Special to the Herald
The dust has now settled on the third edition of Chester Fest which took place Friday, July 8th and Saturday, July 9th at the Prince Albert Exhibition grounds.
This was the first time the festival had been held at this site, but the transition seemed to be a fairly smooth one. With only a few speed bumps in the form of a last second replacement of a headlining act and some pesky inclement weather to contend with, which were beyond their control, the organizers of the event have once again ensured that festival attendees got their money’s worth.
Bringing a top-quality product to two stages at an affordable price is undoubtedly the festival’s calling card. The booking of acts is eclectic. There’s essentially something for everyone – country, rock, lo-fi, folk and so much more. And through it all, Chester Fest has also developed a reputation for treating the artists they book like gold.
“The volunteers and staff here were really helpful and organized and it was really good to play in the open air for real people,” raved Last Birds’ singer guitarist Mike Davis in a brief conversation with the Herald after their set.
Last Birds, with their close harmonies and folksy vibe were a clear highlight of the Chester Fest weekend. The festival was obviously a highlight for the duo as well. They came all the way from their home community of North Portal, a town in the extreme south of the province on the USA border, and were quite smitten by the festival crowd.
“We just felt really welcomed. On stage, you could tell all the people that are here were listening. They’re engaged,” added fellow Last Birds singer/guitarist Lindsay Arnold.
Another group that also proved to be a highlight but on the absolute opposite end of the musical spectrum were Harris rockers Seven Mile Sun. They brought their enthusiastic brand of loud riff rock to the fore much to the delight of festival goers who had never heard them up until that point.
“In Prince Albert there were a handful of people that we knew there but it was mostly a new crowd for us, which was super cool,” Seven Mile Sun guitarist Kevin Stevens said.
Chester Fest over the years has excelled in the artist development area. They give lots of emerging acts like Last Birds and Seven Mile Sun a chance to shine. They also feature a youth showcase and also make sure that they have a smattering of local talent.
Prince Albert based Ray of Sunshine and Patrick Moon Bird were two such local acts. They each got their festival moment on the more intimate Feher Financial Stage. Located in a smaller space under the exhibition grandstand, this is a stage steeped in history. This was not lost on Bird in particular.
“I grew up here in the city so it’s such a weird feeling. All my friends’ old bands used to play in this same space. I’m so honoured to play here. It’s such a privilege,” Bird told the Herald.
Ray of Sunshine, meanwhile, was able to work their way into the festival via the Battle of the Bands competition that happened at the Street Fair a few weeks ago. They are a relatively new band on the Prince Albert scene but proved they could hold their own during their set at the festival.
Led by jam band enthusiast Alex Chisholm, the group made the most of the opportunity to play Chester Fest.
“We went up there and played loud and proud and had a rockin ‘set,” commented Chisholm.
Other standout acts included Scenic Route to Alaska, Paris Pick and the Pricks, the North Sound, and Velours who all made it look easy on the larger Canadian Tire Main Stage. Saskatoon’s Velours, in particular, brought along a new backing band and a metaphorical suitcase full of original material to the festival. Her energy and positivity was infectious as the crowd grooved to her take on neo-90’s alt-rock.
“That’s the most I’ve ever given in a performance,” recounted Velours after her inspired set.
At the end of the day, this year’s installment of Chester Fest has once again knocked it out of the proverbial park. It has quickly become, in three short years of its existence, an important and essential culture bastion for Prince Albert whilst maintaining its street cred within the Saskatchewan music scene as a whole.
This year proved to be as exceptional as the previous two installments and for that our dear city should be proud.