"All of us including the audience really needed that time together" NSMZ Full Report on Chester Fest
by Scott Roos
*Chilliwack was on point to close out the main stage on Saturday (photo by Scott Roos)
The 2021 edition of Chester Fest Couch + Music Festival is over. In hindsight, given the rising case numbers that are currently in Saskatchewan, we’re pretty lucky to have had it at all. But it happened and Prince Albert and area is fortunate that it did because it was one of the highlights of the summer if not THE highlight of the summer. Two days of music with a first rate lineup, smack dab in the middle of this shitty pandemic. The fans needed it, but the artists involved in this shindig needed it just as much if not more. It was a sidestep away from the dreaded “new normal”. It came along for us just at the right moment in time.
“With everything going on in the world right now it’s been a while for a lot of people. It’s been a hiatus for a lot of bands and Chester Fest has been a welcome with open arms,” remarked Traitor’s Gate vocalist Cody Wilkinson.
*Traitor's Gate vocalist Cody Wilkinson (photo by Scott Roos)
Wilkinson and Traitor’s Gate played their very first show together at Chester Fest on the Prairie Cannabis Stage. On the surface, they were essentially a cover band but fuck it - they rocked. They put on a real honest to goodness rock show. The proverbial devil was not in the details. They played just loose enough to get an organic vibe. The beauty was in the imperfections. Their set was “good enough for rock n roll” and the crowd loved them for it.
In fact, a good deal of the bands on the smaller Prairie Cannabis stage played like they had something to prove. Black Rain rocked out a set almost entirely made up of original songs. Saskatoon noise-rockers The Radiant with their inspiring frontwoman Mikhaila Anderson were an absolute joy to watch.
*Mikhaila Anderson photo by Deanna Roos, Black Rain photo by Scott Roos
In the case of Prince Albert expat Katelyn Lehner, she was able to seize the moment even when the moment threw her a curveball. In the midst of her set, there was a power outage. Instead of dwelling on the technical problems, Lehner came down onto the grass, kicked off her silver sequined boots, and played a few songs “campfire style” for an appreciative audience.
“With the stage blackout that happened, I think at festivals you hope things run smoothly but when they don’t they make for memorable performances. It was fun to just jump off the stage and get everyone to kinda move in closer on the grass and just sing a song with everyone and have them sing along. The show always goes on,” said Lehner in a brief interview with NSMZ.
*Lehner made memories on the grass in front of the stage thanks to some makeshift lighting via audience cell phones and videographer Saul Chabot. (photo by Scott Roos)
On the flip side, the main stage delivered as well. Said the Whale, on Friday night, played an awe inspiring and energetic set. Their enthusiasm was infectious and timely. We’ve been missing the joy of music throughout all the lockdown stops and starts and endless sea of rules and restrictions. Said the Whale and their “band next door” attitude, tucked away in the boreal forest, under the evening stars, was truly a magical sight to behold.
*Said the Whale wowed the crowd with an inspiring set (photos by Scott Roos)
The next night, ending off the mainstage acts were Chilliwack. They cycled through a setlist of hits and managed to play a few new songs as well. Seeing the elation on frontman Bill Henderson’s face as he played the first full set with his band in 18 months was amazing. He was back in his natural habitat doing what he loves to do. He enjoyed his time at Chester Fest. It was pretty obvious.
“It felt great to be back doing our work/play,and we loved the festival. Seems like all of us including the audience really needed that time together,” Henderson said in an email he sent NSMZ the day after Chilliwack’s Chester Fest Set.
*Bill Henderson and Chilliwack put on a proper rock show! (photo by Scott Roos)
The mainstage wasn’t just about the headliners, though. It proved to be great stomping grounds for the local bands as well. Young drummer Kolton Kimbley was all smiles as he played through sets with Dillon Gazandlare and LJ Tyson. His enthusiasm was infectious.
“I can’t get away from drums, I love it so much. It’s my thing. Leading the band, keeping the beat, I don’t know how to explain it... It’s something special in me that I can’t explain. It’s something I’ll never give up ever,” said Kimbley after his set with Gazandlare.
*Kimbley had the time of his life at Chester Fest. He was all smiles. (photo by Scott Roos)
The essential part of Chester Fest’s charm is how it subtly weaves in these local acts to the main stage lineup showing that the talent in this neck of the woods is worthy to go toe to toe with anything that can be brought in from afar. Park Valley’s Jake Vaadeland is a prime example. He’s a rising star on the scene and has been in high demand all summer. He’s the type of performer that improves each time he gets up to play a show and his bluegrass/rockabilly cocktail that he serves to audiences is always a highlight.
“It has been a summer of shows. We’ve had a couple weeks where there’s not been a day off doing shows and stuff like that. I’m really passionate about (performing), sticking with it and not wanting to just sit around at home. It really bugs me when I don’t have shows. I get kinda cranky sitting around at home and feel like I’m losing momentum if I’m not playing. So I guess maybe that sort of attitude to make sure I’m playing all the time. Keeping busy, getting out there and getting noticed,” Vaadeland explained in a brief conversation on the Chester Fest site.
Vaadeland seems to have been in the right place at the right time all summer. It’s going to be interesting to see how far he can take things as the year goes on. He’s got a lot of big plans as he always does and Chester Fest was a worthy stage for him to flex his musical chops. He’s a wunderkind to be sure. Momentum has been on his side thus far.
*Jake Vaadeland and the Sturgeon River Boys (photo by Scott Roos)
It’s been truly interesting just letting the Chester Fest vibes sink in over the last few days. The perspective is still fresh but it’s measured. The festival itself was pretty great given the amount of time that festival co-organizers Joel Rohs and Kayanna Wirtz had to actually pull it off. It wasn't perfect but that’s okay. In the end it’s about the music. The music matters most. The music and the memories. Both of those things at Chester Fest were top notch and that's all we could have hoped hoped for.
NSMZ spoke to Rohs midway through the festival. He was obviously exhausted but pulled himself together enough to offer up a brief reflection on how he felt things had been going.
“I’m happy to be doing the things you know? It’s nice to be able to play some shows and still put on a festival and hopefully it’ll be back full tilt again next year.”
Joel, you made it to the finish line. Chester Fest was awesome. It was bloody brilliant. It’ll be back. Please say it will be. We needed Chester Fest this summer and we’ll need it just as much a year from now.
*Joel Rohs released an album with his band Rohs on Sept. 16th. (photo by Scott Roos)