Islands Folk Festival celebrates 40 fantastic years in Cowichan

Islands Folk Festival celebrates 40 fantastic years in Cowichan
Islands Folk Festival celebrates 40 fantastic years in Cowichan

Get into the folk spirit with this year’s Island Folk Festival, featuring new additions like contra dancing and more group jam sessions

The Cowichan Folk Guild proudly celebrates four fantastic decades of bringing the community together through music with their annual Islands Folk Festival, taking place at Duncan’s Providence Farm from July 19-21.

“We’ve been thrilled to host it at Providence Farm for the past 40 years and look forward to welcoming both returning and new festival-goers for a weekend of fantastic music, food and camaraderie,” said Artistic Director Jack Connolly.

The three-day festival was originally started by local musicians 40 years ago as a one-day fundraiser. Today, it features a large lineup of both local and international talent, including Newfoundland artists Jenny Allen and Scott Parson, who played the first festival in 1984.

“What we’re doing with this year’s lineup is trying to elevate our local folk heroes,” Connolly said. “We’ve got people like Ed Peekeekoot, who’s an incredible storyteller and guitar player who creates incredible sound paintings with his guitar. We’re also bringing back Eugene Smith, who means a lot to so many people in Duncan. He’s 80 now, so we really wanted to give him another Duncan night, where the lights go down and the people give him that roar.”

Connolly said the guild is also excited to welcome back some veteran folk heroes this year, including James Keelaghan, who went on to become a classic Canadian folk songwriter, and Valdy, both of whom have lent their talents to the event on and off since its inception.

“Valdy has a long history with this festival and this year we have him back with a band,” Connolly said. “These guys are coming there, but it’s so great that they’re healthy and will be performing here again, it’s really special to have them back after all these years.”

Connolly said the guild this year will also include festival-goers such as Tai Williams and Murray Porter, an indigenous blues artist from Vancouver, for the first time.

“Murray has never played our festival before, so the indigenous community is very proud that he is coming here for the first time,” Connolly said. “We also have a new band called Infinite Atom and they are a bunch of hippie kids who just rock and are so excited to be playing the festival this year. Eileen McGann is another folk hero from the area, and when you hear her, her voice is as clear as a bell, she is a folk genius.”

Connolly said there are a few more acts not to miss: New Zealand’s Mel Parsons on Friday, Scotland’s Shooglenifty on Saturday, who will rock with their brand of fusion dance-Celtic music, while Florida’s Lee Boys, who are part of the Sacred Seal Gospel music tradition, will take the audience to church on both Friday night and Sunday morning.

“They just rock gospel music so hard,” Connolly said. “It’s going to be an hour and 15 minutes of balls to the wall gospel music on a Sunday morning.”

Other acts lending their talents to the three-day festival include Big Little Lions, Sacred Steel Summit Revue, Calvin Cooke, Firebird, Twin Embers, Clanna Morna, Claire Coupland, Shineolas, Hardly Handsome, From the Earth, Luke Wallace, King Cardiac, Richard Garvey, Marina Avros, Ghostly Hounds, Desmond Day, Dave Gallant, The Tzinquaw Dancers and the Lila Community Choir. Depending on whether you choose to camp out for the weekend or drive for the day, ticket prices vary. Visit to view the full schedule and purchase tickets.

The Islands Folk Festival is a family-friendly festival featuring the popular ‘Kids Zone’ and a number of acts also performing as children’s entertainers.

The festival is special to Connolly, who also turns 40 this year and is fondly remembered for first playing at one of the guild’s coffeehouse events at the age of 12, and graduating to the Islands Folk Festival three years later. Connolly is proud to now be Artistic Director of the long-running festival where he celebrates his birthday.

“A lot of the kids who have been involved with the Kid’s Zone over the years are now involved in the running of the festival,” Connolly said. “I’ve been coming to this festival myself since I was 15, and it feels incredible to be involved in the running of it every year now. You never know how long something is going to last in your life. This opportunity just seems to fit with the rest of my life, and I’m really glad I have it, because I’ve played the festival over the years, to still be involved in the capacity that I am now feels like a really good moment in my life.”

In addition to the festival’s five stages, there’s a beverage garden, food and crafts, songwriting and storytelling workshops — plus new additions to help build community. The Cowichan Contra Dance Society will lead a partner dance on Saturday night, plus there will be plenty of opportunities to get your jams heard.

“It’s all about making music together, which is part of the culture of a healthy music festival,” Connolly said. “Messy and imperfect, it doesn’t matter, we want people to get their hands on the music and go out together. I hope people take that experience of the music coming from those high and famous places and bring it into our own hands and into our own lives.”