Festivals amplify Metro Vancouver’s arts and music scene

By Charlie Smith, Georgia Straight

We’re coming up on festival season in Vancouver, which sometimes offers a way to take in the arts at bargain prices—or even for free. In this article, we’re providing a snapshot of many of the big events. For more information, click the link, which will take you to the website or one of its social-media pages.

Bard on the Beach

(June 8 to August 24)

The lowdown: Vancouver’s popular outdoor Shakespeare festival has retained its appeal even as the Bard himself has come under more intense academic scrutiny over how he portrayed women and minorities. Part of the reason is that Bard on the Beach has been evolving with the times, even commissioning a film last year, Done/Undone, which examined these controversies in an even-handed manner. This year, the festival opens with one of the English playwright’s favourites, A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Another popular play, Romeo and Juliet, comes later in the run. In a nod to the Black experience in North America, Bard on the Beach is also presenting Harlem Duet, which is Djanet Sears’s examination of a Black couple at three pivotal periods in history.

Who’s the festival for? This year, it’s not only welcoming lovers of Shakespeare but also those with a keen interest in the challenges faced by Black people.

Global Soundscapes Festival

(June 9 to 12)

The lowdown: Over four nights at the Historic Theatre at the Cultch, audiences will be treated to an impressive array of international music, including Azerbaijani tar virtuoso Ramiz Guliyev. It will be his first appearance in B.C. with the Vancouver Inter-Cultural Orchestra, which will be conducted by his son, Ayyub Guliyev. Other performers include the Vancouver Erhu Quartet, which combines western strings with the erhu, which is sometimes referred to as the Chinese violin. Another group is 88 strings, incorporating plucked instruments from China, the West, and Persia. Also on the schedule is Ensemble Paramirabo from Montreal.

Who’s the festival for: Cosmopolitan music lovers eager to expand their horizons.

Talking Stick Festival

(June 12 to July 3)

The lowdown: The 21st annual Talking Stick Festival is time for National Indigenous History Month and National Indigenous People’s Day (June 21). This year’s theme is “Come Together”, in which attendees go on a canoe journey exploring Indigenous culture through some very talented artists. Indigenous tattoo artists Audie Murray, Dion Kaszas, Gig–K’aajuu G’aaya, Holly Mititquq Nordlum, Nahaan, Nakkita Trimble, and Nicole Neidhard will also be featured in the Sacred Skin component. Musicians incude the sister duo of DJ KoaKeA and DJ Keilani Rose, Vancouver-based artist JB the First Lady, Handsome Tiger, and DJ Kookum. 

Who’s the festival for? Those interested in advancing reconcilation and learning more about Indigenous arts and culture.

Festival d’été francophone de Vancouver

(June 15 to 25)

The lowdown: It’s an 11-day celebration for francophiles that begins on June 15 with B.C. hip-hop artist Missy D and Quebec-based rapper FouKi. It takes palce in Studio 16 in Maison de la francophie de Vancouver (1555 West 7th Avenue). That will be the site of many other shows over the festival. And on June 18, people can gather during the day at the outdoor stage for a family-friendly celebration, capped off by evening performances by Klô Pelgag and Coeur de Pirate. On June 25, the celebration moves to the Civic Plaza outside the City of North Vancouver’s municipal hall (126 West 14th Street) for more free outdoor performances.

Who’s the festival for? Families who love practising their French in a friendly, nonjudgmental environment, as well as francophones itching for the culture that they may have left behind in other parts of Canada or around the world.

Queer Arts Festival

(June 18 to July 8)

The lowdown: This boundary-busting annual event will focus on the theme of “Hauntings” this year in a range of visual art, performance, music, and literary events. The Queer Arts Festival kicks off with an opening reception on top of its headquarters in the Sun Wah Centre in Chinatown. That’s where a free visual arts show, curated by Adwait Singh and directed by S D Holman, will showcase queer artistic practices from South Asia throughout the festival. There’s another free art exhibition in partnership with James Black Gallery, entitled Pride in Art Community Show. In addition, the QAF is partnering with the TD Vancouver International Jazz Festival for the first time in presenting Adria Kain and Janette King at Performance Works on June 24.

Who’s the festival for? Music and art lovers who hope to discover what’s on the cutting edge of queer expression.

TD Vancouver International Jazz Festival

(June 24 to July 3)

The lowdown: The Coastal Jazz and Blues Society always puts on a world-class event at multiple venues. This year’s highlights include American blues-guitar legend Buddy Guy at the Queen Elizabeth Theatre (June 24) and three-time Grammy winner Lucinda Williams at the Queen Elizabeth Theatre (July 2). Another Grammy winner, Cécile McLorin Salvant, will be at the Vancouver Playhouse (June 27). At the same venue on the following evening, it’s the Manchester-based Gogo Penguin (June 28). In addition, there are more than 60 free concerts, including the Josh Zubot Quartet and Darius Jones at Performance Works (June 24), Terminal Station at Ocean Art Works (June 24), DJ Koakea and DJ Keilani Rose at Ocean Art Works (June 24), the Sister Jazz Orchestra at the Georgia Street Stage (June 25), and Joyce N’Sana at North Vancouver’s Civic Plaza (June 25).

Who’s the festival for? This is not your grandparents’ jazz festival—music runs the gamut from straight-ahead jazz to more experimental forms of music.

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