We’re coming up on festival season in Vancouver, which sometimes offers a way to take in the arts at bargain prices—or even for free. In this article, we're providing a snapshot of many of the big events. For more information, click the link, which will take you to the website or one of its social-media pages.
(June 8 to August 24)
The lowdown: Vancouver’s popular outdoor Shakespeare festival has retained its appeal even as the Bard himself has come under more intense academic scrutiny over how he portrayed women and minorities. Part of the reason is that Bard on the Beach has been evolving with the times, even commissioning a film last year, Done/Undone, which examined these controversies in an even-handed manner. This year, the festival opens with one of the English playwright’s favourites, A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Another popular play, Romeo and Juliet, comes later in the run. In a nod to the Black experience in North America, Bard on the Beach is also presenting Harlem Duet, which is Djanet Sears’s examination of a Black couple at three pivotal periods in history.
Who’s the festival for? This year, it’s not only welcoming lovers of Shakespeare but also those with a keen interest in the challenges faced by Black people.
(June 9 to 12)
The lowdown: Over four nights at the Historic Theatre at the Cultch, audiences will be treated to an impressive array of international music, including Azerbaijani tar virtuoso Ramiz Guliyev. It will be his first appearance in B.C. with the Vancouver Inter-Cultural Orchestra, which will be conducted by his son, Ayyub Guliyev. Other performers include the Vancouver Erhu Quartet, which combines western strings with the erhu, which is sometimes referred to as the Chinese violin. Another group is 88 strings, incorporating plucked instruments from China, the West, and Persia. Also on the schedule is Ensemble Paramirabo from Montreal.
Who's the festival for: Cosmopolitan music lovers eager to expand their horizons.
(June 12 to July 3)
The lowdown: The 21st annual Talking Stick Festival is time for National Indigenous History Month and National Indigenous People's Day (June 21). This year's theme is "Come Together", in which attendees go on a canoe journey exploring Indigenous culture through some very talented artists. Indigenous tattoo artists Audie Murray, Dion Kaszas, Gig–K’aajuu G’aaya, Holly Mititquq Nordlum, Nahaan, Nakkita Trimble, and Nicole Neidhard will also be featured in the Sacred Skin component. Musicians incude the sister duo of DJ KoaKeA and DJ Keilani Rose, Vancouver-based artist JB the First Lady, Handsome Tiger, and DJ Kookum.
Who's the festival for? Those interested in advancing reconcilation and learning more about Indigenous arts and culture.
(June 15 to 25)
The lowdown: It's an 11-day celebration for francophiles that begins on June 15 with B.C. hip-hop artist Missy D and Quebec-based rapper FouKi. It takes palce in Studio 16 in Maison de la francophie de Vancouver (1555 West 7th Avenue). That will be the site of many other shows over the festival. And on June 18, people can gather during the day at the outdoor stage for a family-friendly celebration, capped off by evening performances by Klô Pelgag and Coeur de Pirate. On June 25, the celebration moves to the Civic Plaza outside the City of North Vancouver's municipal hall (126 West 14th Street) for more free outdoor performances.
Who's the festival for? Families who love practising their French in a friendly, nonjudgmental environment, as well as francophones itching for the culture that they may have left behind in other parts of Canada or around the world.
(June 18 to July 8)
The lowdown: This boundary-busting annual event will focus on the theme of “Hauntings” this year in a range of visual art, performance, music, and literary events. The Queer Arts Festival kicks off with an opening reception on top of its headquarters in the Sun Wah Centre in Chinatown. That’s where a free visual arts show, curated by Adwait Singh and directed by S D Holman, will showcase queer artistic practices from South Asia throughout the festival. There’s another free art exhibition in partnership with James Black Gallery, entitled Pride in Art Community Show. In addition, the QAF is partnering with the TD Vancouver International Jazz Festival for the first time in presenting Adria Kain and Janette King at Performance Works on June 24.
Who’s the festival for? Music and art lovers who hope to discover what’s on the cutting edge of queer expression.
