Vancouver soul & gospel singer, Khari Wendell McClelland, is among the many performers at this year's Mission Folk Music Festival
Vancouver soul & gospel singer, Khari Wendell McClelland, is among the many performers at this year's Mission Folk Music Festival

The Mission Folk Music Festival is celebrating an impressive 29 years in 2016, but the long-running showcase of folk, world, and roots music almost didn’t make it past 28.

The low Canadian dollar, the sudden retirement of the festival’s longtime artistic director, and a reduction in government funding have all conspired against the festival. Add some bad luck with weather, in what should be the dog days of summer, and the festival’s fate was nearly sealed. But even while this year’s festival may be scaled back compared to previous years, things are looking good for it to reach that even bigger milestone next year.

“My biggest goal this year is to ensure that the heart of the festival continues to beat,” says the festival’s new general manager, Michelle Demers Shaevitz.

No stranger to the festival herself, Demers Shaevitz has risen through its ranks since she began as a volunteer in 1991.  She also comes with some additional impressive credentials, having spent time as a program coordinator with Seattle’s Northwest Folklife and with the Subdued Stringband Jamboree in Bellingham.

Acknowledging that another of her big goals this year is to ensure the festival is fiscally responsible, Demers Shaevitz is upbeat about what she and her team have managed to put together.

“When we started our planning cycle this year, we were really unsure what we were going to offer in terms of programming, workshops and even how many days we could offer programming,” she says. “But we knew that we wanted to ensure we could share as much as possible with our audience. We wanted to focus on the community that has supported us over the years, and bring them back into the fold.”

Part of Demers Shaevitz’s plans to reach back out to the local community that is the lifeblood of the festival, is a “pay-what-you-can” model for two of the festival’s three days.

“We had enough funding to do a really great show on Friday night as a thank you to all those who have supported us over the past 29 years,” she says.

That free Friday evening line-up includes such acts as award-winning fiddler Kierah Raymond, the duo of Chicken-Like Birds, blues guitarist Jimmy D Lane, and Ladysmith folk/rock band, Lion Bear Fox.

On Saturday, the full day of programming is just $29 and includes the likes of Canadian musician-songwriter, Shari Ulrich, Vancouver folk transplant Ari Neufeld, and Cuban salsa band, La Candela.

Sunday also uses the pay-what-you-can model featuring the gospel group, The Sojourners and soul & gospel singer, Khari Wendell McClelland.

Not only about the musical acts on stage, the festival will also feature a number of workshops, the return of a children’s area, and a site-wide square dance is also planned.

“We have programmed what we believe is a really fun festival, where our audiences will have as much an opportunity to experience the music as listen to it,” says Demers Shaevitz.

The Mission Folk Music Festival takes place at the Fraser River Heritage Park (7494 7494 Mary St, Mission) from July 22-24. Visit http://missionfolkmusicfestival.ca for tickets and information.