PLACES OF BC: Wells & ArtsWells Music Festival
August 29, 2016
By Alex Lausanne
As a follow-up on the earlier post about “Wells, BC: Cariboo Counterculture,” by Susan Safyan. She spoke of the town’s historical roots as a boom town in the gold industry, which then became a ghost town 30 years after, and later a center for the “back to the land” movement. Safyan also touched on the town as the location for “one of the province’s best loved music festivals” – ArtsWells. After firsthand experience of this magical four-day festival, earlier this month, I would like to reflect on the enchanting town that is present day Wells.
Located in the crook of a mountain valley, and 77 km from Quesnel, for many, Wells is merely a stop (or a wave) on the journey by to the tourist stop, and historical boom town, of Barkerville. With only a population of 245 people, and no cell phone service, Wells is easy to miss. However, what Wells lacks in size, it makes up for in charm.
With houses and shops painted in vibrant and lively colours, Wells is reminiscent of the central hub of many northern cities. Perched on a bedrock knoll, the downtown hosts a creative yellow Wells Community Hall and beautiful little white church, like from a storybook, along with many equally elegant houses, buildings and shops. Below, lies a meandering river, where many festival go-ers can be found swimming on a hot August long weekend.
“ArtsWells – Festival of All things Art” draws thousands of people to the town to celebrate a tradition of music and arts in the same Community Hall that has held music events since the 1930s. The whole town gets taken over by the festival and no venue goes unused. From the Sunset Theatre and Bear’s Paw Cafe, to the Tempest Church for softer acoustic acts, every space is utilized and enjoyed. With over 100 musical performances, the line-up spotlights many local BC bands and artists, and a diverse range of musical tastes.
Surrounded by good music and good people, ArtsWells is an ideal place to become unplugged and just let your senses enjoy. The local food vendors are tailored to the demographic and feature stalls selling Chai tea, smoothies, crepes and other unique delights that are not as prominent in the bigger and more well-known music festivals.
The makeshift festival community that forms over the weekend represents a beautiful example of strangers bonding over music and peacefully sharing a space and experiences. The atmosphere is filled with such human positivity and generosity that can often be hard to find on such a large scale in modern day society. The two large “tent cities” that pop up can only be accommodated through these positive types of social interactions, as the space is very limited, and the tents are many.
Attendees are encouraged to have respect for the town while they visit, and this was demonstrated by the lack of garbage or debris left and the festival’s low impact. Many volunteers continue to make this wonderful festival possible each year. With the increasing popularity of the ArtsWells music festival, it can be suggested that the “hippie” days are not yet over.
For more all Wells, see Susan Safyan’s book (2012): All Roads Lead to Wells: Stories of the Hippie Days