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© Rob Porter

Live Review: VIC Fest 2014 @ St. Ann’s Academy

Nestled in the gardens and orchards between picturesque buildings of St. Ann’s Academy, the 4th annual celebration of arts and culture VIC Fest delighted patrons and concert goers with a broad and accessible spectrum of arts and activities. Comprised of musical performances, song writing workshops and food, beer and wine tasting,

VIC Fest excels as a family friendly hybrid of other local cherished festivals such as Rifflandia and Beerfest. Supported by over a dozen local restaurants, breweries and wineries, the festival offered afforded priced appetizers and alcohol samples from intriguing local breweries. Offering an exciting, comfortable and unique festival experience only minutes walk from downtown Victoria, VIC Fest is another budding Vancouver Island festival that continues to demonstrate the hungry artistic appetite in Victoria and the regional area.

Selections of food and artists were designed to highlight the local talent and product of unique local artists and businesses. Opening early for spectators to browse the fine selection of wines, each paired with complementing appetizers from a local independent restaurant. Bacon wrapped dates, pulled pork sliders, crab meat tarts, gourmet cookies, cheese, sausage and pork belly with shrimp were mouth watering treats and exhibitions of edible art. Affordable food ticket prices made the many selections of hors d’oeuvre garden a particular treat as well as a fine survey of local culinary establishments.

VIC Fest is designed as a fun, family friendly environment. Functioning as more than a concert, it is an easy going festival where parents can enjoy a good local craft beer, entertained by some stunning regional talent and bring the kids. The jovial mood of the healthy sized audience contributed to the magic setting of a garden courtyard; varieties of patrons sat comfortably in the sun, sipping beer or taste testing wine. Overlooking the orchard and sample beer garden, the Day Stage featured a fantastic cover of “Rockin’ in the Free World,” by local rockers Hawk and Steel. Dedicated to Dads everywhere, the grungy rock anthem included an enthusiastic chorus of guest vocals from other VICfest performers and was a daytime highlight of the festival.

VIC Fest’s affiliation with local talent goes far past the line-up of performers. Music BC hosted a song writing workshop catered for up and coming artists featuring a panel of celebrated local musicians including Tyler Bancroft & Ben Worcester of Said The Whale and Victorian artist Aidan Knight as well as Kathryn Calder of The New Pornographers. Offering supportive comments for budding artists, these musicians also shared personal stories about their own song writing and took turns playing intimate acoustic performances in the majesty of a beautiful chapel. The pristine acoustics oft the chamber made dreamy sweetness of Kathryn Calder’s voice all the more pure and genuine. The highly personal and intimate nature of this indoor stage with such superb acoustics stood out as a particular highlight of the festival.

The audience of the day swelled to a substantial mature but easy going crowd of onlookers. The sun’s slow departure gave a gentle hue to the colour of the evening sky as hip hop act Pigeon Hole contributed some urban style to the evening. Towers and Trees delved out a does of good natured beach rock with each song sounding more convincing and fiery than the next. Bear Mountain, an ambient electronic pop group delighted the crowd with airy melodies but hit a snag as some of their electronic equipment failed and temporary cut their set short. After configuring a quick equipment fix, the band returned with a vengeance, ending on a strong note with functioning instruments..

Of particular delight were the performances in the beautiful green gardens of St. Ann Academy’s courtyard. While all of the artists demonstrated talent, appreciation and respect for the local community support, there were several standouts. Much of the audience was unfamiliar with Robbie Aylesworth who played his second show with his full band although the crowd would never suspect as much; his blues infused driving, broad accessible style and classical honed guitar skills of Aylesworth bears some similarity to John Mayer. Another promising artist of even stronger resemblance to a blues legend is local guitar badass Jesse Roper, aka The Roper Show, whose poise, swagger and sweet fluid guitar lines scream Stevie Ray Vaughan. Performing the penultimate set on the main stage, The Roper Show, a confident and effective three piece blues band playing Texas styled blues with a distinct northern flavour, wowing the audience with his new single “Yukon Girl.”

Vancouver based Said The Whale closed off the evening with their light hearted, hook heavy folk rock with a healthy dose of keyboards. Said the Whale’s infectiously catchy single “I Love You” sounded like a poppy Dandy Warhols cut and served as a fitting end to a fun, friendly festival. As the crowd funnelled calmly towards the downtown core in the clean evening air, one couldn’t help but appreciate the kind, accessible attitude of VIC Fest and the laid back nature of the exceptionally pleasant Victoria crowd; the artists of this wonderful city are worthy of such celebration.

Photos © Rob Porter

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