Tiny Lights goes international

Ymir is gearing up for the fifth year of their multi-disciplinary arts festival.

Shawn and Carla Stephenson (Will Johnson photo) pose in front of Ymir’s schoolhouse

One of the best ways to describe Ymir’s Tiny Lights Festival, which turns five this year, is as a Kootenay version of Mardi Gras complete with street parties and flamboyant costumes.

“There’s so much freedom in Ymir, so people come here and become a part of that,” said organizer Carla Stephenson, who will run the festival from Friday to Sunday with her husband Shawn.

“This is not about consumption, about just sitting there and taking something in. It’s about participation rather than observation. You’re building something with us. You become a part of the community and the festival for the whole weekend.”

And it’s not unusual for the line between the performers and the audience to get a little blurry. With big names like Shane Koyczan and Rae Spoon in their lineup, fans can expect to rub shoulders with some pretty exciting artists.

“It doesn’t matter what genre you into, you’ll find something,” said Shawn, noting they’ve got a variety of venue sizes so they can offer everything from intimate acoustic sets to dance-heavy rock concerts.

This year’s lineup includes a number of local musicians and performers, including Bessie Wapp, Adham Shaikh, Cam Penner, Rhoneil and Dylann Heidi. They’re joined by acts such as Hello Moth, Dominique Fricot, The Aerialists and Top Men.

And that’s just the music: there are also composting, yoga, dance and ESL workshops, to name just a few, as well as installations by local artists such as Rhandi Sandford.

The weekend begins on Friday evening with two cabaret-style shows where the musicians will perform “tiny sets” at the schoolhouse and the hall stage. That will be followed by two days of jam-packed programming at seven different stages.

The Stephensons run their festival on a unique model, one they feel wouldn’t work without the community support they enjoy. Even as other events such as the Kootenay Storytelling Festival and Starbelly Jam have been cancelled this year, they’re enjoying the best ticket sales in their history.

“Carla and I wear both wear so many hats and have so many skills, which makes this festival possible because we can maneuver into so many different positions,” Shawn said, noting for instance that he manages all seven venues’ sound systems.

“What were asking of ourselves is a little ridiculous. It’s a little crazy and it’s a lot, but we’re doing it,” said Carla.

“What it takes is buy-in on everybody’s part. Everyone has to give a little bit. Many artists are coming for a bit less than they do normally, partly because it’s a chance to collaborate with and meet artists from around the world.”

She means that literally. This year they booked their first international acts: UK multi-instrumentalist Jez Hellard and Italian classical violinist Luca Ciarla.

“Our ticket sales have become international for the first time too. We’re getting ones from New Orleans, Germany, Washington. I don’t even know how they heard of us,” said Shawn. “I would say it’s surprising but it also feels like a reward for all the hard work we’ve been doing. It’s definitely been an uphill battle.”

This year they’ve developed an in-the-round performance called Strung Out where they bring artists together to play music according to a theme, taking turns supporting one another.

“We’ve got fiddlers and violinists and viola and cello and bass and sitar all getting together on one stage and collaborating, which is magical,” said Shawn.

Carla is most excited about the Surrealist Parade at 4 p.m. on Sunday, which will be the first annual Mardi Gras-like parade with big costumes that aim to “resolve the previously contradictory conditions of dream and reality.”

Carla wants people to go all-out.

“We’re having it on the Sunday because the creative juices will be flowing and people will be ready to be weird and to have fun.”

The goal, quite simply, is to bring people together.

“Really, this is all about community,” said Shawn. “Yes, it’s about the community we live in. But it’s also about the community we create. We’re all making this festival together, and we wouldn’t have been able to flourish like this without the huge participation of the town of Ymir.”

 

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