Mission Folk Music Festival
One of the longest running, the most musically diverse and, we like to think, artistically creative events in BC, belongs to our little town.
The Mission Folk Music Festival.
Artistic Director Michelle Demers lights up when she gets an opportunity to discuss the history of the festival and their successes, as well as some of the trials and tribulations encountered over the years.
The MFMF dates back to 1988, when Francis Xavier and a few friends decided that they wanted to have some music in a Mission park. It started as a simple event. One day, one stage and 4-5 local and regional bands.
From there, it grew.
Throughout the years, the focus has always been on quality folk, roots, and world music.
“This includes blues, bluegrass, classic, Celtic, Canadiana and Americana,” Michelle tells us.
The Mission Folk Music Festival puts Mission on the map - locally, provincially, nationally and internationally.
Set amidst the spectacular beauty of Mission’s own Fraser River Heritage Park, the festival is held over the fourth weekend in July and attracts an audience from not only the Fraser Valley, but neighbouring provinces and states.
“It’s unique because music brings so much to so many people,” Michelle explains. “You realize what a gift it is to have this in our own backyard. We consider ourselves lucky to have the opportunity to produce this event here and share the experience of music from all over the world."
Michelle grew up in Silverdale and graduated from Mission Senior Secondary in 1991. She comes from a musical family and cannot remember a time that music didn’t play a major part in her life. It was right after high school that she decided that she might like to do some volunteering before venturing off to university.
“The old festival office used to be downtown, at the very end of Craig Poole lane.” Michelle says, thinking back on the earlier days of the festival. “I remember walking in to this dark little office and announcing that I wanted to volunteer.”
She has not missed a year since.
She began by handing out volunteer tags, it wasn’t long before she moved in to performer services and was excited when she was selected to drive the festival van.
In 2015, she moved into a position as general manager, working alongside her mentor and friend, founder Francis Xavier and continued to work with an outstanding team of coordinators and volunteers. This team of coordinators returns consistently and manages the various festival departments, such as camping, the bistro, parking, production, vendors and gates.
Francis retired in 2016 and subsequently, the board asked Michelle to continue her role in management. Around that time, the festival experienced financial hardship due to changes in funding and bad weather. Instead of surrendering to the debt, the festival decided to take a slightly different approach to ensure the festival continued.
“We got a bit lost along the way,” Michelle admits. “As a non-profit charitable arts organization, we realized that we had to walk our talk. If we were going to ask for support, we had to give support. It became essential for us to give back and to engage.”
With the encouragement and support of the District of Mission, the community rallied to keep them afloat. Due to this outpour of support, the Mission Folk Music Festival continued, paid all outstanding bills, and managed to secure themselves in a more stable financial position.
Michelle was then asked to step into the role of Artistic Director. She relishes the role and acknowledges that she couldn’t do it without the team she works with, people like Cathy Crawford, the admin manager, and their board of directors. She also values what the festival brings to the community.
“Each year, we spend approximately $70,000 directly in community.” Michelle points out. “Elements of accommodations, equipment, supplies, restaurants and tech are all locally sourced.”
Moving forward, the festival aims to shrink the space between artist and audience. They endeavour to entertain, as well as challenge the listeners periodically. Choir programs, lessons and jam sessions have all been initiated, allowing the audience to sing along, jam with and learn from the performers.
For Michelle, it’s a privilege to do this job. She has always believed in the power of community. Partnering the dynamics of a festival, gives us all the ability to empower, encourage, engage and create. The festival has become a gift to Mission, and recognizes the support they’ve received over the past 33 years.
Now… as the world comes to a halt, the festival is cautiously proceeding into their 33rd year.
“Our fingers are crossed but the health of the community is our most important consideration at this time”.
Any information moving forward is available on their website and social media. Together we can make magic! Well... we can make music, but isn't that the same thing?