Fort Langley Jazz and Arts Festival is all about celebrating the beauty of community

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      When you’ve got something special like the epically charming community of Fort Langley, you go above and beyond to showcase it. That’s one of the guiding philosophies of the Odlum Brown Fort Langley Jazz and Arts Festival, which spans four days and offers a range of entertainment—from music and art installations to educational exhibits, workshops, and food trucks.

      Entirely by design, the fest is set up to spotlight one of British Columbia’s oldest destination communities. In a joint interview with the Straight, festival executive director Karen Zukas and artistic director Dave Quinn note that one of the hallmarks of the event is that the entire town plays host.

      “Our festival isn’t in one location,” Zukas says. “We have five outdoor stages and they are spread throughout the village. The intention for the festival has always been for people to move around to the various outdoor stages and explore not only the music on those stages, but the village itself.”

      That village is used to playing host—and not just to the Fort Langley Jazz and Arts Festival, which last year attracted over 15,000 attendees.

      With its small-town vibe, Fort Langley has long been a favourite of both Hollywood and Hollywood North, the from-another-era streets and shops used as a backdrop for productions ranging from Riverdale and Bates Motel to Sonic the Hedgehog 2 and, literally, dozens of Hallmark movies.

      “Fort Langley is a really charming and quaint little community with a small-town feel,” Zukas notes. “It’s the birthplace of British Columbia, as you may know, and it’s home to a national historic site which was originally a Hudson’s Bay fur-trading post—it’s still standing after 150 years. We’re a town of 3,400 residents, but we’re also known as a tourist destination.”

      Laughing, she adds, “We’ve got a main street and, I think, two traffic lights. We have a historic CN station, and a historic community hall—a big, beautiful yellow building where a lot of films have been shot. We’ve got a lot of antique stores, cafés, restaurants, and lots of little independent stores. You don’t see chain stores in our little town, but we’ve got a Saturday farmers’ market and two craft breweries.”

      The big attraction this weekend will be the Fort Langley Jazz and Arts Festival, which includes 30 free jazz shows over five outdoor stages.

      “You can walk from one stage to the next and always find something new and interesting,” Quinn says. “You’ve got bands that are strolling through the streets—you might run into a 14-piece band going up the street with a couple of sousaphone players and 14 trombone players.”

      One of the cornerstones this year is the Cool Blues Show, a ticketed event in Fort Langley Park, with 10 acts appearing over the course of an expanded two days. Smartly, the artists assembled by Quinn cover a wealth of musical ground, starting with folk-soul American powerhouse Ruthie Foster and ever-reliable Vancouver party starters Five Alarm Funk. (Having long graduated to Commodore-headlining status, Five Alarm is celebrating 20 years, with the Cool Blues Show being the band’s lone Lower Mainland appearance so far this year.)

      The Harpoonist & the Axe Murder strip the blues down to its primordial basics, Cousin Harley has roots in old-timey Americana, and Ontario’s Crystal Shawanda does country with a decidedly Nashville spin. Also appearing are the genre-spanning My Son the Hurricane, Emmett Jerome & Hollywood Alberta, Silent Partners, David Gogo Band, and Marcus Trummer Band.

      “It’s a diverse program,” Quinn says. “I’ve got a young guy—that’s Emmett Jerome—that does older blues, for example—he looks like he’s right out of the ’50s, but he’s got an old soul. Then you’ve got Marcus Trummer, an Alberta guy who does a kind of western-blues kind of thing—a really soulful singer.”

      Zukas adds, “We have 40 acts in seven venues across the festival. In addition to finding fantastic performers, it’s really important to us, and to Dave, to inform audiences of the many styles of jazz and blues.”

      That idea of diversity is indeed just as important in the jazz programming, which ranges from respected vets like Oliver Gannon and Bill Coon to young upstarts like Milan Stanga and the Feven Kidane Quartet.

      “We’ve got Jasmine Jazz, which is Chinese music fused with original jazz compositions, which is unique,” he says. “Then you’ve got Raagaverse, where [singer] Shruti Ramani grew up in India and incorporated traditions learned there with North American jazz. So there’s a real cross-section of cultural presentations going on at all times. When you walk from one stage to the next you’re always going to find something new and interesting.”

      Both Quinn and Zukas, who cofounded the festival, are eager to point out that the arts are a key component of the celebration.

      “We are a music, jazz, and arts festival,” Zukas says. “So what people will see when they come is lots of arts-related activities. There’s a whole arts zone where free workshops are being conducted for water-painting and acrylics. We have an arts vendor area with visual artists, outdoor painters through the village, and an Indigenous exhibition with workshops being led by our Indigenous partners. So there are a lot of arts and culture activities, which is one of the things that makes our festival unique.”

      Odlum Brown Fort Langley Jazz and Arts Festival

      When: July 20 to 23

      Where: various locations in Fort Langley

      Tickets and info: