Ken Lavigne and Joëlle Rabu will headline the first two days of Nanaimo’s inaugural Big Band Festival at Maffeo Sutton Park, Sept. 2-4. (Anna Bullock and Angie Oh photos)

Ken Lavigne and Joëlle Rabu will headline the first two days of Nanaimo’s inaugural Big Band Festival at Maffeo Sutton Park, Sept. 2-4. (Anna Bullock and Angie Oh photos)

Nanaimo’s first-ever Big Band Festival on its way to the waterfront

Ken Lavigne and Joƫlle Rabu headline event Sept. 2-4 at Maffeo Sutton Park

Lovers of the swing era will have somewhere to jive this September, as Nanaimo’s inaugural Big Band Festival soon gets underway.

The three-day affair will be held at Maffeo Sutton Park from Sept. 2-4, and headlines one of the Island’s best modern-day crooners.

On opening day, Chemainus tenor Ken Lavigne will take the stage at 7 p.m. for a two-hour performance with the Vancouver Island Repertory Jazz Orchestra.

In his show, Lavigne doesn’t want to simply evoke a quaint nostalgic feeling for a bygone era, but reproduce “a time when there was a real anticipation for going out on the town.”

“We set the tone with a high-energy number at the beginning … I like to take the audience on a particular journey,” he said. “You know, when air travel was glamorous, and when being in love was worth singing about, and the future was hopeful … That’s the kind of energy I want to bring to the whole evening.”

With his self-described ‘smooth, expressive vocal tour’, Lavigne’s show ‘Let Me Be Frank’ draws on the great crooners of yesteryear such as Bobby Darin, Nat King Cole and, of course, Frank Sinatra. He said the audience can also expect a bit of a contemporary feel with a few Michael Bublé numbers.

Bringing “the lion’s share” of energy to the stage will be the jazz orchestra, a real treat for Lavigne, since he said he’s highly anticipated performing with them for years.

“I don’t often have the opportunity to be in front of a [18-piece] brass and rhythm ensemble. So that’s really cool to be able to surf that wave of sound.”

Although the Big Band Festival will be the first instance the two acts share a stage, Lavigne said he’s known several members of the orchestra for years. His involvement with the festival was facilitated through the event organizer, Margot Holmes, who he dubbed as the “mastermind behind it all.”

“The idea was, we’re coming out of COVID and artists have not performed, some of them, for a couple of years,” said Holmes, adding that plans for the three-day event have been in the works since January. “It started with Stevan Paranosic, the leader of the Vancouver Island Repertory Jazz Orchestra … he really wanted to have a big band. And because it’s so large, you don’t see it as much anymore.”

Holmes said the second day’s headliner, Joëlle Rabu, was immediately on board as well.

“We tried to include as many artists as we possibly could – we’ve taken great care that there’s no repeat of any particular songs” she said.

Rabu will “honour the Great American Songbook” on Sept. 3, starting at 7 p.m., in her ‘Come to the Cabaret’ show, with the 14-piece Nico Rhodes Jazz Orchestra.

The final day, which starts at 11 a.m. on Sept. 4, will see the Vancouver Island Repertory Jazz Orchestra return with special guest James Danderfer on clarinet.

Tickets, which can be obtained online through, can be purchased for single days, where guests will need to bring their own chairs, or an all-encompassing three-day pass, which can include provided seating and signed copies of Lavigne and Rabu’s albums. Holmes also confirmed accessible seating will be available for people with mobility challenges.

“It’s something that we hope will continue next year, and the year after, and we’ll go from there – to offer people that outdoor experience in a safe place,” she said.

READ MORE: Vancouver Island Symphony holding its season-ending performance

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