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Enjoy this year’s Festival du Bois celebrations right at home for free

Festival du Bois, the all-ages celebration of French Canadian culture, will be held virtually this year from April 16-30
For Johanne Dumas, Artistic Director of Maillardville's annual Festival du Bois, cabin fever has taken on a whole new meaning. "What is that expression? When you are stuck in the house, stuck in the cabin?" she laughs, referring to the stay-at-home practices that have become de rigueur in our community.

"This year, festival a la cabane means everyone is in their own environment, in their own cabin, where we can sit down and enjoy the Festival du Bois in a new way."

Like most music and arts festivals around the globe, Festival du Bois has had to shift gears during this second year of the pandemic.

Rather than simply cancelling the all-ages outdoor celebration of our French Canadian culture, Dumas and her team have made it accessible for two weeks online, April 16-30, at no charge.

"We chose musical artists from all across Canada as far as PEI, as we do every year, to showcase a good cross-section of talent," says Dumas. As usual, the artists were asked to perform five or six songs, but this time it is taped in advance and with a special request by Dumas.

"I find if you put artists in a concert format as if you have people watching live, but virtually, it becomes – boring," she says. "Instead, we want people to feel like they are at a kitchen party, that they know these musicians, that they have been invited over to their homes. Most of them have done an excellent job of creating that."

Musical artists include Montreal's Le Winston Band and their Zydeco vibe, Sirène et Matelot, which features Patricia Richard and Lennie Gallant, both Acadian artists from PEI, and Jocelyne Baribeau, award-winning Franco-Manitoban folk musician.

The complete lineup is listed on the website, and rather than scheduling times and dates for performances each day like a live music festival, all content will be available at once when the website goes live on April 16. 

"Going virtual may help more people discover the festival," says Dumas, referring to the virtual approach this year.

Viewers should watch for a reporter from CBC Radio Canada who interviewed all performers, asking the same question when referring to how we are navigating our own 'cabane life': "What are you doing in your 2 square metres?" Dumas laughs.

"We had a lot of fun doing this; some of the answers are very clever. This year, we wanted everything to be fresh and light – like spring. That is what we hope to bring to people," says Dumas.

Now in its 32nd year, Festival du Bois attendees usually pay admission, but organizers opted to offer the virtual fest this year at no charge.

"This has been a year of reflection on many realities of our lives," adds Dumas. "We are lucky enough that we have some funding, and it is a challenge, but I figure it is worth it if we are going to put it on, make it happen, and 100 people are watching – good; two thousand people watching? Even better. 

We are still going through the same motions. We have not reduced our budget and are buying ads on the buses and newspapers, still moving forward and hopefully, it all will turn out."

Supporting musical artists is also crucial.

"If anything, it will create an opportunity for artists to perform and make some money," Dumas says. "Most artists are suffering. When I called to book them, they were saying, 'wow, are you really going to do that?' And they were so happy. Some artists have not worked since last March 2020."

Performances geared to kids will happen again this year and include Frenchie the Clown, Isabelle la Wonderful, Roger Dallaire, and Monsieur Andre (Andre Thériault). 

The festival food offerings will be missed this year, but a frozen supermarket tourtiere, takeout poutine, or a quick recipe search could help round out the festival experience at home.

"We think of this as an opportunity for us to create an event, to showcase what we are all about, and if people like what they see, maybe they will show up in person next year," says Dumas.