(June 24 to July 3)
The lowdown: The Coastal Jazz and Blues Society always puts on a world-class event at multiple venues. This year’s highlights include American blues-guitar legend Buddy Guy at the Queen Elizabeth Theatre (June 24) and three-time Grammy winner Lucinda Williams at the Queen Elizabeth Theatre (July 2). Another Grammy winner, Cécile McLorin Salvant, will be at the Vancouver Playhouse (June 27). At the same venue on the following evening, it’s the Manchester-based Gogo Penguin (June 28). In addition, there are more than 60 free concerts, including the Josh Zubot Quartet and Darius Jones at Performance Works (June 24), Terminal Station at Ocean Art Works (June 24), DJ Koakea and DJ Keilani Rose at Ocean Art Works (June 24), the Sister Jazz Orchestra at the Georgia Street Stage (June 25), and Joyce N’Sana at North Vancouver’s Civic Plaza (June 25).
Who’s the festival for? This is not your grandparents’ jazz festival—music runs the gamut from straight-ahead jazz to more experimental forms of music.
(July 7 to 16)
The lowdown: Dancing on the Edge turns 34 this year, making this the country’s oldest and longest-running contemporary dance festival. It has endured, in part, due to its stellar lineups of visiting artists but also because Vancouver has become such a leading centre for innovative choreography. This year’s festival will feature celebrated Canadian artists Zab Maboungou/Compagnie Danse Nyata Nyata (Montreal), Alexandra ‘Spicey’ Landé/Ebnflōh Dance Company (Montreal), Olivia C. Davies/Maamawi Collective (Ontario), and Vancouver’s Vanessa Goodman/Action at a Distance, Tara Cheyenne Friedenberg/Tara Cheyenne Performance, Michelle Olson & Starr Muranko/Raven Spirit Dance, Alvin Erasga Tolentino/Co.ERASGA, James Gnam/plastic orchid factory, Calder White, and others. If you’ve never checked out live dance before, this is the year and this is the event.
Who’s the festival for? It’s for everyone who knows that Vancouver has risen to surprising heights in the world of dance—and for anyone else who is curious to know why.
(July 7 to 17)
The lowdown: The ever-quotable artistic director of the Indian Summer Festival, Sirish Rao, noted before last year’s festival how human predicaments can result from a crisis of the imagination. He wanted to explore the implications of the shrinking number of languages, but the pandemic got in the way so he had to improvise. So he came up with 10 COVID-safe events with various shapeshifters, including sitarist and composer Anoushka Shankar and legendary tabla master Zakir Hussain. This year’s festival, which will be the last hurrah for Rao and his wife and cofounder Laura Byspalko after 11 years at the helm, has the theme of inner and outer climates. “The concerns we all have now are for our own health and, of course, planetary health,” Rao told the Straight. “So a lot of the events at the festival speak to that.” He’ll announce the full lineup on June 6, but the festival has already revealed that one of the shows will feature Grammy-winning singer-songwriter Arooj Aftab.
Who’s the festival for? Indian Summer has always aimed high, whether it’s with its musical, literary, theatrical, culinary, or visual-arts components. So let’s just say that it’s for the smart, curious, and open-minded among us.
(July 8 and 9)
The lowdown: One of the things that sets FVDED in the Park apart from most of the big festivals is its location: in Surrey’s scenic Holland Park. FVDED in the Park headliners include Illenium, a.k.a. Nicholas D. Miller, along with Excision, Rick Ross, and Don Toliver. Last year, Illenium’s fourth album, Fallen Embers, snagged him a Grammy nomination in the best dance/electronic album.
Who’s the festival for? It’s for hip-hop and electronic fans who have mostly tuned out the Grammys.
The lowdown: Who knew that a bunch of local musicians and artists could attract 80,000 people to a shopping district on the West Side? Nobody expected that back in 2011, when the Kitsilano 4th Avenue Business Association launched one of the city’s premier neighbourhood festivals, but it happened within a couple of years. More than 50 bands are listed in this year's lineup, which includes Haley Blais, the Pack AD, Actors, Pointed Sticks, Noble Son, Jody Glenham, Stephen Hamm, Kamikaze Nurse, and Jasper Sloan Yip. It's 10 blocks of fun with musicians performing on several stages.
