Posted by: alexhickey | August 15, 2017

Thirty Two Years of Community ©

Jam Session Main Stage 2017-08-13 South Coast Arts Festival, St. Jacques

“It’s been twenty-five years.  The last time I was here the stage was right up there at the end of the field, a flat-bed truck I believe. By Jeez there’s some difference now; yes sir!” Frank Skinner.

And so the conversation went.  We chatted about family, acquaintances, things which happened over the course of that twenty-five years, the music, and the performers, all the while scanning the crowd seeking friendly familiar faces.  They were there everywhere you looked; some from last year, some from five years ago, a few only recognized because of resemblance to their mother or father and an occasional one familiar in the way they walked. Such is the annual experience of visitors to the South Coast Arts Festival in St. Jacques.

From the time the gates opened on Friday evening and closed on Sunday evening local performers, occasionally joined by visitors or guests, providing wall-to-wall music that traverses genre.  Hearts beat a little faster and eyes moistened when on Friday evening, a performer struck up a version of Johnny Drake’s song Headin’ Home, for the majority of Festival patrons know that feeling of turning off the TCH onto the Baie D’Espoir Road heading to the South Coast. The song has become somewhat of an anthem for residents and visitors alike.  Then, on Saturday crowds swelled and gathered about the main stage when Bud Davidge took to the microphone to deliver a selection of his crowd-pleasing songs.  The Loss of the Marian had people swaying and Music and Friends had the audience singing in unison.

On Saturday afternoon pre-school children flocked to the face-painting activities of the Family Resource Centre while parents stood back allowing them to frolic in the sun on a manicured grassy field.  All the while melodic sounds of guitars, accordion, fiddles and drums, shaped and tugged by sound man Rob Rogers, floated across the Festival site, rose and skirted the side of Big Hill then drifted across the harbour and on out into Fortune Bay.

Ask where are you living now, and you’ll hear Pouch Cove, Lark Harbour, North Sydney, St. John’s, Calgary, Spryfield, Fort Mac, Boston, Germany, Australia, Lamaline or Gander. They come back from all over to enjoy the wealth of musical talent the south coast of Newfoundland has to offer.  They come back to visit family, to renew acquaintances, and to meet the children of their childhood friends. They come as individuals, as families and in groups vacationing together. They come out of curiosity having heard of a three-day arts festival all the way down on the South Coast almost at the end of the road. Wherever they came from in August 2017 they came with intent to party, to celebrate and socialize.

One visitor said, while it is good to get together for family reunions it is also really good to get together as a community for a reunion. That describes well what happens during the second weekend of August in St. Jacques.  St. Jacques is one of six communities which comprise the municipality of St. Jacques-Coomb’s Cove.  The South Coast Arts Community embraces the adjacent towns of Belleoram and Pool’s Cove, reaches out to Rencontre East, Harbour Breton, Hermitage, Conne River, Milltown and St. Alban’s.  Performers and visitors from all of these towns can be seen on the Festival Site throughout the weekend.  The community that gets together isn’t St. Jacques, it’s the entire Connaigre Peninsula congregating during the weekend as a single community of music lovers to celebrate culture, heritage, each other and the thread of artistic expression which bind us all together.

Community-based volunteer groups such as the Lion’s Club of English Hr. West and the St. Jacques-Coomb’s Cove Fire Department provided food services and assisted with security. The Community Health Group made their Paramedics and ambulance freely available during the weekend, particularly during the 5K/10K Walk/Run which took place on Saturday morning; a walk organized in partnership with the St. Jacques-Coomb’s Cove Recreation Committee.  A local aquaculture firm, Northern Harvesters, delivered complimentary vats of freshly frozen ice for use at the bar. A small army of volunteers kept the wheels turning and the energy flowing throughout the weekend, checking ID’s, providing backup to other performers, answering questions, and ensuring everyone was safe and able to have a good time.  A short distance beyond the entrance gate returning visitors and new, parked their recreation vehicles and trailers side by side, got to know one another and savoured the musical atmosphere surrounding their weekend home.  One departing visitor was emphatic in saying he’d be back next year and that he’d be bringing friends.

Accenting the music was a showing of films by well-known and award-winning Newfoundland film-makers, many of which had roots on the Connaigre Peninsula. Riverhead, Crocuses and The Tour captivated audiences for two nights at the St. Jacques Community Centre.  The Nickle Roadshow is offered in partnership with the Nickel Independent Film Festival of St. John’s and celebrated its sixth year at the South Coast Arts Festival.

How do you run a four-day arts festival uninterrupted for thirty-two consecutive years? There is no simple answer; however, within it are such descriptors as pride, dedication, belief, giving, selflessness, stuck-to-it-ness, resolve, commitment, love, enjoyment, sharing and sometimes a tiny bit of smugness when you step back and watch hundreds of people enjoying themselves year after year. At its heart is volunteerism; volunteers who plan, organize, publicize, perform, clean, do maintenance, collaborate and respect the contribution each other makes to ensuring a successful event.

Yes, it is quite different from twenty-five years ago, quite different from the first Festival on that site when lawnmowers were used to cut bushes and sawdust used to fill depressions left from removing boulders by hand. What isn’t different is the vision of that handful of founders who imagined what would happen thirty-two years later on 2017. Though some have passed on and others moved away there are still a few of them wandering among the fifteen, twenty and twenty-five year veterans who continue to bring to the field in St. Jacques one of the best festivals in Newfoundland and Labrador.

As the last note escaped, the last glass clinked and the last hug given, plans were already underway for next year at the Festival.  We’ll see you there again next year if all goes as planned.

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