CLUXEWE RESORT — Todd Butler rested one arm on his guitar and used his other hand to shield his eyes as he peered through a curtain of water to the crowd arrayed below.
“Welcome to the Port McNeill Rain Festival,” joked Butler, a Courtenay-based songwriter and comedian.
The rain played a co-starring role but did little to dampen the spirits of the audience as nearly 300 people turned out for the inaugural Tri-Port Music Festival at this scenic seaside campground.
“You people deserve a round of applause,” said Joey Clarkson, another Courtenay musician who performed with her trio. “This is great to see.”
The feeling seemed mutual, even if fans spent much of the day huddled under umbrellas, trees and, in the case of one hardy patron, a tarp. Others availed themselves of the adjacent pavilion, where the festival’s beer garden was set up.
While there were quite a few no-shows, festival promoter Dave Stevenson said the 400 available tickets did sell out, and he and resort owner Dale Peeler are already looking to bring back the event next year, possibly as a two-day festival.
Produced by Centerpiece Productions and the North Island Concert Society, the festival featured a range of Vancouver Island acts, including local singer-songwriter Richelle Andre, Stevenson’s blues-rock cover quartet Swing Shift, and Sointula’s Backbone Road, which performed bluegrass in four-part harmony.
“This is wonderful,” Backbone Road bassists Stephanie Eakle said. “Hopefully it can be an annual event.”
“Maybe next time we can have it in the summer,” mandolin player Michèle Meisler quipped.
The rain was a constant throughout the day, though it stopped briefly as the Victoria alt-rock group Xanthic Blue played a high-energy set of original songs.
By the time Victoria’s Turnpike Bandits took the stage to close the show with its rollicking “Outlaw Country” originals, it was a full downpour and most of the remaining crowd had retired to the covered beer garden. Still, a dozen or so people did take to the grass in front of the covered stage for some vigorous dancing.
In the weeks before the festival, organizers talked of using the Port Hardy Civic Centre as a backup venue in case of inclement weather. But as setup commenced late Thursday and Friday, it was clear the logistics of moving all the sound gear and associated vendor booths at the 11th hour would have been impractical.
“All your vendors would still have to be set up in the (Civic Centre) parking lot, so they’d be in the rain anyway,” said Malcolm Fleeton of NICS. “And the beer garden people are license for this location, so they wouldn’t be able to serve there.
“We decided to go on with the show.”