Unplug and play at this out-of-the way music fest in northern B.C.
Artswells Festival in northern B.C. is essentially summer camp for music and art lovers, a place to “jam, adventure, frolic, loiter,” says Vancouver Island musician and artist Jenny Ritter. “We go north and participate in that wonderful madness.” The four- day party is set near Bowron Lakes in the neighbouring towns of Wells and Barkerville (a National Historic Site from the Gold Rush era). A nine-hour drive from Vancouver, it’s isolated (read: no cell service). And that’s the appeal, says Ritter. Everyone who comes this far is committed to being there, in the moment—with moments that include visual installations, wandering performers, parades, artisans, galleries and workshops. But the magic really takes place in the extraordinary music venues, from St. Saviour’s Church in Barkerville (one of the original buildings from 1869) to the Sunset Theatre (built in 1934, it was B.C.’S first gambling hall and a former morgue) and bright-yellow Wells Community Hall (a 1938 structure that once housed a pistol range). “Every year there is inevitably some band I’ve never heard of that blows my mind, playing in the most intimate setting,” says Ritter. It’s what happened during her own performance at the Sunset last summer: “We had a six-piece band, and got to play as loud and as soft as we wanted…i felt like a goddamn superstar.”— B.S.