Stage set for inaugural couch and music festival

After months of planning, the first ever Chester Fest couch and music festival in Prince Albert is only days away.

The project is the brainchild of Joel Rohs and Kayanna Wirtz, who wanted to bring a unique music festival with a little bit of everything to Prince Albert.

The resulting festival features headliners the Dead South (Friday) and Harlequin (Saturday) along with a mix of local and travelling acts providing hours of musical entertainment. The festival is also set to feature kids activities, free music and art lessons a foosball tournament, beer gardens and a public art canvas project.

While weekend passes and Saturday passes are still available, Friday passes have sold out.

“Hopefully by late Friday evening I’ll get to relax and enjoy it a little,” Rohs laughed when reached by phone Tuesday.

“I’m looking forward to seeing it come to fruition and actually happen.”

Rohs said ticket sales are picking up.

“It’s awesome to see people finally commit to our idea, and we really appreciate it.”

Putting the festival together has been a journey for Rohs, Wirtz and the third member of their team, Julie Watt.

“It’s been a really big learning curve. But it’s been awesome,” Rohs said.

“I learned a lot of things along the way, maybe bit off more than we could chew at first, but it’s all come together really nicely and not too bad for our first time out as a festival.”

Rohs said Wirtz has put in a ton of work, as has Watt, who has served as a tiebreaking vote and has helped with sponsorship.

That sponsor support, Rohs said, has been key, as festivals like this aren’t really money makers.

“It’s nice to see community-minded people and businesses that are willing to help us out and see our vision and plan. We couldn’t be more thankful for them for helping us put it all together.” He also thanked the 55 or so volunteers who are helping to ensure things go smoothly.

Rohs said the reception has been overwhelmingly positive, with many people telling him it’s the coolest thing they’ve heard of. Frustratingly, at first that didn’t translate into ticket sales, but Rohs said the festival is now on pace to cover its costs. That means it looks, for now, like the event will return again in 2020.

The festival also managed to track down all of the furniture required — 102 couches and chesterfields.

“It’s a whole lot of furniture if you ask me,” Rohs said. “They’re being cleaned, sorted out and fixed as we speak to get them all ready for Friday and Saturday.”

Chester Fest, he said, happens rain or shine. There are tents on site and covers for the couches, as well as an overhang for the stage.

While Rohs is excited about all the musical acts, he’s especially pumped for Harlequin. The Canadian rock band from Winnipeg is best known for hit singles I did it for Love, Thinking of You, Superstitious Feeling and Innocence. Their top singles peaked on the charts in the late 1970s and early 1980s.

“I was a real Harlequin fan as a kid. I grew up to a lot of their songs which is kind of strange for someone my age,” he said. “They’ve still got it. They still rock.”

Rohs is far from the only one excited about Chester Fest.

Roots-Rocker Matt Blais is one of the acts set to perform Saturday. The Calgary-based singer just released a new album, In Shadow and Light, and is set to take it on the road this summer.

“We’re really excited. We threw a big party and finally got to play the songs live and it has gone over pretty well,” he said by phone last week.

“The music on the album is pretty lively and bluesy. It’s got this dark edge to it, but it’s still that energetic intense sound I always go for. It balances, especially lyrically, positivity and hope with darkness and frustration.”

Blais has been busy as of late. He’s collaborated with Sam Robers, opened for Monster Truck, the Srumbellas, the Trews and Blue Rodeo. In Shadow and Light is his first new album in six years. He worked on it with producer Brian Moncarz of Our Lady Peace and the Trews, engineer Josh Gwillam who has worked with the Road Hammers and George Canyon, and guitarists Jimmy Boskill of the Sheepdogs and Russel Broom, who works with Jann Arden.

“We’re workhorses,” Blais said of him and his band. ‘We love being on stage. I blinked and realized that after years I hadn’t released an album. Luckily, I had a collection of songs _ I always try to keep writing.”

Blais said he learned a lot working on the album.

“As a musician, your team is so important. A producer like Brian is so integral to me because he gets me in the right headspace to sing a song. He knows how to set the scene,” Blais said.

“As for Jimmy, Jimmy is a virtuoso multi-instrumentalist. He thinks five steps ahead. He’ll be recording a guitar track and say, ‘I’m leaving this space here for a mandolin part.’ He approaches music like chess. He’s thinking farther ahead than anyone can father. I learned a lot from both of those guys about how to craft a song sonically.”

Now, as he readies for his Prince Albert show, Blais and his act, consisting of a four-piece rock band, is looking forward to the Chester Fest atmosphere.

“The best part of music festivals is the community that comes out. (Smaller festivals) are community-driven, and that’s something we’ve been drawn to,” he said.

“When I heard about Chester Fest and spoke with them, that was the sense I got. It didn’t matter the genre of music, the particular demographic they were going after, it seemed a lot more focused n a musical experience. That’s what I responded to. Hopefully, we’ll get some people dancing.”