Wolfe Island music fest makes everyone happy

Jill Barber returns in perfect time.
Jill Barber returns in perfect time.
Photo courtesy of jillbarber.com

Summer is a time for backyard barbeques, patio pints and, of course, music festivals. It is a time to be outside, to meet your neighbours and basically party as much as possible.

The summer music festival can be a troubling entity, though. It can reflect summer’s finest moments: relaxing with friends, soaking in the sunshine, hacking a little sack and listening to some great music. Lately, however, it seems as if the summer music fest has become little more than a self-promotional tool for commercial radio stations and beer companies, not to mention a cash grab for opportunistic food and drink vendors.

Luckily, there are still people committed to fighting the good fight to reclaim the true spirit behind the summer festival. Virginia Clark, manager of The Grad Club, is one of those valiant fighters, and she’s doing it right in our very own backyard.

Clark recognizes what a summer festival should really be about, and has succeeded in realizing those ideals with the Wolfe Island Music Festival, now regarded by audiences and musicians alike, as one of the premier music festivals in the country. Clark and her friend, Sarah McDermott, are now in their seventh year of organizing the Wolfe Island Music Festival. They founded it in 1998 and have volunteered enormous amounts of time and energy to put it on every year since.

The event is completely non-profit, and all of the proceeds go to the Community Centre Development on Wolfe Island, for things like ice rinks and playgrounds.

The Wolfe Island Music festival represents everything that a good summer festival should. It is an inclusive and affordable way to celebrate the summer, enjoy great music and strengthen the community.

The Rheostatics are returning to Wolfe Island to headline the festival for the second straight year. In addition, Joel Plaskett, The Sadies, Andy Stochansky, Jill Barber, Jay Harris, Riff Raft and local Wolfe Islanders, R.W.I., will also be playing. The festival will take place on Saturday, Aug. 7. Tickets are $12 in advance and are available from The Grad Club, Zap Records, or $15 at the gate.

Virginia spoke with the Journal about the festival and why she chose Wolfe Island in the first place.

“Well, I’m a resident of Wolfe Island,” Clark said.

“But there is also a lot of community support for the festival. A lot of the community volunteers, and local businesses sponsor the event. Even some individuals themselves donate money, so it’s just amazing.” The festival has been growing steadily since its inception, due in large part to word-of-mouth support, especially between musicians. Despite the island’s sparse population, and relative obscurity, Clark has had no trouble booking for the festival.

“I’m turning people down who want to play there, everyday,” she said. “It’s got a reputation now. When The Sadies got here [to play their show at The Grad Club], I told them I live on Wolfe Island in the summers, and they were like, ‘Oh, Wolfe Island, I know of a great music festival there,’ and I told them that I actually organize the festival, and right away they were begging to be added to the bill. They were saying, ‘We will hunt you down. Just put us on the bill.’” “Everyone really wants to play it,” she said. “Joel Plaskett is actually flying in from Halifax just to do the show.

“Once you get over there I think you’ll understand,” Clark said. “It’s just a great community, with a beautiful landscape, and the people are fantastic.”

Unfortunately, Aug. 7, the date of the festival, is also the date of Toronto’s Olympic Island super-bill featuring Sloan, Sam Roberts, and Broken Social Scene among others. At this point, Clark can only speculate on what kind of effect it may have on her own festival.

“I was worried when Lollapalooza was also going on in the same week,” Clark said, “but now I’m not really that worried.”

“I mean, we’re not going to be like Olympic Island. Our show is not going to be a ‘scenester’ thing—it’s just going to be a great scene.” The rivalry is obviously not too fierce. The Olympic Island show is in a different league in terms of size, market, and naturally, profit as well.

“This is going to be low-key, underground, very inexpensive. I mean $12—you can’t find a festival at this price, for this lineup, anywhere. You just can’t. And our ferry ride is free!”

For Jill Barber, a former Queen’s student, playing in and around Kingston is always a special occasion.

“Kingston is a special place,” she said. “It always feels like I’m coming back to a place that feels like home, and a place that’s very dear to me. I’m definitely attached to Kingston.

“I’m really looking forward to Wolfe Island,” she said. “I’ve been away for the past few summers, so it should be really fun.”

Despite many of the bands having already played Kingston at some point over the past year, the performances should still be exciting.

The Rheostatics have a new album coming out in the fall, as does Andy Stochansky, so they’ll be playing a bunch of new tunes. Joel Plaskett will be performing sans The Emergency in a rare solo gig. Conversely, Jill Barber will be playing with a band (likely including her brother Matt) something she hasn’t done in Kingston for a long while.

The festival’s charitable function makes it even more perfect. “Everybody chips in and it’s a much better feeling knowing that it’s going to a good cause. The musicians feel good about it too,” Clark said.

If nothing else, you should go for the free ferry ride.

Just the facts . . .

The 7th annual Wolfe Island Music Festival

The Rheostatics, Joel Plaskett, The Sadies, Andy Stochansky, Jill Barber, Jay Harris, Riff Raft, R.W.I.

Date: Aug. 7

Time: 4:00pm

Ticket info: $12 from Grad Club or Zap Records, $15 at the gate. Children under 12 are free.

Ferry info: wolfeisland.com/ferry.php

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