Kootenay Music Festivals: Where the Mountains Set the Stage

Kootenay Music Festivals: Where the Mountains Set the Stage

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It moves in rhythm, keeping time with the persistent, resonating thump. Lights scan from overhead; varied skin tones, tie-dyed shirts, and bright beach balls are highlights of the wave it illuminates below.

You’re part of it, bobbing with the rest, lost in the moment in the sea of a summer music festival.

You’d be hard pressed to find a better setting for a music festival than here in the Kootenays. Mountains surrounding stages reverberate beats back to festival goers, while the region’s lakes carry the sounds kilometres beyond.

Around the Kootenays this summer? Itching for a tie-dye infused road trip? The following are four festivals to make your way toward this summer:

Golden — Motion Notion (August 23-27, 2018)

The 40-minute drive from Golden builds excitement even before the festival grounds are reached. Traversing the logging road, you’re framed in by what the Canadian Rockies are known for: thick forests and massive, glacial-caked mountains.

The scenery is no surprise considering its location: Beaverfoot Lodge, where the festival is held, sits on the border of Yoho National Park.

Photo courtesy of Z&L Media

Kevin Harper, director and owner of the Motion Notion Music Festival, doesn’t humble brag about the location he’s found himself in — his pride is outright: “We bring some of the most creative talents from around the world to … [what is] arguably the most picturesque festival location out there.”

Though it has found its home in British Columbia’s Rocky Mountains, the festival has its roots elsewhere. Over the course of its 18 years, the festival migrated from Alberta’s plains to its current location, evolving as it did.

“We were known for a long time as a Psytrance festival, but … have re-invented ourselves as an arts and entertainment event,” says Harper, noting the addition of art installations, comedians, particle physicists, hypnotists, yoga sessions, and transformational events as inclusions to the musical talents making up Motion Notion.

Harper’s role in the festival evolved over time, too. He recalls the moment his 10-year journey — from DJ at the event to owner— began: “A massive rain storm hit us in the middle of the night,” says Harper of a past festival. “It came out of nowhere and was probably the heaviest rain I’d ever felt, yet it was super warm out so it felt like a warm shower. Noisia [a Dutch electronic music trio] was playing in the forest … it turned into a huge mud party with people sliding around, listening to some of the best music we’d ever heard. It was at that moment that I knew I had to be a part of this event.”

Invermere — MusicFest (August 17-18, 2018)

Peeking behind the main stage is Lake Windermere. Through the day, it reflects a gradient of colour, from blue to gold and finally rose as the sun sets over the Rocky Mountain trench.

But you’re almost too busy to notice. With feet shuffling, you’re caught up in the music of an all-ages dance party.

Photo courtesy of IMF File Photos

This is the Invermere MusicFest. On its shoreline location between the Purcells and the Rocky Mountains, the festival — hosted by the Columbia Valley Arts Council — is in its fifth year.

“The Invermere MusicFest features all genres of live music — something for everyone,” says Jami Scheffer, an executive director within the organization.

Scheffer means it. The MusicFest is family-friendly from its Friday-night dance kickoff through its main Saturday lineup. Bands play throughout the day, but the festival also includes food vendors and artisans with past features including Italian street food, Tinhorn Creek Wines, and frozen lemonade.

“There will always be a band entertaining the crowds,” said Scheffer in a blog post about the event. And, of course, “…plenty of room for dancing, wiggling in your seats and just general chilling and relaxing.”

Kaslo — Jazz Fest (August 3-5, 2018)

Even without the popular reputation of Kaslo’s Jazz Etc. Festival, the views from its location alone are reason to attend.

Located on the 104-km-long Kootenay Lake, Kaslo is squeezed in by views of the Selkirks on one side and the Purcells on the other. “It’s incredibly beautiful,” says Jake, the Assistant Executive Director at the Kaslo Jazz Etc. Festival.

