Sounds of hope and active community

Leah and Chloe Smith from Rising Appalachia

MUSIC RISING by Bruce Mason

Leah and Chloe Smith from Rising Appalachia
Leah and Chloe Smith from Rising Appalachia. Look for them at the Vancouver Folk Music Festival and at Atmosphere Gathering in Cumberland, BC.

• One of the most interesting, promising quotes I’ve been unable to shake this year is from Leah and Chloe Smith, two 20-something sisters who front Rising Appalachia. “We are building community and tackling social injustice through melody – making the stage reach out with octopus arms to gather a great family.”

Blending and brandishing the power of pure harmony in an eclectic mix of hip hop, soul, world-infused folk and more, they’re sharing the message of the urgent need for massive change. Their mission, as they note, is “to help the environment, change the ‘mal-distribution’ of wealth and to simply make the world better.”

Rising Appalachia has toured Europe, the Caribbean, Central America, the Indian subcontinent and the US while fiercely maintaining their autonomy and independence; they create, self-manage, record, produce and direct their own work.

Rising Appalachia touches down at the Vancouver Folk Music Festival (July 17-19) and at Atmosphere Gathering in Cumberland in the Comox Valley on Vancouver Island (August 14-16). See

It isn’t likely Rising Appalachia will want to leave Cumberland, the epitome of their kind of place, given the folks who have chosen gather there. It’s a funky, growing village of assorted good ol’ boys, creative entrepreneurs, herbalists, mountain bikers and young families. Like many of the village’s residents, Rising Appalachia was raised on local folk, rock and timeless lullabies, nurtured and inspired by travel and ideas – now blossoming and bearing fruit – in the international community.

Also in the lineup – handpicked to create an “exciting, multi-sensory extravaganza” –are Nahko and Medicine for the People, David Starfire, the Fort Knox Five, Kaminanda, Plantrae and Humans, alongside an impressive roster of last year’s favourites.

“The lineup reflects our commitment to nurturing local talent alongside the presentation of world-class acts,” says Vig Schulman of Cumberland Village Works, which is putting on the event with Little Island Productions. “We’ll be creating an incredibly unique and vibrant energy.” Other diverse, family-friendly attractions include local organic food, yoga, workshops, camping and a nearby glacier-fed lake.

Sound good? Well, yet another festival that caught our attention is the aptly named Blessed Coast Ceremonial Celebration in Squamish, BC (August 21 -24). This event features three days of live music, again mixed with local organic food, yoga, workshops and camping. Organizers say the event is “born from a seed of intention to nurture the emergent culture of our evolving community ecosystem [and to] showcase local art, teachings, talent, food and goods to deepen our relationship to the land, working with indigenous elders and wisdom-keepers to co-create a ceremonial space for human evolution.”

Also offered is a full schedule of yoga and workshops with a local focus, an optional locally-sourced, organic meal plan, an Open-Source Marketplace and a team of facilitators to lead children through an optional co-creative journey over the length of the festival. Visit

Our Earth and her inhabitants are at a tipping point and a turning point. We invite you to witness, celebrate and participate in the events showcased in this article. We’ll have more next month.

Bruce Mason is a Vancouver and Gabriola-Island based five-string banjo player, gardener, freelance writer and author of Our

The ultimate musical summer

MUSIC RISING by Bruce Mason

It’s here. Let’s get started; is your link to the 2015 Ultimate Summer Festival Guide. This amazing, free resource connects you to 348 music and arts festivals and events all over BC, with lots in Alberta and Washington and some in Manitoba, Yukon and NWT. You’ll find street fests, art walks, concerts in parks, multi-venue five-day camp-outs, stages in barns, backyards and outdoor amphitheatres. Offerings include un-crowded to jam-packed and slick to impromptu.

It’s searchable by date, festival name or region. You will find, for example – right here, right now – the next festival nearest you. And for musicians, as well as music fans, there are venues you can select and conduct your very own tour. The site also points you to a location where you can pick up a take-anywhere, flippable, functional hard-copy of the seventh edition, with a map in the middle.

The 2015 Ultimate Summer Festival Guide is a labour of love and work in progress from the folks at BC Musician magazine, self described as “a bunch of music lovers who also love the smell of ink on paper…” and who “play and work in the digital world and really appreciate the opportunity to sit back, unplug, kick back and get away from the screen from time to time.” Thinking there might be others out there like them, they ask the silly question, “Are you one?”

Leanne Nash is the publisher, Sarah Fahey the “editor/everything else.” Finishing her third year at the helm of the ambitious undertaking, Fahey says, “We are building the big picture; there is ebb and flow, a life and a death to the number of festivals each year. A number either die out or more likely morph into another creative project and each year brand new pups arrive. This guide encompasses new to seasoned 30 and 40-year-strong festivals.” Fahey notes some new trends and additions, including the growing number of multi-themed festivals, film and long-board festivals, record fairs and food fests, particularly for garlic and especially at harvest time.

Look for bees on the cover. And who doesn’t love to see bees, humming their endangered way through all the bad news these days, never mind all the nectar on the inside pages? Take a tip from the honeybee, which can fly at a speed of 15 mph, and stay close to home.

