Mission Folk Music Festival board member Kat Wahamaa (left) and general manager Michelle Demers-Shaevitz are trying to build up the event’s roots. / Kevin Mills Photo

Mission Folk Music Festival building on its roots

Organizers want to strengthen local audience, introduce event to newcomers

With just one week to go before show time, the organizers of the Mission Folk Music Festival (July 21-23) are confident that this year will be one to remember.

The festival is celebrating its 30th year and Mission’s 125th birthday.

“We are rather delighted to be here for our 30th year,” said festival general manager Michelle Demers-Shaevitz.

“We are continuing our path forward. We had great success with our new format last year where we refined our presence on the site and really focused on the audience experience. And we are going to continue that again this year.”

Like last year, the festival will open on Friday (July 21) with a special pay-what-you-can admission.

The first night is designed to introduce people to what the festival is all about and ensures there is no “economic barrier” preventing people from attending.

“Friday night is our community night,” said Demers-Shaevitz, adding that organizers are trying to re-introduce Mission residents to the festival.

“We are really interested in continuing to build and renew those relationships with Mission. And with so many new families moving here and so many new people – and some of our existing community – not really knowing what we are about and are not sure if a folk festival applies to them, we are making it risk-free to participate.”

With that in mind, Friday night’s lineup covers a mix of musical genres, including Mission’s own John Welsh Band.

“He’s so well-known but he’s never played at the festival. We wanted to remedy that,” Demers-Shaevitz said.

Also performing on Friday are the Boom Booms, who offer a fun, upbeat Caribbean vibe; the Reverie Machine for those who like folk music; and much more.

Demers-Shaevitz said the lineup was designed as an introduction to the festival, with a sampling that features blues, reggae and folk.

“Last year saw a huge organizational shift. One of our goals coming out of this shift was strengthening our roots. We have the branches around the world with our music and branches into other communities that come to see us. But we really, really wanted to deepen our roots here.”

As part of that strengthening process, the festival has become more involved with other community events in order to raise its local profile. The festival has partnered with the district and other local groups and has had a presence at Mission Canada Day celebration, the Heritage Picnic and others.

Much like last year, the festival’s format will feature five interactive stage areas.

“We’re going to have a central stage area with a main stage and a side stage.”

There will also be a workshop stage, a smaller more acoustic stage and a children’s area.

There are also interactive activities, including square dancing and the festival choir made up of patrons who want an opportunity to perform as well as watch.

Youth is another big focus this year and a youth showcase hosted by festival board member Kat Wahamaa features four emerging artists who will perform their own compositions.

There are also opportunities for people age 16 to 19 to volunteer at the festival.

Demers-Shaevitz said these are supervised opportunities and will hopefully help to build a new audience.

As part of the lineup on Saturday, there will be a Canada 150 show featuring songs, stories and soundscapes reflecting the landscapes.

There will be three storytellers coming, including First Nations speakers capturing stories of the region.

“It’s the first time we’ve done something like this.”

Organizers are still looking for volunteers to help out at Fraser River Heritage Park.

For more information about the festival, the musical lineup or to volunteer, visit missionfolkmusicfestival.ca.