Johanne Dumas was at the home of Coquitlam city councillor and former Olympic athlete Chris Wilson last summer when she witnessed a remarkable performance.
His cousin Raine Hamilton, a bilingual folk singer from Winnipeg, was debuting her first full-length album, Past Your Past, that she has released three months earlier.
“She blew me away,” Dumas remembered. “She was such a young, vibrant talent — and playing such a great violin — that I knew right away I wanted her at Festival du Bois.”
On Friday, Hamilton will make her debut at the 27th annual francophone party with a performance at Place des Arts, a show that will not only open Festival du Bois but also signal the end of her West Coast “Edge of Spring” tour.
Dumas said the private show that Coun. Wilson put on last July struck at the heart of Festival du Bois’ identity: a community gathering to celebrate la joie de vivre with good friends, music and fare.
The weekend fete she helps to organize “is not just about the French-Canadian culture but also the neighbourhood,” said Dumas, who is the festival executive and artistic director for the 20th year. “We use the event to elevate what Maillardville’s all about in Coquitlam…. There’s still that wanting of a togetherness. I see that carrying down to other generations, too. It’s about that feeling of belonging.”
While most of the musical talent is imported, there are a few local acts making the connection as well.
The Maillardville-based Alouest returns to Festival du Bois to interpret songs from the Habitant, Acadian, French Métis and Cajun catalogues while Vancouver fiddler Gabriel Dubreuil — a student at Berklee College of Music in Boston — is also back.
Marc Maziad of Saturday night’s headline group MAZ, which is making its debut performance at Festival du Bois, said his band is on an adventure to see how music can play off identity.
“We’ve always worked with the first material of our music, that is French-Canadian traditional music but we’re also interested in universal music like jazz, rock or electro,” he said. “We have opportunities to tour that bring us to communities that have certain perspectives on identities on music. It’s always a pleasure to go there and meet the people and reflect on the issues.”
Maziad said MAZ enjoys the dual role of entertainer and educator. “We feel humbled by the task ahead. We have instrumental music so the journey is inside everyone… Everyone will live his own experience.”
As for families, organizers have created a new experience for this year’s fest: Leanne Christie designed a critter called Ernestine — complete with a plaid tail and fiddle — who will be placed in Mackin Park for kids to discover.
Dumas said staff wanted to introduce Ernestine to coincide with the city’s 125th year.
“We say she’s been hiding all these years and wants to come out now for the anniversary. It’s our way of being cheeky and making it fun for the kids.”
And families on the hunt for Ernestine have a chance to win a prize of a boat trip.
Dumas said officials try to add a new dimension to Festival du Bois annually.
Three years ago, it introduced Dîner en Plaid. And tonight’s Dîner is expected to be another sell out.
But with all the preparation on their side, organizers can’t predict the outcome.
Last year’s sunny skies translated to 15,500 visitors over three days; as of Monday, the forecast read rain. “We just have to keep our fingers crossed and pray that doesn’t happen.”
• Sponsored in part by The Tri-City News, Festival du Bois runs Friday at 7 p.m. at Place des Arts, Saturday from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. at Mackin Park and Sunday 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. at Mackin Park. Admission is $15/$10/$7 (no charge for kids under five). Park at IKEA and take a shuttle, running every 15 minutes. Call 604-515-7070 or visit festivaldubois.ca.