Tiny Lights: “Inspiringly curated” festival in the Kootenays

by • September 10, 2017 • Articles, Current Issue, Kootenay Rockies1406

by Peter Reed

After thumbing through BC Musician Magazine’s Ultimate Summer Festival Guide it is easy to get lost in the sea of events available in BC and beyond. With over 400 festivals, from Hinton to Haida Gwaii, the choices are at an all time high.

So what makes Tiny Lights such a unique festival experience?

It is has been described as a whole town, house concert. Seven intimate and historic venues (some date back to the 19th Century) are scattered around the teeming metropolis of Ymir, BC, population 231. Set in an inland temperate rainforest with the Salmo river winding its wondrous arc through the town, there is still a sense of the frontier here. An earthy, loveable scruffiness.

The program is inspiringly curated, with over 130 performances in small venues that promote active listening. There is everything from theatre to spoken word, musical performances, visual arts, and a variety of workshops. The music selection is always a highlight with underground artists from all over Canada converging to perform their beautiful and skillfully crafted music to a very receptive audience. I would simply call the line up this year world class.

It is the sense of community however, both temporary and eternal that really resonate. The three-day event seems to effortlessly blur the lines between artist, attendee, staff and local. Democratizing the weekend is something that festival organizers, Carla and Shawn Stephenson actively strive for; “Our model is participation over observation. We want everyone to feel a part of what is happening, we all create it together.”

Ymir Community Hall before a show. photo Dan Walton

The participation is all encompassing. With audience members invited to grace the stage with their homespun smut poetry at the Dirty Book Jam, or commit to reducing festival waste to zero, through a rigorous composting and recycling system (the total waste last year was one garbage bag going to the landfill). The participation cultivates the sense of community.

Artist Andrew Phelan describes the sense of togetherness at Tiny Lights: “There is such a level of camaraderie between every person I met over the weekend. There was a deep level of respect between artists and audiences and it permeates through everything. There is a strong feeling of mutual gratitude and appreciation”.

As an afterthought, I asked the Stephensons, what’s with the name?

“The name came from a Frank Zappa song, City of Tiny Lights. [It] seemed appropriate as we are a small group of shiny people brightening up each others world a little each year. All our artists, attendees, staff, volunteers and community are stars to us and everyone involved adds a little more light to the dark edges of us all. We are all Tiny Lights.”

Appropriate indeed.

Tiny Lights Festival is held every year in June, in Ymir B.C.


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