Cumberland Wild: Two days, one unifying vision for the Comox Valley music festival

The two-day Cumberland Wild music festival has become a key component of summer programming in the area since debuting in Cumberland Village Park five years ago.

by Mike Devlin: Times Colonist

The village of Cumberland is home to approximately 3,700 residents, a healthy portion of whom will attend the Cumberland Wild festival this weekend.

The two-day music festival has become a key component of summer programming in the area since debuting in Cumberland Village Park five years ago. Avigdor Schulman, the festival’s creative director, said he expects 600 people to attend each of the three parts, happening over two days, resulting in approximately 2,000 fans through the weekend.

“It’s not a huge event, it’s a boutique-style event,” he said. “Sometimes that isn’t the best for the bottom line, but we’re looking to throw something that thrills socially as well as musically.”

Respect is paid to their surroundings and the greater Comox Valley, Schulman said. The festival, which gets underway Saturday, is meant to unite the close-knit unit of artists and attendees in the area, amid a natural outdoor setting. Downtown Mischief, Applecat, Mark Farina, Manic Focus, and Petunia & the Vipers are among the 30 acts scheduled to appear through the weekend.

“We are trying to do something for the community. This is really aimed at residents in Cumberland and the Comox Valley. They can cycle to the event, they can walk to the event. It’s in their backyard — they don’t have to hop on a ferry or find a hotel in Victoria. It gives them a festival-style environment without having to spend a lot of money to go elsewhere.”

The festival has found a sweet spot between its current and former iterations. In 2018, Cumberland Wild replaced the former Atmosphere Gathering, which began in 2014 and had a greater focus on electronic acts. Prior to both, Schulman and his team produced the Big Time Out, a large-scale Cumberland festival held in eight venues for 5,000 people.

Cumberland Wild offers a balance of musical offerings, with three unique stretches of programming during a two-day period. “We’ve ebbed and flowed, with the different events we’ve done over the years,” Schulman said. “We’re adaptable in that way.”

The bulk of the Saturday’s programming features electronic and hip-hop acts, while the festival’s Silent Disco — wherein headset-wearing patrons dance to music piped into their headphones from artists on stage — features DJs from Vancouver Island beginning late Saturday and running into early Sunday morning.

Live bands populate the remainder of Sunday’s daytime programming.

Schulman sees Cumberland Wild as an artistic alternative to other Comox Valley music mainstays, such as the Filberg Festival and Vancouver Island Music Festival, both of which he supports. Attendees come to the festival expecting to see a range of artists, and Schulman endeavours to push artistic boundaries.

“We want to be challenging in some ways, and want to introduce things this community and the Comox Valley at large haven’t really seen before.”

Event producers are at the mercy of myriad mitigating factors, however, and Cumberland Wild organizers are not free from stress heading to the weekend.

“We picked the hottest two days of the summer to set up an event,” Schulman said, with a laugh. The festival will also be tangentially affected by the closure of Highway 14, as some of the production crew comes in from Port Alberni, he added.

He and his team remain steadfastly committed, following years of delays due to COVID-19.

“We’re on the road back, but in a different kind of way. We’ve found that there are so many events going on, a lot of people are feeling the pinch of smaller turnouts. Production costs are 30 per cent more and staffing costs are 30 per cent more, but you can’t raise your ticket prices to accommodate. We’re tweaking it to make something sustainable.”