She notes that the festival’s floating stage, a unique aspect of the Kaslo Jazz Etc. Festival, helps turn the area into a natural amphitheatre. Built within Kaslo Bay Park, the stage is situated so sounds from the performers reverberate against a mountain backdrop, amplifying the music to festival-goers who either swim around the stage or listen from along the sandy shoreline.

Photo courtesy of the Kaslo Jazz Festival

And it’s in part this floating stage that helped the festival gain the attention of a number of international media organizations. Jake lists off just a couple, noting that it was selected, by both USA Today and REUTERS, as one of the “Top Ten Places” to get outside and enjoy summer sounds.

Local food and drink vendors help make up the intimate, laid-back vibe of the over two-decades old Kaslo Jazz Etc. Festival. Known by locals as simply the “Jazz Fest”, the lineup showcases genres such as blues, Latin, folk, and world music in addition to jazz.

“This festival has been built from the ground up by a passionate and dedicated community with a great big heart,” says Jake. “Throw all of that in with some killer bands and that is what makes the magic come together!”

Salmo — Shambhala (August 10-13, 2018)

"It's all about the people on the dancefloor."

That’s what Shambhala Public Relations Manager Britz Robins’ email signature reads. She’s just sent me more info on a festival that, as a Nelsonite, I’m familiar with. But then again, every year, I hear new stories about Shambhala, a electronic music festival held in nearby Salmo.

I figure going to the source is the proper procedure.

She’s quick to jump right to what she believes is the heart of the festival: the people who flock annually to rub shoulders with 10,000 colourfully-clad music lovers.

Photo by William Selviz, courtesy of the Shambhala Music Festival

“Shambhala is a festival that is very much shaped by its attendees,” says Robins. “Attendees call Shambhala ‘Home’ and refer to each other as ‘Farmily’. It's a tight-knit community that is creative, open and friendly. Everyone looks out for each other.”

The “Farmily” reference hearkens to the festival grounds. Celebrating its 20th year here, Shambhala is an event that transforms Salmo River Ranch, a 500-acre working farm, into the network of six stages, artisan markets, camping areas, food and beverage vendors, and galleries that make up the four-day festival.

Now in its 20th year, Shambhala may hold the record as Canada's biggest electronic music festival, but in 1997, it was just an ambitious dream. “… anywhere in North America,” adds Robin, hinting that one would be hard-pressed to find a multi-day electronic festival within the continent.   

The time was “ripe with possibility” and Salmo was the right canvas. Rumored to sit on a bed of energy-healing quartz, the region around Nelson was long-known for being a haven for artisans and eclectics.

“[It’s] always been home to artists and creatives of all mediums,” says Robins. “The burgeoning rave scene was no exception. From this cultural hot bed of passion, excitement and creativity, Shambhala Music Festival was born.”

More Kootenay Festivals & Live Music

~ June 8-10; Tiny Lights Festival (Ymir, near Nelson)
~ July 6-8; Kootenay Country Annual Festival (Castlegar)
~ July 6-8; Steamboat Festival (Edgewater, near Radium Hot Springs)
~ July 20-22; Starbelly Jam Festival (Crawford Bay)
~ August 10-11; Wapiti Music Festival (Fernie)
~ August 18-25; Kimberley Kaleidoscope

Words by Gina Begin.  Cover photo courtesy of the Kaslo & Etc. Jazz Festival

Gina Begin - Although she’s a Florida girl, exploration called her away after the final bell of her high school career. On a quest to reach the distant adventures of North America, she lived in her car, traveling to ski the backcountry of Alaska, sleep under the northern lights in the Yukon Territory, ice climb Colorado's frozen canyons, photograph Nova Scotia’s coves, backpack in southern US wildernesses and munch on sugared tamarindo in the jungles of Mexico. But after three years living on the road and seeing the many wonders this continent had to offer, she chose the place she knew would fit an explorer looking for a lifetime of wild wonder: British Columbia. Dual citizenship in hand, she settled along the Powder Highway in the Selkirks and is making her home between four walls and deeply wooded mountains.

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