Feature Story                                                                                                                     Friday, April 4, 2014


Facing the Music

From Aboriginal to African, Harrison Festival of the Arts goers will have a vast selection of choices July 12-20

Released by Andy Hillhouse/Voice photos/Handout photos


Mel Dunster, general manager, Harrison Festival Society, revealed their poster and lineup for this year's musical showcase July 12-20 last Monday. Below, Andy Hillhouse gives local media a sample of what to expect this year at the popular festival.


he 2014 Harrison Festival of the Arts marks the first for myself as the Executive and Artistic Director, and for General Manager Mel Dunster. 


In September 2013, Mel and I took on these positions following the retirement of the amazing couple who have been at the helm of the Festival for the past few decades, Phyllis and Ed Stenson.


In planning this year’s program, I have attempted to stay true to the aesthetic of cultural diversity that has defined the Festival since its inception in the late 1970's.  


In fact, for me, the 2014 festival program is perhaps more about establishing continuity with the traditions of the Festival as it is about looking forward to its transformation.  


Of course, there is a practical aspect to not changing things too quickly: the Festival is in great shape, has an excellent reputation and has been extremely well run, and I don’t want to fix what is not broken. But also I genuinely share the kinds of values that I think make this festival special and with which it has long been associated. It is a true village festival, with strong roots in the local community, but with a vision that reaches out to the world.


Regarding the local community, I wanted to demonstrate my dedication to Fraser Valley music by having an opening concert that features young performers 'Straight from the Valley'.  


I am excited to have invited the extraordinary Langley Ukulele Ensemble and the UFV Bhangra Club, who will share the stage with the dynamic fiddle group The Sabir Sisters, raised right down the road in Abbotsford.


Phyllis Stenson had a knack for discovering excellent emerging performers and bringing them to the Festival before they became well known on touring circuits. In looking through earlier festival programs I saw some acts who since their initial appearances at the Festival have established themselves as leading figures on the roots music scene and I wanted to bring a few of these performers back.  


UFV Banghra Club will be opening the festival this year. Below, JUNO nominee Eric Bibb. Photo courtesy of Surrey 604 Aziz Dhamani.


One such group is the contemporary calypso band Kobo Town, whose most recent superb album, Jumbie in the Jukebox, has been nominated for a 2014 Juno for Best World Music Album.  


I am also bringing back Eric Bibb, who was a huge hit when he played here in 2009, and who continues to establish himself as one of the best acoustic blues performers anywhere.  Another returning festival favourite is Pacific Curls, a group with a compelling and lovely mixture of Celtic and Maori sounds.


Later in the week we will present a pair of younger acts who are taking the folk and world scenes by storm.  Virtuosic pipers Ross Ainslie and Jarlath Henderson, who also sing, will surely get audiences on their feet; they represent the best of a Scottish folk scene that is strongly rooted in tradition yet thoroughly modern.  Mokoomba, from Zimbabwe, are an energetic, fresh sounding group singing in the minority Tonga language, led by vocalist, Mathias Muzaza, whose powerful voice is sure to send shivers down spines.  


The second weekend starts with Quique Escamilla, a Toronto-based, Mexican born singer-songwriter whose songs speak about social issues with cumbia, ska, and reggae grooves, reminding us that when the revolution comes there will be dancing!


JUNO winning alt-country Nathan Music Co. from Winnipeg will be making a special appearance.


Last Fall I got word that Juno winning alternative country band Nathan Music Co., from Winnipeg, were hitting a few Western festivals this summer and I jumped on the opportunity to book them right way. Formerly known as just Nathan, this is a band with haunting songs and harmonies that evoke the expanse of the prairies through the sweet voice of singer Keri Latimer.


The closing show of the Festival is the return of button accordion player Riccardo Tesi and Banditaliana. Tesi is a legend in Italian, and more broadly, European folk music. In the highly regional country of Italy, he was one of the first accordion players who performed styles of traditional music from around the country. Banditaliana brings together traditional music with contemporary songs and world music in a sunny kaleidoscope of sound.


While the Memorial Hall is ticketed, the free access Beach Stage will present acts of no lesser stature and skill, fulfilling our mandate that high quality performing arts should be widely accessible. Some of the more established performers on the Beach Stage this year will be singer-songwriter Mae Moore, who is also the feature artist for the Festival art exhibit on display at the Ranger Station Art Gallery.  


