Vancouver Island Music Fest keeps rollin’ along

Besides being a busy touring musician, Doug Cox is the artistic director and executive producer of the Vancouver Island Music Festival.  - Photo submitted
Besides being a busy touring musician, Doug Cox is the artistic director and executive producer of the Vancouver Island Music Festival.
— image credit: Photo submitted

Vancouver Island MusicFest took a financial hit last year, but it was strong artistically and will continue to be again this year, says a key figure.

“We lost some money last year because of our Thursday night experiment with Alison Krauss,” artistic director and executive producer Doug Cox admitted in an interview.

“But we had some money in the bank and we’re not in debt to anybody and we’re still fully-functioning,” he stated.

“Reputation-wise in the music industry, we’re recognized as one of the top festivals in North America and one of the festivals that premiers a lot of bands that go on to play other festivals after ours.”

In fact, Cox said, his counterparts from other festivals scout MusicFest for talent.

“We continue to bring in world-class acts in a community as small as the Comox Valley, which is almost unheard of.”

He believes MusicFest is the largest music festival on Vancouver Island and one of the largest in B.C.

The word is out among the media, Cox added. “CBC does more recording at our festival than any other festival in Canada, and we have a lot of people from the music world who come to our festival every year now.”

Holger Peterson, veteran owner of Stony Plain Records, who has a weekly Saturday night music show on national CBC Radio, comes to MusicFest every year.

“He calls it his favourite festival; he’s told me that many times,” Cox said. “He’s an ex-festival programmer himself. For me, personally, it’s always a real thrill to have people like that come to our festival and say we’ve got some of the best programming they’ve ever seen and some of the best workshops they’ve ever seen.”

Workshops are essentially programmed jams in which Cox matches sometimes-disparate styles by people who often have never played together in the hope that an exciting new musical collaboration will emerge before a live audience.

“Often we see them go off and record together or tour together. We’ve spawned a lot of new collaborations at our festival that have gone on world tours.”

While Cox has a great amount of control over what acts play at the festival, he stressed that the lineup every year depends on the availability of musicians. He has tried for years to land certain acts before doing so and, of course, always has an evolving wishlist. Cox said festival organizers have decided that 10,000 tickets sold over three days is the optimum number for a successful festival in its current site. He estimated MusicFest was 700 short of that number last year.

“Our goal is to make the festival financially solvent and responsible but not to grow the festival,” he summarized.

“It’s an interesting dilemma because most people measure success in North America is through growth. Even some of our funders (say), ‘What are you doing to increase your numbers?’ We are a non-profit organization, but we don’t want to make a killing.”

That said, Cox hinted MusicFest will tighten its operations this year to avoid the financial loss of 2011.

Acts announced so far for the 2012 festival July 6 to 8 at the Comox Valley Exhibition Grounds include k.d. lang, Buffy Sainte-Marie and Matt Andersen.  For more, visit

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