By Hollie McGowan
August 4 to 7, 2017
Back in 2009, a collection of songs were written and recorded during a songwriting workshop held the week before the start of ArtsWells Festival. It was made into a CD called “Heart Swells”, an endearing wordplay on the festival’s name. Now in its 14th year, that name still holds just as much significance as it ever did, truly encapsulating the spirit of this annual four-day celebration of All Things Art.
Despite unstable conditions in the northern interior of B.C. due to forest fires, ArtsWells 2017 was the little festival that could. Though other festivals made the difficult decision to cancel this year’s festivities including neighbouring town Quesnel’s Billy Barker Days, ArtsWells kept its chin up went ahead as planned. Some may have had their doubts, yet it was the right decision in the end. Driving past smoldering ashes and towns ravaged by fire, once through the smoke and in Wells, skies were blue, the air was fresh, and the trees were green.
By Friday, those who had committed to making the journey began pouring into the quaint, historic town of Wells, B.C.. The usual crowd of train-hoppers, folk heroes, hippies, cowboys, dogs, and families set up their tents, mobile homes, and camper vans, preparing themselves to kick-off the weekend. Being a festival that showcases art of all forms, the next four days were packed with music, theater, live painting, yoga, workshops, and more to look forward to.
Festivities began with the opening ceremonies and parade. Musicians tooted their horns and banged their symbols while costumed folk on bicycles and large animal puppets with their puppeteers led the crowd toward the Outdoor Stage.
Being a festival that literally takes over the entire town of Wells, each public space is turned into venues for the event. The hall, the hotel, and the theater, to name a few, were all filled with live music by nightfall. However, one particular stage, The Tempest, which usually acts as the acoustic venue for the fest was not running this year due to unsafe conditions regarding the building. As they opened the Outdoor Stage, High Society paid tribute to The Tempest and its namesake, the late Canadian artist TemPeSt Grace Gale. Following them, Brasstronaut kept the energy going strong with a lively crowd that danced into the moonlight.
Over at the Sunset Theater, Uschi Tala gave an eerie, otherworldly performance. With candles lit, her electric guitar and her accompanists, a cellist and back-up singer, Tala led the audience on a live-looping musical sojourn into another dimension.
Later on the agenda for the Sunset Theater, the venue was packed for Scott Cook who had the audience singing, laughing, and even admitting to hook-ups with others in the room. Blissed out, the crowd swayed along with his words, “And I’m a better person, when I’m hanging with dogs and kids.” Afterward, the stage was closed down for the night by local Wells musician, Joey Only, and his motley crew with a full-on stompin’ country music dance party.
Saturday was off to another great start weatherwise. In the Wells Hotel Pub, Maxim, gave a stellar solo performance that had his listeners captive with stories and songs of the old wild west. Over at the Bear’s Paw Cafe country crooner, Big Fancy, sang humorous yet melancholy songs of online dating mishaps and losing your job.
A new venue, the Museum Stage, was created this year in absence of the Tempest Stage, though not solely for acoustic performance. Ladybug the Rambler filled the new spot with a following that held onto their every lyric like it was their last.
Over at the Outdoor Stage, the Aerialists fused a variety of sounds along the lines of folk, gaelic, nordic, and rock. Their beautiful melodies enchanted the crowd as they sat soaking up the sun.
Later on in the downstairs Hall, Hachey the Mouthpiece brought a little hip hop flavour to the festival which had the room boppin’. Over at the Sunset Theater, Rae Spoon also had the dancefloor in a frenzy to some high powered indie rock.
Sunday morning at ArtsWells witnessed a little bit of haziness from the forest fires seep into the town, yet nothing too concerning. The town itself was still within its protective bubble and the festival had plenty more to give.
Later on in the evening Jack Garton and the Demon Squadron gave an electrifying performance to which the audience made sure there was an encore. In the Downstairs Hall, prog-rock band Lakeman turned the room into a headbanging hysteria. Shortly afterward in the Upstairs Hall, the Honey Tongues set the room on fire with their youthful energy and uplifting harmonies. Over at the Wells Hotel Pub, Warless closed the bar on a soulful funky vibe.
Numbers may have been down due to the current state of B.C.’s forest fires this summer of 2017, but it surely didn’t stop those who came to ArtsWells in having a great time. With such a strong artist community, integrity of the festival organizers, and attendees that believe in the importance of celebrating art in all its wild and crazy forms, ArtsWells Festival of All Things Art has and will remain an important staple in B.C.’s festival circuit for many years to come.ArtsWells