancouver Children’s Festival, the Vancouver Writer’s Festival, all offer some free things throughout their run. I believe that it’s these free events that create loyal consumers who keep coming back and eventually may be able to afford to pay for ticketed events. At each of the events I just mentioned, I discovered artists I would not have found on my own and have purchased their work. I think that’s a win/win.

Other events around my area, like Jam in Jubilee (a weekly free concert series in Jubilee Park in Abbotsford, every Thursday in July) are fully free, exposing audiences to new, up-and-coming musicians. There’s always a crafts market, food trucks, beer/wine garden – it’s a great way to spend a summer evening. I say “free” but I realize that events like this actually cost organizers who work hard at getting grants and other sources of funding to make these things available to the public. These small arts councils give a whole new definition to the word “frugal” so it behooves us to support those who make these events happen.

What’s your favourite festival and why?

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