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Francis Xavier-Edwards: Open Horizons

When musician Francis Xavier-Edwards first saw the field east of Mission, a light went on in his head. Located next to the Fraser River on the former site of the Oblates of St. Mary Mission, in 1988 it was just an empty field with a log cabin. Edwards saw the potential.

“It was a beautiful site, looking over the valley and the Cascades Mountains in the background,” he says. “I could just see a concert or a symphony orchestra playing there.”

Yvonne Elden From this simple idea, a world class music festival was born. Founded almost 22 years ago, the folk festival attracts a range of talent – last year’s program featured everyone from Finnish cult sensation Alamaailman Vasarat to up-and-coming powerhouse performers like Nathan Rogers – and music fans from across the continent. Planning starts at least 16 months in advance, says Edwards, and gives exposure to developing as well as established musicians.

“We have an opportunity to provide access to something people never had access to before; it brings another, larger dimension to Mission.”

Organizing a folk festival was a natural step for Xavier-Edwards. A musician himself, he plays stringed instruments such as guitar, mandolin, ukulele, and the bouzouki. And while he still has time for his music, managing the festival takes up a lot of his time. From paper work and public relations, to finances and volunteer management, he’s done it all on the festival scene.

His creative mind started working after he attended a Pacific Contact Symposium, a gathering of professionals from all walks of the music industry. Through the conference, Xavier-Edwards became involved in a musician collective. The artists all agreed that pooling the efforts of the few would benefit the good of the many. It was through the collective that the musician introduced the idea of a festival in Mission.

“We decided on the idea in May, had our first one-day festival in August and we nurtured it from there.”

Xavier-Edwards is happy to see the festival grow and flourish. Like the open field Edwards once saw, the festival aims to opens up horizons by providing an experience that embraces the music, language and dance of cultures across Canada and around the world.

“There is a musical impulse in all people, and that first impulse is what we come to know as folk music. The roots go everywhere. For the festival, it’s a point of departure into a world of music instead of a mere defining point.”