Cover artwork by Milan Basic was inspired by a mural the artist created at ArtsWells 2014, which doubled as a sound buffer and amplified the acoustics on the outdoor stage at the end of the elementary school field. The Artswells Festival of All Things Art: Expect the Unexpected! in Wells, BC and nearby Barkerville (July 31-August 3) features 300 artists and performers on a dozen stages, music alongside visual art, theatre film, literary and interdisciplinary events-, lots of workshops and kid’s activities. (See the lineup at

The 1930s mining town and 1860s Gold Rush community are the actual festival sites and events are hosted in historic buildings as well as on the streets. Wells (Pop. 200-250) grows 10-fold for the four days.

“It started 10 years ago with a few people on lawn chairs,” recalls founder Julie Fowler, executive director of Island Mountain Arts, the year-round organization responsible for the event, reputed to be BC’s largest and best new indie arts festival.

“We strive for diversity and feature emerging talent; it took a few years for the ticket audience to outnumber the artists. Nearby natural attractions and the residents themselves are part of the experience,” she adds, noting that many people, including artists, return to ArtsWells every year.

Over two decades, the Vancouver Island MusicFest (July 10-12) has grown into a major component of the culture and economy of the Comox Valley. Close proximity to an airport helps make appearances of the likes of Lyle Lovett and His Large Band, Buddy Guy, Steeleye Span and Graham Nash, possible. But it is more than 1,000 keen volunteers that keep folks coming back; there are crews responsible for ambiance and performer massages as well as increasingly important Green initiatives, healthy food and Kid’s Zones.

The major role of festivals in building communities was recognized last month in BC’s largest city when UBC conferred an honorary Doctor of Laws – honoris causa – on Gary Cristall, co-founder of the Vancouver Folk Music Festival (July 17-19) and artistic director for its first 17 years.

Stepping into the big Birkenstocks of the good doctor, since 2008, Linda Tanaka has put her stamp on one of the best festivals in the world by programming some of the world’s best music, performed in constant orbit on myriad stages. In an interview with the VFMF artistic director, she put her finger on the pulse of festivals in our region, with just one word: “discovery.”

“After travelling to places such as Spain and Australia and talking to organizers, audiences and musicians for a year, I’m excited as we put final touches to workshops, to emphasize diversity and encourage spontaneity,” she reported.

One of the best features of the 2015 festival season is the rise of websites to provide pre-event background, right down to video. It’s highly entertaining and informative to wander and discover what’s in store at Jericho this year. While online, consider taking out a subscription to BC Musician magazine. “Your support would be huge for us. Really, really huge,” magazine contributors say. Same for festivals.

Discover more music – keep it alive and live.

Bruce Mason is a Vancouver and Gabriola-Island based five-string banjo player, gardener, freelance writer and author of Our Clinic.


Wendy Atkinson digs deep

TRACKS by Bob Turner

It’s been said that what one considers to be “good” music is music that speaks to one’s set of biases drawn from one’s personal history and relationship with music and aesthetics, all of which shapes a response to – and an evaluation of – a specific work. The world of ‘new’ or ‘experimental’ music can be challenging – not only for composers and musicians, but also for the listener who must work towards actually hearing and not just listening to the music. There is much that tweaks and speaks to my particular set of biases when contemplating this third release by the multifaceted bassist/composer, Wendy Atkinson.


The Last Fret, currently making the rounds on the “airwaves,” is a 15-track (in digital+CD format) album conceived, produced and executed by Atkinson with minimal reliance on digital signal processing. Her instrument of choice, whether electric or acoustic, provides solid ground for her multi-track bass-sound-sourced compositions. It is rather rare to so successfully place at “centre stage” an instrument usually relegated to a supporting role.

A skilled infusion of field recordings, found sound and spoken-word, together with electronic bow and toy piano experimentation, gives layered texture to her work. This instinctive artist appears to have delved deeply into the self to mine components for her unique collages of ambient soundscapes.

It is interesting to note that Atkinson’s relationship with music is rooted in folk music dating back to early childhood days starring her ukulele-playing mother singing the popular folk songs of the 1960s with her daughters. Memories of that era are recounted on Ukulele Shock, as is the shock-moment when Atkinson learned it was not her mother who wrote Blowin’ in the Wind.

In the multi-track piece Clips, Atkinson devised bass loops as bed-tracks for her bass solo and also attached paper clips directly to the bass strings so as to transform her instrument into a prepared bass. Musically speaking, I found Something Overheard to be a wistful and engaging linear composition that embraces sounds emanating from a child’s electronic toy keyboard, a found-treasure from a local thrift shop that also makes an appearance in 16 Hours of Daylight.

Three compositions on the album feature guitarist David Lester, her frequent collaborator who also filmed the video of Atkinson’s Hebron Birds. The subdued voice of the composer, contrasted with the vocal expressions of animated and spirited young girls, is embedded in such a way as to elegantly enhance the tone of the bass-based composition.

The work is a thoughtful musing on the contradictions of life in occupied West Bank, a juxtaposition of a spontaneous experience of being surrounded by innocent, inquisitive children in a Hebron street that is just like the streets “where right-wing extremists throw rocks at Palestinian children on their way to school.”

I look forward to the next project envisioned by the accomplished Ms. Atkinson.

Highly recommended.