Now a Canadian folk icon, David Francey will also be gracing our Beach Stage with his Juno winning songwriting talent and warm voice that speak to the experiences of working people.  Legendary Scottish fingerstyle guitarist, Tony McManus is another established folk performer who has gained a reputation for his stunning interpretations of traditional pipe and fiddle tunes.  He will be one of the closing acts playing the Beach Stage on Sunday July 20th.   


The Festival has always valued presenting young and emerging performers, and there are a few I have booked for this year who I am quite excited about.  My own background is with fiddle music, and having taught at a few fiddle camps I have seen a vibrant BC fiddle scene develop over the past decade or so.  


Jocelyn Pettit will be one of the fiddlers participating in workshops throughout the festival. Below, Leonard Sumner will be one of the performers on the beach stage.


From this scene I am bringing in three young fiddlers, Wesley Hardisty, Jocelyn Pettit and Nellie Quinn, for a workshop in the hall and a set on the Beach Stage.  They promise to showcase the kind of creativity and community that our BC fiddle scene nurtures. Another group of young musicians, who are making their first venture out west, is Ventanas, who combine flamenco with Sephardic Jewish songs and Bulgarian rhythms, a mix that is enthralling and exciting.


The Festival has also always valued presenting Indigenous voices and sounds.  Fiddler Wesley Hardisty is from the Dene nation in Fort Simpson, an area in which the fiddle tradition is deeply rooted in Aboriginal communities. Leonard Sumner, who will perform on the Beach Stage midweek, is an  Anishinaabe MC/Singer-Songwriter from the Little Saskatchewan First Nation in Manitoba.  His songs combine rap with country and folk in rhythms and rhymes that speak with sometimes stark and always compassionate honesty to his personal experience. 


Phyllis was one of the first presenters in Canada to present African music on a regular basis, well before there was an established world music industry of agents, managers and record labels, and I consider African music to be a strong tradition of the Festival.  Along with Mokoomba, two other African acts will be Kakana from Mozambique and Zimbamoto, both bands that will inspire the beach dancers.   



Moira Smiley with Voco and Trivo lead singing workshops during the festival. Below, Norman Foote is one of the featured Children's Day performers.


One of my passions is the way that music making can create community, and finding ways to foster opportunities for participation is one of my goals for the future.


Singing has a way of breaking down barriers and two vocal groups from the Beach Stage, Moira Smiley’s VOCO and Vancouver’s TriVo, will be conducting singing workshops on each weekend in which attendees can participate. Dancing also creates community, and the Vancouver-based Balkan brass band Orkestar Slivovica will be leading a European dance workshop.  Both group singing and social dance are things I would like to bring more of in future years.


The Festival will continue with the co-sponsored events that have been running in the past: the Literary Café this year will be featuring UFV writers, both professors and students, and the evening of theatre will present two one act plays from UFV's 19th Annual Directors' Theatre Festival.  


Children’s Day will continue, with the feature performer being the hilarious Norman Foote.   


Looking down the road, the things that we will keep working on are increasing youth involvement in the Festival and getting more people to participate in music and art making, whether through more participatory workshops or events such as social dance and choral singing.  However, this year, it has been really important to us to plant our feet firmly in the soil that has been tilled by Phyllis and Ed, and to bring a balanced program that offers lots of dancing, singing, cultural variety, and just good music and performing arts.


Download the brochure



About the Harrison Festival Society


Who We Are

The Harrison Festival Society is a non-profit organization incorporated in 1988 under the BC Society Act.  The Society is governed by a board of directors, employs a staff of three and has an office open twelve months a year in beautiful Harrison Hot Springs.


What We Do

Each July the Harrison Festival Society produces the internationally acclaimed Harrison Festival of the Arts, a 9 day, cross disciplinary, multicultural art event held on the beautiful shores of Harrison Lake, BC.  The Society, also presents an annual Season of the Performing Arts consisting of eight to ten shows presented from September to April in the historic Harrison Memorial Hall.  Two separate fundraising events are organized each year as well. Outside of these activities the Society has also developed many community partners and works closely with other organizations, businesses and institutions.


Why We Do It

The Harrison Festival Society is built on two very strongly held beliefs.  The first is that good quality live performing arts are an integral part of a healthy community and that within their local area people should be able to explore the human community through the presentation of a full spectrum of artistic expression.  The second belief is the importance of celebrating the cultural diversity of Canada and the world and by presenting audiences with the artistic expression of diverse cultures, helps them appreciate the contributions of different cultures to our common culture.


