Starbelly Jam brings a family together by Meaghan Cursons

by • September 25, 2014 • Articles, BC Musician News, Current Issue, Front Page, Music Festivals, Resources1736


Crawford Bay seems a long way from Cumberland. But as our adventure unfolded the distance between Vancouver Island and the East Shore of Kootenay Lake seemed to close. Los Rastrillos did a show at the Wave in Cumberland Friday night, got up early Saturday and made their way to Starbelly for their Saturday Night spot. BC is big, but as a festival community we’re super talented about getting places fast!

Starbelly Jam definitely isn’t a typical folk festival. It’s a family music festival. It’s not programmed for the boomers and their lawn chairs, although elders are most welcome. It’s programmed for the whole tribe. That’s why it’s so awesome.

The two stages (Starbelly and Moonbelly) are the celestial anchors of the site. I love how the programming flowed between the two all weekend long, alternating between the stages and eliminating any change over time. The MC from one stage handed off seamlessly to the other with a call across the field. The alternating stage format is also really good for keeping the audience moving. The whole energy of the site shifts every hour. It changes who you interact with, who you dance with, who you stand with. This is the essence of community building -— facilitating spontaneous interaction and an ever-changing point of view.

starbelly dancers

The programming actually caught me off guard, which I love. Friday Night is all about local talent and the Kootenays have lots of it. From the Psychedelic Rock of Mrs Strange to BC/DC (that’s right, an AC/DC tribute band), I loved seeing all ages laughing and dancing and celebrating their home grown talent. No one was complaining that it was too loud and looking for the ‘headliner.’ Friday night is about what the community brings forward and Lea Rae Belcourt (Artistic Director) does a beautiful job of creating space for this diversity all weekend.

Distance came up again Saturday Night. A few wrong turns en route from Portland almost kept Nako and Medicine for the People from getting there for their set. But again, distances closed in mysterious ways. The location is a challenge. Much like Vancouver Island, Crawford Bay is impacted by ferry schedules, line ups, seasonal scale backs. You can come around through Salmo and Creston but it adds 2 hours to the trip.

I’m glad they made it. Bobby and I had some sort of peak experience listening to Nako. They seemed genuinely shocked at the wild response they got. At one point Nako asked, “how do you know these songs?!” and someone yelled “youtube!” Their music got there before their bodies and laid a path of anticipation. I was reminded of early Michael Franti shows, he had us all in the palm of his hand, and it felt good.

Back to that whole family/tribe thing. This festival is made for families! I heard a count of 500 kids on site. That’s in a crowd that topped out at about 3000 Saturday night. That impacts the vibe in such a lovely way. The big covered pavilion hosted crafts all weekend. My daughter and her cousin enjoyed fairy faces, hula hoops, crafts and swings. The Samba Band Sunday morning was a delight! The local dance school was inspiring. The span of ages on the stages was a reflection of the audience. They mirrored each other all weekend and made everyone feel at home.

I cannot say enough about the site ambiance. It turns out the décor team is led by one of the festival board members and founders. She brings such an incredible aesthetic to the event. From stunning stages and greenroom lounges to the colourfully accented dining tents and the perfectly lit and draped entrances — it was fest décor at its best.

I felt at truly at home when I read their volunteer handbook. I had the privilege of doing a workshop with Starbelly two years ago. I handed off materials about some community building work I’ve been part of on the Island. They embraced it and made it their own. So blessed to read their words about self care, do no harm and RUOK and to know that this spirit of festival leadership journeyed safely from the coast to the interior.

Distance also closes when family is waiting with open arms. My mom, my dad and his wife, Bobby, Cadence and me and my brother’s family all converged for the weekend; a rare occurrence. My brother, Farley, is one of the Executive Producers of the fest. That connection made the festival feel like home fast. Not because of any VIP perks or special access to exclusive spaces, but just because when people care deeply about one of their community members, that love extends to their family. The love, kindness and welcoming I felt I attribute to the love felt for my brother. Cool.

Thanks Starbelly. You have something super special there.

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