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Modified version of Harmony Arts Festival returns to West Vancouver waterfront

10-day festival subject to COVID-19 protocols as set by the provincial health officer
Latin jazz band Rumba Calzada performs on the opening night of the Harmony Arts Festival in 2019, the last time the annual event was held in West Vancouver. After a one-year COVID delay, the 10-day festival is returning from July 30 to Aug. 8, 2021.
After being cancelled last summer due to coronavirus concerns, the Harmony Arts Festival is returning for its better-late-than-never 30th anniversary.

The musical, culinary and performing arts extravaganza, usually an annual staple of the West Vancouver waterfront, was suspended along with all other major events and festivals last year.

Following the recent lifting of provincewide restrictions that had previously barred outdoor events and gatherings, event organizers worked quickly to make sure a modified and COVID-safe version of the festival could run starting this week, from July 30 to Aug. 8.

“We heard from the community that Harmony was really missed in 2020,” said Christie Rosta, cultural services manager for the District of West Vancouver. “It became super clear to us that even a modified Harmony Arts Festival will be extremely beneficial for the mental health and well-being of our community.”

While the 10-day festival will still be chock-a-block with artwork to see, music to hear and nibbles to munch on, organizers have had to adapt their usual programming compared to years past.

The festival usually takes place along the waterfront on Argyle Avenue, between 14th and 16th streets. But for 2021, the festival activities will centre around Millennium Park at the foot of 15th Street, according to Rosta.

“We’ll have our art market, which is always a festival favourite, but it will be occupying one block of Argyle Avenue instead of two blocks. We have daily and nightly musical performances, but just not as many as in the past,” said Rosta.

Around 35 musicians and groups are slated to perform during the festival, including Harmony veterans such as folk music band The Paperboys as well as the internationally-known musician Bobby Bruce, who performs as a Neil Diamond tribute artist.

“Of course we have Nearly Neil – he’s always a crowd favourite,” said Rosta.

Due to running a modified festival this year, visitors can expect a few new things as well.

For example, the Ambleside Dundarave Business Improvement Association has sponsored a floating stage along the Centennial Seawalk that will host four performing artists throughout the long weekend-leg of the festival, said Rosta.

And while the bulk of Harmony is free to attend, a ticketed dinner and comedy improv night ($60) is being hosted at the new “Cypress Pop-Up Village,” located at 3757 Cypress Bowl Rd., on July 31, Aug. 1, 6 and 7, she added.

And yes, for those wondering, while a licensed venue will be on-site at Millennium Park during the festival, concertgoers looking to crack a cold one they’ve brought themselves are welcome to do so in the beach area adjacent to the main stage, following West Van council’s recent booze-in-park pilot.

Several food trucks and restaurants, located at a beachside patio at Millennium Park, will also offer ample opportunity to chow down all festival long.

“We had no idea we’d be able to bring back as many Harmony events as we have,” said Rosta. “Everyone has been so amazing bringing this all together in about three weeks, the teamwork is heart-warming.”

COVID concerns

Even with British Columbia’s vaccination program in full swing, one of the biggest and most important challenges has been ensuring the festival is COVID-safe.

The District of West Vancouver is fully committed to following COVID-19 protocols as set by the provincial health officer for the duration of the festival, said Rosta.

Although there is no longer a mask mandate in B.C., festival organizers are recommending that all visitors wear a mask anyway, stay home if they are sick, sanitize their hands, and respect personal space.

The festival will be following enhanced cleaning and safety protocols, and sanitation stations will be available throughout the festival site, added Rosta.

“We will have tables and chairs spread out,” she said. “We’ll be posting Dr. Henry’s ‘Golden Rules’ and asking everyone to follow them. We’re recommending visitors wear masks, and we’ll have free masks available for people at the information booth.”

Following a year that’s lacked such eventful and colourful festivities, perhaps most important is managing the number of visitors at any time during the festival.

After being closed for 16 months, Richmond Night Market came under fire recently due to crowding concerns after thousands of people allegedly crammed into the market during its kick-off weekend.

“We’ll be monitoring the number of visitors at any one time,” said Rosta. “We’ll make any modifications we need to ensure that our community is safe.”

Also on July 30, an eight-week food and music festival is launching in North Vancouver’s Shipyards District.

On Sept. 25, the Shipyards Festival is also slated to return to Lower Lonsdale, with bands set to alternate on two stages set up in Shipbuilders Square and Shipyards Commons.