Atlin Festival Keeps Growing

Busy, hectic and crazy like always,” says Rick Newberry bluntly when asked how preparation is going for this summer’s Atlin Arts and Music Festival. “It’s always a wild ride but it’s always fun and, after six years, we’re getting the hang of it.”

Newberry is the performing arts director for the festival and, speaking with him by phone recently, it is evident he is a very busy man.

Understandable, as the festival continues to develop with 19 musical acts, 25 local artists and a multitude of films and workshops making up the 2008 lineup.

“We’re always expanding and that’s great,” explains Newberry. “We always wanted to be known as a multi-disciplinary festival and that’s what we’ve become.

Newberry’s voice grows in excitement as he speaks about some of the workshops being offered to kids throughout the weekend.

“Kids are going to have the chance to learn to play the harmonica with Mike Stevens, arguably the best harmonica player in the world,” said Newberry.

“Don Freed is also going to be leading a songwriting workshop for kids which is great because the kids just love him and when he was here before, the kids just ate him up.”

Newberry goes on to explain that Freed, a Métis, was once described by CBC news anchor Peter Mansbridge as Canada’s Pied-Piper.

“This year, what I’m most excited about is that there’s a lot more for folks to be involved with,” explains Newberry. “We want to be known as much for our arts as our music and I think that’s where we’re at.”

“There are a lot of music festivals across Canada but not as many arts and music festivals so it’s nice to be able to combine the two.”

Newberry says while he’s excited about the roster of acts performing this year, he admits it was a major disappointment that renowned Canadian fiddler Ashley MacIsaac had to cancel.

“We did prepare for it because he does have a bit of a reputation for that kind of thing,” said Newberry. “Still, it was a real blow.”

MacIsaac was forced to cancel his Atlin appearance after his lead guitarist, unbeknownst to him, went and booked a five-week summer tour with musician Matthew Good.

“There aren’t many guitarists out there that can keep up with Ashley,” explains Newberry. “We tried our best to find someone on short notice as did he but it just wasn’t meant to be.”

Still Newberry is looking forward to the 2008 lineup.

“From West Africa to Alaska to Vancouver, the magnitude of acts this year is phenomenal,” Newberry explains. “We’ve got the McDades playing this year and we’ve been trying to get them here for the past three years so it’s nice it worked out for them this year, especially with Ashley (MacIsaac) having to cancel.”

As for Newberry, he answers simply when asked why he puts in the effort he does each year.

“It’s a great process to watch something come alive and it’s so rewarding. If that wasn’t the case I obviously wouldn’t be involved.”

The Sixth Annual Atlin Arts and Music Festival begins July 11 at 3 p.m. and continues until July 13 at 6 p.m.

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