Sailboats, paddle boards, yachts and canoes crowded into the bay as I flip-flopped down the hill into the Kaslo Jazz Etc Festival last weekend. Festival-paired with my bestie Leesa Dean, we were beach-bound for the Michael Franti concert when I spotted our MP Wayne Stetski hiking along in cargo shorts.
“Can you believe how beautiful this all is?” he asked us. “It’s almost hard to believe.”
I’d written a few stories about the festival, as well as a Route 3 feature interview with founder Jimi Holland and his son Jasper, so I had an idea of what to expect. I mean, I’ve been to Kaslo before. But he was right: the setting was pseudo-supernatural, dream-like.
And things only got crazier from there.
Within a few hours I’d swum out to a speedboat for a lake jaunt, danced barefoot in the sunshine, taken full advantage of the beer garden and been present for the epic lightning storm that shut things down. The night ended with a large-scale evacuation in which I was among the thousands of frenzied fans rain-marching back into town in a human torrent.
“I think that was one of the craziest nights of my life,” I told Leesa the next day, recounting how I’d smashed into Hume Hotel owner Ryan Martin and his wife mid-Franti concert. Every time lightning flashed overhead the crowd would go bonkers, roaring gorilla-like in response.
“If nothing else happens this weekend, this will still be the highlight of my year,” I said.
As it turned out, there was plenty more in store. Leesa and I had discussed the weekend’s priorities beforehand, and though our list of sought-after bands differed, we both wanted to make a point of catching local acts such as Dirt Floor, Red Eyed Soul, Rabs and Mooves and Moontricks. I was stoked to see a friend of mine from school, Jamie Elliot, who’s been touring as one half of the duo Twin Bandit.
“Oh, and I really want to see Frazey Ford. I was really into the Be Good Tanyas,” Leesa said.
As with most festivals, it was only possible to catch a fraction of the action scheduled over the course of the weekend. But that was okay: most of the music you could hear from town, the bands made multiple appearances in a variety of venues, and the musicians act-hopped repeatedly — Jesse Lee, for instance, was scheduled for six shows.
But even if you only half-caught all the talent on display — I listened to Delhi 2 Dublin echo through the trees from my friend Chad’s campsite and I listened to most of Jenny Robinson’s set while scull-lazing in Kootenay Lake — it was still almost too much to take in.
I did successfully see Twin Bandit, braving inclement weather post-swim on Saturday afternoon in nothing but board shorts. The hissing of tree branches overhead, coupled with the relentless percussion of the rain, created a startlingly beautiful soundscape as their harmonies drifted over the sand. I won’t forget that soon.
One night I went to bed after crowd-moshing to Moontricks, only to wake up the next morning to find one of the members, Sean Rodman, already playing an acoustic set in the farmer’s market. He looked like a Kootenay version of Justin Timberlake while I still hadn’t brushed my teeth.
It exhausts me just to go to these festivals — can you imagine being a performer?
Speaking of exhaustion: I kept an eye on the new executive director Paul Hinrichs, walkie talkie-wielding and rushing from one thing to the next, as well as his second-in-command, the beautiful and dreadlocked Jake The Lady, over the course of the weekend.
From what I could tell they were almost never out of eyesight, whipping around in buggies, wrangling talent and checking in with security.
“Can you imagine having this much responsibility, this much liability, this many moving parts to deal with?” I asked Leesa, citing the Friday night storm as one reason I couldn’t handle the hypothetical stress.
“I wouldn’t do it,” she said.
But overall things went off swimmingly: tickets were sold-out, every scheduled performer got a chance to do their set and people were routinely raving about everything from the Ray Charles tribute show to the Circus Act Insomniacs’ acrobatics and the quality of the pita-wrapped cheesesteaks on offer. I may have lost my sunglasses and spent more money than I planned, but I came home feeling soul-enriched and inspired by the creative infrastructure on display.
A few days after the festival I ran into one of the performers from the festival, Brian Rosen, gigging at the Falls Music Lounge. We bar-swapped stories about our experiences over the weekend, and he caught me up on his current projects between sets.
“I think this is going to be the new Kootenay festival,” he told me, expressing his admiration for how it went down. I was surprised to learn he’d known Hinrichs for over a decade.
“It’s so cool to see my friends succeeding,” he said. “Nobody deserves it more than he does.”
Then Rosen packed up his complimentary pizza, hopped down off his stool and headed up to the stage to play some more music.