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Muskoka Music Festival returns after two years

The Muskoka Music Festival is back in Gravenhurst after a two-year hiatus.

The festival’s artistic director, Miranda Mulholland, says it’s in its sixth year now, but two years of COVID-19 meant they were limited to pre-recorded shows at the local drive-in. Mulholland says the return is a breath of fresh air.

“We are feeling so great coming back. I think we’ve all missed being with our audiences and our musicians, and I think vice-versa,” says Mulholland. “So there’s a really good vibe here at the Gravenhurst Wharf, and I’m really excited.”

This year, the festival goes from August 19 to 21 at three different locations. Shows run all weekend at the Muskoka Wharf, with a concert at the Gravenhurst Opera House Saturday night, ending at Gull Lake Rotary Park Barge on Sunday night with the closer for this year’s Music on the Barge.

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Featuring a wide range of locally and nationally renowned musicians, the festival is headlined by Juno-nominated singer-songwriter Terra Lightfoot, who plays the opera house with fellow nominee AHI.

“[AHI is] actually quite big in the [United States], although he’s Canadian, and we haven’t quite discovered him yet,” Mulholland jokes. “But I feel like people are going to discover him this weekend and just fall in love.”

Lightfoot says she’s excited to finally play a local show, having moved to Haliburton during the pandemic.

“I’m really looking forward to playing at the opera house. I hear that’s a very legendary building,” says Lightfoot. “I’m also looking forward to the rest of the festival, the dockside stage. Really, really excited to see some of those acts.”

Although the festival had originally booked folk-rock band Whitehorse as the headliner, a family emergency forced the musicians to cancel.

“We are sad to be disappointing our fans and friends in Gravenhurst and we don’t take this at all lightly,” reads a statement from Whitehorse. “We know everyone will be in great musical hands with Terra. We hope to play the festival another year.”

Lightfoot, who has toured from coast to coast with Whitehorse, says she’ll be joined by a member of her biggest musical inspiration growing up, Blue Rodeo.

“They were one of the first bands to take me on a big tour in Canada, so that was really special getting to meet those guys,” says Lightfoot. “And now, Glenn [Milchem] from Blue Rodeo is actually playing drums with me on Saturday night at the opera house, so it’s kind of a big full-circle moment.”

According to Mulholland, there’s a lot more on offer since the last time the festival ran in person. The event runs at the wharf alongside the Dockside Festival of the Arts, which features artisans from around Muskoka.

“We sort of have a main base now, which is down by the wharf in Gravenhurst,” says Mulholland. “We’ll have a bunch of beautiful artisans, a bunch of great music, food and beer. So we have a home base for the weekend, which we never had before. We were always sort of running around.”

Mulholland says entry is free to all concerts other than the one at the opera house, but that donations are greatly appreciated.

To view the lineup and schedule, visit the Muskoka Music Festival’s website.

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