Chester Fest puts exclamation point on musical summer

Scott Roos

Special to the Daily Herald

The two-day Chester Fest Couch and Music Festival has officially come and gone, putting a final exclamation point on a “summer of music” for Prince Albert and area.

The couches have been packed away, the fences and gates are coming down, and the field grounds of H.O.P. Youth Place is returning to its former state. 

It’s been a hard slog for Saskatchewan musicians these past eighteen months, but with the COVID restrictions easing on July 11th, it seems like a floodgate of opportunity opened up in the province where shows had ground to a halt.

Before July 11th, there were gigs scattered about here and there, but they were few and far between and often online. Chester Fest has given many artists their first crack in a long time at playing a live event. For many, it’s what used to be “normal”

“It’s been way too long with COVID and everything. It’s nice to be able to play, so we’ll take ‘em as they come right?” stated Stephen Williams who played bass for Dillon Gazandlare and Jake Vaadeland at the festival. “I like what’s happening here at Chester Fest. It’s closer to the reality we’re used to.”

A number of smaller independent bands and solo artists were given moments of undivided attention at this edition of Chester Fest. There were two stages trading off performers: the Canadian Tire Main Stage and the smaller Prairie Cannabis Stage. When a main stage act finished performing, many eyes would turn towards the Prairie Cannabis Stage. 

In the smaller style venue of the Prairie Cannabis Stage, the intimacy of solo acts like rising country singer Katelyn Lehner, who accompanied herself on her acoustic guitar, as well as singer-songwriter Kayleigh Skomorowski, who sang and played the piano, was able to shine through. There were also a fair share of rock acts that were able to bring the thunder in this format like local classic rock cover band Traitor’s Gate, featuring longtime Prince Albert based, and now retired, guitar instructor Byron Matice on the guitar. Traitor’s Gate played their first official performance together at Chester Fest and impressed the audience.

“We sat down about a year ago together to talk and see if we could make this work and this past year has been on again and off again too because there were times that we couldn’t practice. This gig made us get our act together and practice so we could put on a good show,” Matice said with a laugh.

Meanwhile, the main stage featured top tier headliners in the form of Said the Whale and Chilliwack. Said the Whale, who headlined Friday night’s festivities, brought the house down with their “heart on the sleeve” brand of rollicking folk-pop.

Chilliwack, who headlined Saturday night, cranked out a setlist of hits, progressive rockers and encored with new track “Dusty Old Guitar”. And when the evening seemingly was coming to an end, the bands on the after-hours stage kicked up ten notches.

On Friday night, veteran rockers Black Rain engaged the after-hours audience with a setlist entirely of original tunes. Saturday night made way for the noise-rock stylings of The Radiant, who were fronted by contortionist/guitarist/vocalist Mikhaila Anderson. Anderson twisted, turned and slithered through the band’s set and proved captivating to watch. Last but certainly not least, Calgary’s The Dudes put the finishing touches on the festival with their rousing performance.

At the end of the day, Chester Fest Couch and Music Festival has afforded Prince Albert an essential voice for promoting culture and the arts in the area. It draws people in with its carefully crafted lineup of headlining bands and hip and fresh indie acts whilst simultaneously working to build up newer, lesser known local artists.

Festival organizer Joel Rohs, with Chester Fest, is reforging a path for the local Prince Albert scene while also providing a great opportunity for many acts in the province to strut their stuff as well. Rohs, along with co-organizer Kayanna Wirtz, has crafted a boutique style get together for artist and audience that’s good vibes all around. 

Moose Jaw’s Megan Nash says it best with her glowing assessment of Chester Fest.

“I don’t want it to be over,” she said. “I’ve been looking forward to this show since July when we were last here (for the Rawlinson drive-in show) and now I’m like ‘what do you mean our set’s done?’ It was really fun. Everyone has been so kind at the festival here and it’s such a cool set up too. I really enjoy the setup. Chester Fest has a pretty special energy.”

Hopefully this special energy will carry on for years to come. If this past weekend is any indication, it most certainly will.

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