The city’s largest annual entertainment extravaganza is about to return.
It’s the Lethbridge and District Music and Speech Arts Festival, which will be filling several local venues from April 1-13 with approximately 5,000 talented performers from youngsters to adults.
This marks the second year of the festival since the Kiwanis Club handed over the reins last year to the new community organization charged with carrying on the event’s almost nine-decade tradition.
Besides the benefit of having one year under their belts, members of the organizing board are also happy to have the recently renovated Yates Theatre available once again to serve as the chief venue and festival headquarters.
Board chairman Sandy Brunelle acknowledges that having to do without the Yates Theatre for last year’s festival provided a major logistical challenge.
“We were fortunate to have Casa. We managed to make do,” says Brunelle, adding La Cite des Prairies was also used to host some of the festival performances last year.
Casa will still be a festival venue this year, as will Southminster United Church and St. Augustine’s Anglican Church.
The switchover of organizing the festival from the Kiwanis Club’s hands to the new community festival society went quite smoothly.
“Kiwanis did an excellent job of training us,” says Brunelle, who already had a festival background as a volunteer. “We had a year in which we shadowed them and they shared information with us.”
The board benefited from having a large volunteer base already in place “and we had a lot of new volunteers step up,” she notes.
“It’s an excellent working board,” Brunelle says of her fellow board members. “It’s pulled together very nicely.”
Plans are already being crafted for next year’s 90th anniversary event and “how to recognize 90 years and tie in the history of the festival,” says Brunelle. “We’ve got a lot of irons in the fire.”
Festival general manager Natasha Tompkins agrees it’s a great deal of work to organize an event of this magnitude.
“There are so many moving parts, with 1,000 registrations and 5,000 performers,” she says.
“To make that all fit into the venues in two weeks is going to be a bit of challenge.”
Is it worth all the effort?
“Absolutely,” she says emphatically.
“Even when I was a child, I competed in it in the community I grew up in.”
She later taught piano and had her own students competing in the festival, and now she has her own children competing.
“So I’ve come full circle,” she says.
One of the best parts of her job, Tompkins adds, is that she is able to take in many of the festival performances, and she urges others to do the same.
“I encourage people to come and support the local talent because we have a lot of it,” she says.
There’s an interesting new addition to the festival this year — its own blend of coffee.
Brunelle explains that Cupper’s in Lethbridge has come up with a special blend of coffee just for the duration of the festival. It’s called “Expressions: a Festival of Flavours!”
It will be available at the Yates Theatre for $20 per package, with the proceeds going to help support the festival organization with its future efforts — including marking the event’s 90th anniversary in 2020.
For more information about the festival, vist the website at lethmsf.org.