Who’s the festival for? Anyone who can get to West 4th Avenue without a car, because there sure as hell won’t be much parking in the area.
(July 8 to 10)
The lowdown: This year, Vancouver’s Latin American plaza moves to Jonathan Rogers Park for the very first time. Carnaval del Sol attracts crowds not only for its wide range of Latin American cuisine but also because of the music that traces its roots from the Rio Grande to Tierra del Fuego. This festival is part of three weeks of celebrations for the Latin American community, which also includes salsa workshops, a flamenco and tango night, standup comedy, and the Latinx Pride Parade.
Who’s the festival for? Those who love futbol and who have no problem with friendly, extroverted people sharing amusing stories from their homeland.
(July 30 and 31)
The lowdown: Many people think of the Powell Street Festival as an annual feast in Oppenheimer Park to celebrate the neighbourhood’s Japanese heritage. But it hasn’t always received sufficient credit for its remarkable artistic output over the past 45 years. One of the festival’s early coordinators, celebrated playwright Rick Shiomi, told the Straight earlier this year that some organizers of other festivals look back longingly at their heyday in the past. But he said that the Powell Street event, on the other hand, has become an even more “dynamic, forceful entity” with each passing year. It has also demonstrated a tremendous social conscience toward marginalized residents of the area, setting an example for the broader community of Japanese Canadians. “It has people who are dedicated to some of the best ideals and issues of our time,” Shiomi said.
Who’s the festival for? Those who love kabuki, taiko drumming, and contemporary examinations of what it really means to be Japanese Canadian in the 21st century.
The lowdown: Vancouver's Pride parade will be back after a two-year hiatus due to the pandemic. But this time, political parties are no longer going to be marching separately and they will only be allowed to have two dozen members each. "The Board of the Vancouver Pride Society has carefully considered how to best serve our community and have decided to include all political parties in one large contingent," a news release said in April.
Who's the parade for? Anyone who can bear the heat on the B.C. Day weekend.
(August 11 to 21)
The lowdown: The 34th annual festival will be featuring in-theatre and online screenings, all under the theme of "Make It Yours". Artistic director Anoushka Ratnarajah said in a news release that this phrase "is an invitation into empathy and a reminder of the tools and powers that are accessible to us in the fight for our personal and collective freedom". Ratnarajah is stepping down after five glorious years at the helm; she'll be replaced by Nya Lewis as the interim artistic director, who's been with the festival since 2020. Lewis was cocurator of the Museum of Anthropology at UBC's Sankofa exhibition, which was centred around works by contemporary artists from Lagos and Vancouver.
Who's the festival for? This is a gutsy event that isn't afraid of taking chances and pushing boundaries. So it's for film lovers who aren't afraid of diving into the deep end and challenging their own underlying perceptions about the world.
(September 3 to 5)
The lowdown: TAIWANfest is one of the region's more outward-looking festivals, forming partnerships with community groups to showcase performers who trace their roots back to countries other than Taiwan. In this year's Dialogues with Asia series, the theme is "The Stories of Independence" with a spotlight on Indonesia and Malaysia. The festival takes place at several locations in downtown Vancouver. All events are free.
Who's the festival for? Taiwan is an independent island nation bursting with creativity and technological know-how. It was the first East Asian country to legalize same-sex marriage and its health-care system marries the best of the East and West. It's a thriving democracy led by a twice-elected progressive, environmentally inclined female president, Tsai-ing Wen, who's trying to promote reconciliation with Indigenous peoples. TAIWANfest does a terrific job bringing all of this to light—so it's really an event for anyone curious to learn more about our neighbours who hail from this East Asian bastion of freedom.
** Mike Usinger wrote a separate article on this site about the Vancouver and Mission folk festivals. To learn more about them, click this link.