Song & Surf attracted music lovers from all across Southern Vancouver island and beyond.

Song & Surf: Music at the edge of the world

A review of the Port Renfrew winter music festival

Octavian Lacatusu

Sooke News Mirror

What if there was a place – in the middle of winter – where you could congregate and cozy up next to someone to listen live to some fresh-off-the-notepad songs with a nice beer in your hand…

Fortunately, there is.

It’s called Song & Surf; a “boutique-style” festival of music, dance and chillaxation, held every winter for the last seven years on the wild northwest coast of Port Renfrew. This year it was held at the iconic Big Fish Lodge, a small complex right by the beach overlooking the gap between the mountains, the Pacific and, well, infinity.

Before we go on however, it’s worth noting the humble beginnings and spirituality of Song & Surf, because there is something truly etherial about being at a winter music festival at the edge of the world (or civilization, take your pick).

“Nothing was happening here in winter, no cultural event, no venue, nowhere for people to come and experience all the ocean storms, the hiking, everything you can do in winter not just in summertime,” said Rob Stewart, owner of Big Fish Lodge and co-creator of Song & Surf.

Stewart, a musician himself, said giving the opportunity for young artists to perform together and connect in such a unique place was just too hard to resist.

“We wanted to organize something where people can come out in a small group, get a boutique feel to live music, so we’re really humble it caught on,” he said, adding that he wanted people to experience something a little more exclusive than the usual summer festival he co-hosts, Tall Tree.

“You’re getting really high-quality artists in a very intimate venue,” he said. “There are beach fires, a wood-fire hot tub, so it’s action here all day and night.”

It’s easy to see why; mountainscape as far as the eye can see, long and wide stretch of beaches and campgrounds, as well as the soothing swirls and rolls of the Pacific Ocean.

For an aspiring artist such as Luca Fogale, this is heaven.

“I’m just a big scenery guy, so just the backdrop and to get to play music right by the ocean in the middle of winter, it’s pretty unique for sure,” said Fogale, who played at the Tall Tree summer festival last year. “Just really good vibes here… it’s as West Coast as it gets.”

No doubt, it’s what equally drew Song & Surf’s co-creator, Mike Hann to Port Renfrew’s natural aura. Hann, a native of Victoria, was travelling with his band, Quoia, when he met Stewart.

“When we started, at that time Port Renfrew was making the transition from being a logging town to a sort of fishing/ecotourism destination,” Hann said. “The event really helps introduce people to the area because it encourages them to go out and explore, go on little spirit quests.”

Unlike Tall Tree, which runs every year in June, Hann notes Song & Surf has a completely different vibe- — more low-tune and relaxing, yet positive and warm; much like a hot cup of cocoa.

“We’re really selective with the kind of people and music we book; we look at who they are, because the people who come out to these events are really positive, active, good people — so we try to book acts that cater to that,” Hann said.

The lineup of musicians, which was split between a day and a night section of the event, offered a rich variety of genres, from indie rock, trance, alternative to jazz and the blues.

Among the evening performers was popular Australian blues artist Ash Grunwald, who has been touring through Canada for the last little while.

“I’m searching, building a bit of a career – you just can’t build in one place – you just see what sticks, and Canada sticks for me,” Grunwald said, adding this was his first time to Port Renfrew. “The people here, they know how to roll. I love it!”

And good news is, Song & Surf is not going away; if anything, Hann says, it’s only going to get bigger and bigger.

“This year we’re seeing the community get more and more involved,” he said, referring to the group’s latest community initiatives, the Make Music Now program that encourages and musically trains youth in the Port Renfrew area.

“It’s igniting this passion for music all around to go along with what’s happening here, so that’s fantastic,” Hann said.

Missed Song & Surf this year? No worries; you can catch the Tall Tree music festival this summer from the 26 to 28 of June.