I haven’t attended the Vancouver Island Musicfest since 2003, and thought that it was about time I did. I have very fond memories of the earlier festivals I attended where the magic of the moment and the music swept over the crowd; most specifically when Bruce Cockburn performed to a hushed audience while the sun set on a perfect summer day in a green field. But on Friday night of the Vancouver Island Musicfest 2013, the crowd was anything but hushed. Even when the performers came on stage and began playing, many people surrounding my friend and I kept talking, and talking incessantly. And it wasn’t just one or two people, it was several groups of people.
It was a far cry from what I experienced at the first few festivals I attended when those who came seemed sincerely interested in the music and respected those who were on stage, and the other listeners around them. We were united in a desire to gain the most from the experience of being there, and of having the privilege of listening to top performers like Robert Cray, Jim Byrnes and Maria Muldaur.
But it wasn’t just the talking that interfered with the ability to enjoy the
music. People were parading back and forth from one side of the field to the other in an endless stream, no matter what was going on, on stage. This was also something new… I recall that people sat down and paid attention when the music started, and it was treated no differently than being at a concert. What could be more important than the musicians performing on stage? Couldn’t the next ice cream wait until the intermission between players?
And just so that you don’t think that I am alone in my observations, a friend today asked me if I had gone, and she commented, not knowing how I felt, that she didn’t enjoy the festival this year, and that the crowd seemed somehow different. I agree with her, and part of the difference I think stems from the festival simply being too big. When there were fewer people there, there was a strong sense of musical community and a sincerity in purpose.
This year, I couldn’t help but wonder why people came to the festival if they planned to chatter the whole way through. Meet somewhere else if you want to talk to your friend or friends! Let the music lovers enjoy the performances and get swept up in the music! For many of us, the festival provides a one time opportunity to see certain musicians – I for one have wanted to see David Wilcox for several years. And speaking of Wilcox, during his song ‘Bad Apple’, he literally asked people to listen. It must have been clear from the stage that many, many people there were talking and wandering around aimlessly and could care less what was happening on stage.
Perhaps Kris Kristofferson sounded a bit scratchy and out of tune like an old record album, but he always was a better actor than a singer. It was other performers who interpreted his songs and made them famous – the man can write!! Even so, he was invited to perform and was this year’s headliner, yet he wasn’t given the respect he deserved. If word gets around, the festival’s organizers might find they are scrambling to get performers there. No one wants to play to an unappreciative audience.
It would be nice to see the organizers take the dollar signs out of their eyes and sell fewer tickets, thereby attracting a more focused and dedicated crowd. It doesn’t make sense to me that a sold out festival that results in overcrowding is considered to be a successful one. It should make us question what the definition of success is.
I really enjoyed the festival when people were there to listen and appreciate, because nothing beats the feeling of a large crowd of people being united by the magic of a great performance, and being carried away by beautiful music on a beautiful day. If your purpose is to talk and to visit, then invite your friend to a coffee shop, and leave the festival to the music aficionados.