The Society's commitment to its audience is to bring the best Canada and the world has to offer, while remaining accessible and inclusive.


For more information, visit www.harrisonfestival.com


Harrison Festival of the Arts – A Brief History

The legacy that is today an internationally acclaimed celebration of arts & culture began with no less vision or grassroots tenacity.  Originally an initiative to showcase the vibrant arts community of the Agassiz-Harrison area, the first Harrison Festival of the Arts was organized and executed in the summer of 1979.


Despite financial hardships in the early years, organizers pressed on and in 1985 emerged strong and unrelenting with the first themed and federally funded Festival celebrating Japanese art & music.  The next few years saw similar culturally themed Festivals with 1987 featuring an African theme and the first ever international performers and artists.  In 1988 the Festival hit its stride, quadrupling its budget and becoming its own separate award winning society. 


Since then the Festival has evolved beyond ethnically themed entertainment to effective advocacy for sharing and embracing minority cultures and reflecting the unique diversity of Canadian society through the arts.  Known world- wide for its professional artistry and small town hospitality, the Festival is and will remain a beacon for growing acceptance of diversity and purpose fueled arts programming.


‘After 30 years, it’s still the sweetest little fest in the west. The location is stunning, the talent is undeniable and the audiences are genuine. There’s much to be said for music in an intimate and relaxing setting, especially with the backdrop of a glacier-fed lake and the majesty of the surrounding mountains.’ - Cal Koat, World Beat Canada/Celt In a Twist



The Management Team


Andy Hillhouse

Executive and Artistic Director


Since the early 1990's Andy has had a varied career in music.  He has been a touring bandleader in the field of Celtic music, a choral director, a music and culture scholar and now a festival organizer.  


As a musician he is perhaps best known as the founder and manager of the Celtic funk band Mad Pudding, who toured festivals and folk clubs in North America and Europe through the 1990's.


Since 2000 he has toured with several of the Celtic music scene’s most respected and exciting acoustic musicians, including champion Canadian fiddler Pierre Schryer, Irish flute player Nuala Kennedy, and The McDades, with whom he won a JUNO and two Canadian Folk Music Awards in 2006.  


In the choral world, Andy is former director of Vancouver’s Universal Gospel Choir and the Sarah McLachlan Music Outreach Choir and also was a member of the JUNO nominated vocal ensemble Musica Intima from 1994-2005.  


In the last decade he has turned much of his energy to scholarship, recently obtaining a PhD in Ethnomusicology from the University of Toronto after submitting his dissertation “Touring as Social Practice: Transnational Festivals, Personalized Networks and New Folk Music Sensibilities”. This work maps and analyzes the musical networks of three inter-related contemporary folk musicians in three separate countries, within the context of the transnational social milieu of festival circuits.  


Andy has lectured at Vancouver Community College and the University of Toronto, on subjects such as European folk music, North American popular music and Music, Media, and Technology. His scholarly publications include articles in journals Musicultures and Ethnomusicology Ireland, as well as a translated contribution to a forthcoming volume on Italian folk music.  He was recently hired as the Executive and Artistic Director of the Harrison Festival Society in British Columbia and commenced with his new position in September 2013.


Mel Dunster

General Manager


Mel has long been passionate about the arts. After graduating from the Douglas College Theatre Program in 2001 she spent many years in Chilliwack where she was very involved in the theatre community including the University of the Fraser Valley Theatre Department, the Chilliwack Players Guild and her own theatre company Mel-o-drama Productions.   


While managing Mel-o-drama she discovered an even greater love for marketing and graphic design and has since facilitated branding and publicity workshops in her local community, and established herself as an award-winning graphics designer (Theatre Zone Festival, 2009). 


Mel was first introduced to the Harrison Festival Society in 2002 when her directorial debut, Pillow Talk was featured at the 24th Annual Harrison Festival of the Arts. Several years later in 2008 she was hired by the Festival on a one year contract as office administrator and project assistant for the Kent-Harrison Arts & Cultural Scan.   


Since then she and her family have been regular Festival volunteers. After living in Hungary with her family from 2011-2013, she was hired as the General Manager of the Harrison Festival Society.


As General Manager, she is putting the skills she has gained both as a theatre company manager and as a former Festival employee to enhance the marketing, publicity and efficiency of the organization.






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