Khatsahlano! Music + Art Festival brings a party vibe to the 'hood

TOWARD THE END of an interview with the Georgia Straight, Grant McDonagh and Thomas Anselmi are taking a moment to reminisce. Zulu Records owner McDonagh and Arrival Agency partner Anselmi have come to the Straight’s fourth-floor boardroom, along with Kitsilano 4th Avenue Business Improvement Association CEO Russ Davies and Arrival’s Danny Fazio, to discuss the third edition of the Khatsahlano! Music + Art Festival, which takes place next Saturday (July 13).

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Before the four men go their separate ways on this clear-skied Friday afternoon, Anselmi wants to give Zulu’s proprietor credit for stoking his passion for music, first when McDonagh was an employee of Quintessence Records, and then as owner of the iconic indie shop he has run on West 4th for over 30 years. Anselmi recalls that he thought highly enough of McDonagh’s taste to solicit his opinion on his own band’s music, which he brought into Zulu on a cassette.

“Grant listens to it, and he’s like, ‘I like it,’ ” Anselmi remembers. “And I’m like, ‘Yeah, I think it has really mass appeal.’ And he’s like, ‘I don’t know about that.’ ”

McDonagh picks up the story: “He came in with a tape, and he said, ‘The program director at CiTR says we sound like Goddo.’ That really intrigued me, and I was living above the old store, so we went upstairs and I put on the cassette, which ended up being their first single—the Slow single—and I just heard it and I thought, ‘This is friggin’ incredible.’ I loved it.”

“ ‘This sounds like Goddo!’ ” Anselmi interjects. “ ‘And I like Goddo.’ ”

“ ‘It sounds nothing like Goddo—boy, that CiTR director is out of it,’ ” McDonagh recalls thinking. “But I thought, ‘This is brilliant. Let’s put out a single.’ It was that quick. I remember him leaving and me going, ‘What have I done?’ I was not sure how it was going to go over.”

The Zulu Records label released Slow’s debut single, “I Broke the Circle”, in 1985, and the rest is Vancouver rock ’n’ roll history.

The two men aren’t just indulging in idle nostalgia, however. The anecdote illustrates the independent spirit that still drives them today. It’s that same type of spirit that led to the founding of Khatsahlano! in 2011. McDonagh and Davies have been integral to the event from the beginning, conceiving of a 10-block street party that would not only draw thousands of potential new customers from all over the city to the shops and restaurants on West 4th, but would also showcase some of Vancouver’s best music.

The idea wasn’t an entirely new one: in previous years, the street had played host to an event called Kitsilano Hippie Daze, which was a nod to the area’s status in the 1960s and ’70s as a countercultural epicentre. As Davies notes, however, a retrospective look at the tie-dyed-everything era wasn’t quite capturing the current vibe of the ’hood.

“It’s always been young people living on 4th Avenue and in Kitsilano, and so we really went back and looked at whether we were going to look forward, with new bands and great Vancouver music, or whether we were going to look backwards and have the Doors tribute bands and the Grateful Dead tribute bands,” he says. “All we had to do was stand on the corner of 4th and Yew and look at our neighbourhood. Our neighbourhood’s very young—they care about their city, they care about their neighbourhood, so we really wanted the festival to reflect that element and really hold a mirror up to our neighbourhood, and really give them the music that they love to listen to.”

This year, that means performances on 10 stages, by the likes of the Pack a.d., Brasstronaut, Rich Hope and His Blue Rich Rangers, Gold & Youth, No Sinner, Portage & Main, the Gay Nineties, the Bonitos, Rococode, and War Baby, along with the top 20 artists in the current round of the Peak Performance Project, including BESTiE, Good for Grapes, Lions in the Street, and Hannah Epperson.

To help select this year’s acts, McDonagh turned to Arrival Agency, the team that had made the Waldorf Hotel one of the city’s hottest spots. “Grant called me about Kasha [Marciniak], who’s part of our team—she is our booker, our talent buyer,” Anselmi notes. “And he thought she was doing a good job at the Waldorf, et cetera, and of course we think she does a great job too, and I proposed to Russ and to Grant that maybe we could all be involved. We had a little bit of time on our hands after the Waldorf. Danny and I both attended last year, and Kasha as well, and we thought it was such a great experience.”

In addition to its work on the music component, Arrival will bring a bit of the flavour of its Food Cart Fest to Khatsahlano!, with 35 vendors offering a variety of street eats, and it is also curating the visual-arts aspect, with a Vancouver-themed exhibition set up in 10 moving containers.

“I think what we always try to do—whether it’s at the Waldorf, or at Food Cart Fest, or at the new Fox Theatre project—we always try to do stuff that is high-quality, fun, and world-class, in a way,” Arrival’s Fazio says. “I always felt like Khatsahlano! fit that bill. When I was there, I felt like this is the best of Vancouver. This could stand on an international level, even though it highly represents Vancouver.”

Anselmi agrees; moreover, he makes the case that events such as Khatsahlano! offer more than just a good time. Rather, they provide Vancouverites with a taste of something that’s too often sorely lacking in their day-to-day lives.

“In Vancouver I think we’re really hungry for community,” he insists. “We’re really hungry for the energy that happens when people are in a crowd together, and you know, there’s not enough of it. It’s really hard to do here. It’s prohibitive, honestly. And it’s an amazing thing that the 4th Avenue BIA have managed to squeak in, in a way, because it’s a huge festival, so many people in the street.

“And I just think that energy, and that shared experience, is something that we need more of in Vancouver,” Anselmi continues. “To come together and celebrate what’s mostly local, I think it really galvanizes a civic spirit, and in a very un-trite way: ‘Here we are; we’re together, we’re experiencing art and culture and music together. Local food, local music, local art, and it’s of a high quality, too.’ It’s not just entertainment. It’s stuff that can move you, stuff that can make you feel. And I think that just really makes it a special festival.”

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