What’s on for Vancouver Island festivals this summer

Our annual summer event preview touches on 75 things to do on the island, from multi-day music festivals to small-scale community gatherings

Last summer felt like a return to form for the many festivals and community events on Vancouver Island. After two years of sporadic activity and yo-yo-ing restrictions, most did well. However, some long-standing events could not pivot fast enough and the market lost ground. Others – such as Riflandia and the Victoria Ska & Reggae Festival – flourished. Rifflandia returns from a four-year hiatus in 2022 to post record attendance numbers.

The makers of the music festival made another big splash this week when they announced that the upcoming edition of Reflandia will be held over two weekends for the first time in September.

This won’t be the only significant change in the market. Capital City Comic Con and Laketown Rock are both absent from the event calendar this year, while two behemoths from 2022, the 55+ BC Games and Northwest Deuce Days, which drew thousands of visitors to the city, are not annual events. Those holes may not be filled.

Makers faced fewer strangers this year, which is good news. And many received funding from the province and the city of Victoria that would help crawl back into business-as-usual territory.

However, patrons have more options than ever. Costs have also risen sharply, which is being reflected in ticket and food prices, so something’s got to give.

Or maybe it won’t. In this time of living in the moment, people no longer want to give up social connections. The fear of missing out is a powerful motivator when the sun is shining, so festivals may pay off this summer.

Our annual summer event preview will touch on 80 things to do on and around the island, from multi-day music festivals to small-scale community gatherings.

Everything from a block party on Cook Street and a festival of one-act plays to a bluegrass hoedown in Duncan is on tap. While it is not comprehensive, this preview is meant to offer a broad cross-section of what the region has to offer culturally.

Victoria Ska & Reggae Festival June 21-25, Victoria


More artistic changes as the former Victoria Ska Festival (which added reggae to its title a few years back) leans more hip-hop this year than ever. 2na from Jurassic 5, Scratch DJ Kid Koala and conscious rapper Brother Ali headline, but the so-called “festival of the people” hasn’t forgotten its roots. The Agrolites return to the program after an extended absence, while reggae legend Maxi Priest makes his long-awaited debut. Last year was its best-ever installment, 22 years after the popular event was founded, and it continues to enjoy the goodwill it has earned as one of the longest-running music festivals in Victoria.

TD Victoria International Jazz Festival June 22 – July 2, Victoria


The Grandfather of the Victoria Festivals, now in its 40th year, has a huge attendance. The 11-day festival expanded to Esquimalt for the first time last year, and although its outdoor phase in the township was hampered by inclement weather, many people took a liking to the move. The 2023 edition will feature large attendances throughout the city with an estimated operating budget of $1.3 million, resulting in 300 musicians giving 70 performances on 10 stages. Organizers expect headlining sets from Chris Botti, Snarky Puppy, Molly Johnson, Badbad Nogood and Sona Jobarteh to attract 35,000 people.

Victoria Pride Festival June 29–July 9, Victoria


The first of six Victoria Pride Festival events begins on 29 June, with the hugely popular celebration ending in grand style after a parade on 9 July (although it has not been confirmed, it appears that the parade will once again take place downtown would begin, later departing from Vic West the previous year). Presented in spectacular fashion with everything from a memorial drag ball game to the Big Gay Dog Walk, Pride takes over the city during its run, with more than 40,000 people attending each year. Most events are free, which is the point of all the pomp and circumstance. Everyone is welcome.

Laketown Shakedown June 30-July 2, Lake Coichan


Shaggy, Portugal the Man, Third Eye Blind, Aqua, Everlast (from House of Pain), Rainwolf, Classified, K’Nan and Biff Naked, among others, headline this boisterous celebration held over the first long weekend of summer . Many top acts will be making their Vancouver Island debut. Laketown Rock, which is held on the same 250-acre site at Lake Coichan, is sited out this year, so the Laketown Shakedown will attract special attention from mid-island rock fans. With reggae-pop king Shaggy closing the show, fans looking for an old-school party will surely find one here.

Canada Day Victoria, July 1st, Victoria


One of the city’s permanent community events, Canada Day always draws crowds, although there have been some bumps in momentum in recent weeks. Its title sponsor pulled the event on 2 May, but organizers (Surrey’s Penmar Community Arts Society and Vancouver’s Blue Coast Event Group) hope the event will continue due to an injection of funding from the city of Victoria. The main stage performers are usually not announced until closer to the event, but there’s always plenty to celebrate, including a fireworks finale. Enter the date.

