Skip to content
Join our Newsletter

Vancouver festival organizers priming for entertainment bonanza

Attendance at many events expected to be lower than it was in pre-pandemic times
Bard on the Beach executive director, Claire Sakaki's Shakespeare festival launched shows earlier this month | Chung Chow

After two years of B.C. summer attractions being either cancelled or scaled back because of the COVID-19 pandemic, event planners are excited to return to some semblance of normalcy.

COVID-19 restrictions that limited event sizes, required people to wear masks and attendees to show proof of being vaccinated have all been lifted.

“We’re hopeful to have a 100 per cent return of the audience, but I’m practically thinking for my own planning that the audience will probably be about 75 per cent of 2019, as we build back,” Vancouver Folk Music Festival artistic director Debbi Salmonsen told BIV.

Pre-pandemic, about 40,000 people attended her three-day event.

Salmonsen kept her festival alive during the past two years by shifting to a format in which she recorded bands playing at venues around the city and then showed those videos at the Rio Theatre.

This year, the folk festival is scheduled to have three small stages and a main stage at Jericho Beach Park July 15 through 17. That is down by one stage compared with 2019. The range of ticket prices is similar to 2019, Salmonsen added.

About 40 acts are set to entertain, which is down from 55 performers in 2019, she said.

Taj Mahal and the New Pornographers are some of the headline acts.

The Vancouver International Jazz Festival takes place June 24 through July 3, with Buddy Guy and Lucinda Williams being some of the featured acts. 

The largest summer spectacles in B.C. are also returning this year.

The Honda Celebration of Light is back for three shows. Japanese fireworks choreographers will show their work on July 23, while Canadian counterparts will compete on July 27. Spanish fireworks then are set to light the sky above English Bay July 30.

Organizers are planning plenty of ticketed events to see the fireworks but many viewing areas are free for the general public.

Hundreds of thousands of people are expected to attend the Vancouver Pride Week Festival that is set to culminate on July 31, with a parade that will wind along Robson and Denman streets before ending at Sunset Beach.

The smaller Powell Street Festival, which celebrates Japanese culture, will happen at the same times as Pride, with activities at Oppenheimer Park on July 30 and 31.

The Fair at the Pacific National Exhibition (PNE) is another major B.C. event, given that in 2019 it attracted 730,000 people during a 15-day run.

A spate of ticketed concerts featuring bands such as the Barenaked Ladies, Chicago and the Steve Miller Band are expected to attract many to the fair’s East Vancouver site.

This year’s PNE will have daily attendance capacity limits, and date-specific tickets will be needed for entry.

In advance of the PNE, which is scheduled to run Aug. 20 through Sept. 5, the Vancouver Craft Beer Week (VCBW) festival will use the PNE site July 9 and 10.

The VCBW bills itself as the Lower Mainland’s largest craft-beer event.

"VCBW is no longer only for the beer aficionado," said Dax Droski, who is part of the event's new ownership team. "Now is the time for VCBW to welcome everyone, including the entire spectrum of beer drinkers.”

Breweries and cideries from around the world are expected to participate and pour more than 150 craft beers and ciders.

The William Shakespeare Bard on the Beach festival launched A Midsummer Nights Dream performances at Vanier Park on June 8. It plans to stage an Othello-inspired play, Harlem Duet, June 15 through July 17. Romeo and Juliet performances are set start Aug. 3.

“We are budgeting for slightly fewer people to attend than in 2019,” executive director Clare Sakaki told BIV.

“We are assuming that there will still be great interest, but we are also taking into account that there might be some uncertainty around attending live events.”

Pre-pandemic, more than 100,000 people attended more than 200 events, she said.

The capacity at shows is the same, and once again there are more than 200 shows scheduled.

That includes the plays and special events, such as a Vancouver Symphony Orchestra performance June 28, and four opera performances that are set to take place Sept. 12 and 13.

Barbecue events will take place on the site during Honda Celebration of Light nights.

Those wanting a twist on Shakespeare will be able to attend Something Rotten! at Theatre Under the Stars (TUTS). That show is set in the streets of Elizabethan England, where Shakespeare is a Renaissance rock star while the playwright’s siblings Nick and Nigel Bottom are stuck in his shadow.

That play will alternate with We Will Rock You – a musical inspired and featuring music from Queen – between July 2 and Aug. 27. •

[email protected]