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Little Festivals on the Prairies Part Two: Chester Fest (Sept.10th & 11th)

Updated: May 17, 2023

by Scott Roos

*Joel Rohs and Kayanna Wirtz photo by Scott Roos

When the dust had literally settled at Par Place back on the morning of July 6th of 2019 Chester Fest Couch + Music Festival was declared a hit by all those who attended. The inaugural festival featured a wide cross section of bands from around the province as well as a few surprises from other locales in Canada. A few months prior it had probably been seen by many to be a pipe dream. Maybe even some people thought the idea of carting 100 couches into the bushes and trees of Par Place was a joke but, if it was, organizers Joel Rohs and Kayanna Wirtz had the last laugh. It was a raging success and a hella good time.

“The festival was all Joel’s idea. He had been presenting shows out of various venues for a while and always talked about doing a festival. And then one day he was just like, I booked Par Place, this is the date, we’re making a festival,” recounts Wirtz in a recent conversation with NSMZ.

*Chester Fest 2019 Pics by Deanna Roos of Contingent Colours Photography

In many respects, the idea behind Chester Fest was ingenious. Essentially Wirtz and Rohs were striving to bring the comforts of home to an outdoor festival environment. People could sit and watch the various top level musical acts from the couches or if they felt like getting up and moving they could. There were also food vendors on site, a merch booth, beer garden and a special after hours stage. From an outsider’s perspective, everything about the festival was well planned and for the most part, with the exception of a few little hiccups that were virtually unnoticeable and that are typical to a new festival, everything went off without a hitch. It also made a sequel event seem obvious. Unfortunately, COVID-19 hit and alas the 2020 edition ended up not happening giving Rohs more time to think and prepare for the 2021 edition. In the last few weeks, restrictions have been lifted and the 2021 edition has kicked into high gear.

"A lot of things have happened this year in our industry, especially in the province, and I guess it's kinda been a little bit of an eye opener,” explained Rohs, ”With the festival it's like: Who am I booking? How am I treating them? Am I treating everyone fairly? I think it kinda made me reassess that and come up with some better practices in terms of being more open and giving opportunities for all different types of artists in our province."

It’s also important to note that even with restrictions on gatherings and masks lifted, COVID has not gone away. So now on top of trying to plan a 2021 Chester Fest edition in a truncated amount of time, Rohs has safety concerns that need to be addressed for his patrons.

"Thankfully we are outdoors so we have lots of space. People are more than welcome if they want to wear masks. They won't be mandatory for the festival. We're gonna have hand sanitizer at multiple points at exits and entrances. Hand washing stations and stuff. We also have access to this super sweet spray that we're gonna get for the couches and it dries super fast. It dries in like four minutes or something like that. You spray it down, pump up the sprayer, spray the couches down, sanitize and then it's good to go for the next person. Especially when you have something where someone is going to sit on the couch for a couple of hours. We've kind of changed our volunteer rolls a bit to fill that gap to make sure that we have the sanitizing duties,” said Rohs.

Wirtz, on the other hand, is largely in charge of the artwork that adorns a lot of the festival publicity and merchandise. It set the tone for the festival’s homey vibe and is essential to the overall imaging that Wirtz and Rohs have set out to achieve from the get go.

“I do most of the design work for Chester Fest, and things like print the merch in my little home screen print studio, or paint the signage. I love painting, drawing and graphic design so doing the artwork is a natural role for me to fill. I love that I had the freedom to create this brand from the ground up and got to really bring my style to it. I love design work that incorporates other media, so all of the Chester Fest stuff is like these bold graphics and bright teals and yellows paired with these cute pen drawings of couches, lamps, etc. I really like the overall brand we’ve managed to create and I think that, while it’s a lot of work, having one person do all the design really gave our festival the recognizable look and feel that helped us establish ourselves,” Wirtz said.

Wirtz was kind enough to share an example of something that she is working on for the 2021 festival. It's still a work in progress but, by the looks of this, the imaging for the Festival is once again going to be top notch thanks to Wirtz's tireless efforts.

*photo courtesy of Kayanna Wirtz

“This one's kind of cool. it’s the base drawing that’s going to be the 2021 poster. So this is just a pen and ink drawing and I’ve taken it and added digital text and colours and a bunch of other things, and the full poster will be revealed I think around August 8th,”

In the meantime, Rohs is busy finalizing things with the lineup. The festival itself is set to take place the weekend of Sept. 10th and 11th. Vancouver’s Said the Whale has already been announced as the Friday night headliner and if they are any indication, the festival’s music will be top notch.

"I was just reaching out to some artists today and finalizing some details with them. So we got a good bunch of local artists and regional or from the province, a few out of province and a good mix of all things,” hinted Rohs.

Lineup announcements will be happening in early August but in the meantime, you can grab tickets for this awesome local Prince Albert event here:

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