Phillips Backyard Concert Series, July 7-9/July 11-13, Victoria


The Philips Backyard Concert Series debuted last year with a bang as one of the city’s first post-pandemic events. A full year of preparation has taken remarkably inspired effort. Headed by Anderson Paak (as DJ Pee Wee), Fleet Foxes, Lord Huron, Peach Pitt, Alan Stone, Jesse Roper, Snotty Nose Rage Kids and JJ Wilde, the concert series is packed with talent. Instead of three two-day weekends, the event at Philips Brewing this year includes 31 acts spread over two three-day periods, infusing it with a festive spirit. Tickets are selling well, which is no surprise considering the lineup.

Vancouver Island Music Festival, July 14-16, Courtenay


If you haven’t visited the Comox Valley Exhibition Grounds for an installment of the Vancouver Island Music Festival, you’ve been waiting a long time. Inventive programming is the name of the game at MusicFest, and the lineup rarely relies on a headliner to sell out every year (which it does.) Having perennial favorite Sarah McLachlan on the roster doesn’t hurt, and that can result in tickets. Are. Leaving before the gate opens. Rickie Lee Jones, Galactic, Dave Alvin, Jimmy Dale Gilmore and the Brothers Landreth only add to the wealth. Buy your tickets early to avoid disappointment.

TD Art Gallery Paint-In July 15, Victoria


The largest summer arts festival on Vancouver Island continues to grow, with 30,000 annual visitors attending the event. The Paint-In, which began three decades ago, held each July on Moss Street between Fort Street and Dallas Road, brings together more than 160 artists from each medium for a busy day in the sun. Details of version number 34 are yet to be announced.

Symphony in the Summer Festival, July 27-Aug. 5, Victoria


Nothing can take the place of the almighty symphony splash, but 10 days of unique programming comes very close. Victoria Symphony offers a wide range of events during its Symphony in the Summer Festival, which includes Christ Church Cathedral, The Atrium and Butchert Gardens. Those are ticketed performances, but the free public concerts are definitely worth seeing, with Market Square and Beacon Hill Park’s Cameron Bandshell taking part in the festival. More details are yet to come.

Sunfest Country Music Festival, August 3-6, Lake Cochin


On paper, the Sunfest Country Music Festival is four days long, but diehards tack on an extra day on either side—that’s how committed they are to the province’s top country music festival. The lineup typically includes the top US headliners each year. Sunfest 2023 is set to be perfect, with appearances from Blake Shelton, Billy Currington, Lonestar and rising star Lainie Wilson, who some think will steal the festival from under the top dog Sheltons. One of the best times to be had on the island this summer.

Victoria Fringe August 23-Sept. 3, Victoria


Intrepid Theater has yet to announce the schedule and roster of artists moving to the Victoria Fringe, but 110 companies have applied for spots. Organizers will open the doors to five venues across the city – some of which have been called unconventional this year – for 11 days of alternative theater for local, national and international artists. Fringe festivals across the country are where many find their feet before embarking on fruitful careers that keep audiences hooked every year. This event has been a tradition unlike some others since 1986, and rarely disappoints.

SAANICH FAIR September 2-4, Victoria


The Saanich Fair did blockbuster business last year, to no one’s surprise. Coming out of the pandemic, it was more like comfort food for fans with animal and other farm exhibits, music, dancing and beach rides on the picturesque fairgrounds. The fair will celebrate its 155th birthday over Labor Day weekend, and it’s full of indoor and outdoor activities. This year’s theme is “Jamin’ at the Fair,” which we can assume applies to both the musical acts and the preserved foods being featured. Details are scarce at this point, but does it really matter? Those who love the Sainik fair are going anyway.

Riflandia Sept. 7-9/Sept. 15-17, Victoria


When this popular contemporary festival took four years, the local landscape certainly looked different. An intangible that only Reflandia can provide, as evidenced by the reception for its triumphant return last year – the city itself was brimming with enthusiasm. The upcoming lineup doesn’t include artists like Lorde or Charli XCX, who headlined last year, but the collective influence of Iggy Pop, Diplo, Suicidal Tendencies, Paris Hilton, Salt-N-Pepa – all of whom have never performed at Victoria – Not far from speed. Add in Mavis Staples, Herbie Hancock, Run the Jewels and Stephen Marley and you have a season-finale show with some serious excitement.

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