2 days, 25 acts, 100 couches: Inaugural Chester Fest a hit

The Chester Fest crowd enjoys the music from the comfort of about 100 couches on July 6, 2019. (Jayda Noyes/Daily Herald)

Friday and Saturday’s first ever Chester Fest couch and music festival in Prince Albert started out as a “crazy idea” by a team of music and funky furniture lovers.

Organizers Joel Rohs, Kayanna Wirtz and Julie Watt felt a sense of relief when the inaugural music festival came to life this past weekend.

The main stage area at Par Place, just a couple kilometres west of the city, was filled with about 100 couches, love seats and armchairs for a comfy spin on your usual music festival.

“(Rohs) kind of always talked about doing a festival,” said Wirtz.

“If you’re crazy enough to do it, you make it happen,” said Rohs, also the house technician at the E.A. Rawlinson Centre.

Chester Fest was in the planning process for over a year, done almost completely by the trio. It included advertising, booking the artists and venue and fundraising.

Watt joined them in November.

Rohs jokingly referred to her as “the tiebreaker” between him and Wirtz, who said they have many creative differences.

One thing they agreed on is that Chester Fest exceeded their expectations and that it’s going to become an annual event.

“We’ve got to do it a second year because we’ve invested so much into it. It went over so well,” said Rohs.

Organizer Joel Rohs poses at the inaugural Chester Fest on July 6, 2019. (Lorraine Brokop/Herald contributor)

Their pre-sale tickets hit about the 550 mark for Friday. He estimated they hit 700 people that night with The Dead South as the headliner.

“We had way more people here than I think we were maybe expecting, (but) we were hoping for something like that,” said Watt.

“Before The Dead South played, just seeing all the people here and everybody just having a good time, I just couldn’t wipe the smile off my face. I was just like ‘We made this happen.’ It was surreal.”

Rohs added it was their goal from the beginning to make the festival fun for everyone.

They had a children’s tent where the Mann Art Gallery did face painting, a couch with a slip cover that kids could paint on and volunteers who helped the kids tie-dye T-shirts.

Volunteers helped kids tie-dye T-shirts at the children’s tent for Chester Fest on July 6, 2019. (Jayda Noyes/Daily Herald)

The 25 acts consisted of a variety of genres, from country, to rock, to folk, to bluegrass and ranged from bands, to duos and soloists.

“One of our goals right from the top is to make it accessible—make it affordable while still bring in some big names, but also make it a place where you can come have a good time. Have a few drinks if you’re into that, stay late, but it’s also a place where you can bring the six-month-old baby,” he said.

Wirtz said an annual festival defeats some of Prince Albert’s stereotypes.

“People will talk about (how) there’s nothing to do here, you know, it’s not safe. I feel like this is kind of breaking that. There’s just all these people that just feel really comfortable, we’re just all hanging out together. I think everyone feels like we actually do have a really nice community here and I think we’ve really brought that together and brought the best out in P.A,” she said.

“There’s obviously a need for it—people are out there and they’re loving it.”

Saskatoon-based artist returns for hometown gig

The Matt Remenda Ensemble performs at the inaugural Chester Fest couch and music festival on July 6, 2019. (Jayda Noyes/Daily Herald)

Chester Fest featured about 25 diverse acts, such as headliners The Dead South and Harlequin, The Great Fuss, Rosie & The Riveters, Bombargo, Ellen Froese and Jay & Jo.

Most are Saskatchewan-based artists and many call Prince Albert home.

Roots, rock and jam band The Matt Remenda Ensemble is based in Saskatoon, but Remenda and drummer Nathan Abramyk are originally from Prince Albert.

“We don’t oftentimes make the trip back home because the hometown gig is always the toughest one to play and so a music festival is one of the only ways that we can potentially do that,” said Remenda, lead vocalist and guitar player.

“The fact that they’re not just a music festival, but honestly one of the best that I’ve ever seen especially for a first year one, it’s more than worth us coming,” he said. “We could not hope for it more that they would have us back.”

The Matt Remenda Ensemble took the stage on Saturday afternoon, followed by Prince Albert’s Rhymestone and Calgary-based Matt Blais.

While most sunk into their seats and enjoyed the music, a crowd of people danced in front of the stage.