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NICHOLAS MERCER: You’re always welcome at the South Coast Arts Festival

Bud Davidge entertains the crowd during night two of the 34th South Coast Arts Festival on Aug. 11.
Bud Davidge entertains the crowd during night two of the 34th South Coast Arts Festival on Aug. 11. - Nicholas Mercer

Bud Davidge took to the stage on Aug. 10 as he has many times before at the South Coast Arts Festival in St. Jacques.  

St. Jacques-Coomb's Cove Mayor Cyril Brown serves as MC and performer annually during the South Coast Arts Festival.
St. Jacques-Coomb's Cove Mayor Cyril Brown serves as MC and performer annually during the South Coast Arts Festival.


A resident of the neighbouring Fortune Bay community of English Harbour West, the Newfoundland and Labrador musical icon knew he had to be there. 
Davidge had performed at the Newfoundland and Labrador Folk Festival in St. John’s a night earlier and made the nearly seven-hour drive on Saturday. For his home performance, Davidge dipped into his vast catalogue of traditional music, a songbook full of folk classics like “Music and Friends”, “The Loss of the Marion”, “The Mummer’s Song” and others. 
Davidge never fails to draw a crowd to the dance floor and this night was no different. 
Now, Davidge isn’t the only one that marvels on the stage. Performers young and old from across the region and offer renditions of “Grey Foggy Day” and “Up She Rises”. 
“There are people who have been here for 34 years and they’ve grown up with the music,” said St. Jacques-Coomb's Cove Mayor Cyril Brown, who hit the stage multiple times both as a performer and to introduce the other musicians. “They come back every year and they’re doing their own set. 
“We hope their children do the same thing.” 
This isn’t my first time at the South Coast Arts Festival. I’ve been here before. 
For a four to five-year period I was a regular at the festival but I hadn't been there for some time for one reason or another.
A friend invited me down this year and I wasn’t disappointed. 
I've always marvelled at the civic pride on display. There is a love for the region that exists in every song and every yarn told over the three days. 
Locally known as the festival, it hasn’t always resided in St. Jacques.
When it was conceived, organizers thought it would roam every year across parts of Fortune Bay as a way to promote the talent of the region while establishing an arts community — music, theatre, visual arts, erc — along the coast. 
The first time it occurred was in 1986 Milltown, followed by Hermitage. In 1988, it was scheduled to hit Harbour Breton, but the town showed no interest in hosting. 
That year it fell to St. Jacques and after the donation of land to the group that runs the festival, it’s never left the place. 
It looks different now than it did in years past. During its first edition in the community, the stage was a flatbed trailer. 
As time moved on, organizers built a permanent stage, bathrooms — with running water from an artesian well — and canteen facilities. The canteen is run by local volunteer groups.
All of the money taken at the gate goes back to the festival for upkeep and new additions. There are plans to build a second stage in the beer garden portion for the later night performances. 
Newfoundland and Labrador has an affinity for come home years. The diaspora that exists on the mainland is drawn home like moths to a flame. 
They yearn to come home and make sure it happens every couple of years. 
In St. Jacques-Coomb's Cove, that come home year happens every summer on the second weekend of August. 
People figure upwards to 2,000 people appear in the region every year with eyes on returning for the festival. 
“We have people who plan their summers around this festival weekend,” said South Coast Arts Community chairperson Conrad Williams. “I think it helps that the festival is always the second weekend in August. It never changes.” 
Local performers will turn down offers to play at other events if they fall on the festival weekend. 
It’s their chance to greet people from their past, reminisce and have a good time while doing it. 
This was my return to St. Jacques. Who knows if I’ll get back as life moves forward, sometimes it gets in the way. 
Still, the festival will continue as it serves as an annual reunion of sorts. Families get together, catch up and re-live some of their more favourite stories.
Personally, I saw some old friends and met some new ones. 
That’s pretty much the South Coast Arts Festival in a nutshell.
You're always welcome.

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