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Victoria’s Jon and Roy Holiday Special a cozy Spotify playlist come to life

The beloved Victoria event is in its 14th year and back with a diverse and talented lineup of up and coming artists
Reggae folk band Jon and Roy from Victoria. (Sara Spectrum)

The Jon and Roy annual Holiday Special has sold out since the first show and for good reason. For 14 years, the band has been rounding up acts that showcase some of the best talent the Island has to offer along with North American talent in one eclectic, folk-tastic night.

I first went to the Jon and Roy Holiday Special in 2021, when I was drawn to an ad on Live Victoria. Still needing a Christmas gift for my music-loving sister and wanting to get her an experience we could share together, while knowing that “Jon” was the Jon from her favourite indie band Ocie Elliott, it felt like I’d been handed the perfect gift, tied up with a bow.

And it was a fantastic show. The lineup was like a sampler of some great singer-songwriters of our time, including an artist who I was especially excited to see: indie-streaming giant Joshua Hyslop, who had played a house show at mine a few years prior. It also featured folk-rock artist Kieran Campbell from Tofino, Nicky Mackenzie (star of CTV’s The Launch), Chad VanGaalen, and of course, the finale: reggae folk band Jon and Roy. Lit up in the grandeur of the Royal Theatre, the variety and calibre of music kept me enjoying every minute. It felt like a winter-cozy Indie Spotify playlist come to life.

Lead singer of Jon and Roy, Jon Middleton, said each year they start by making a list of acts they’d love to get and generally try to focus on up-and-coming artists.

“[We try to focus on] artists that not many people have heard of but that we know are excellent. Part of the pleasure of doing this event is helping to expose new (or old) artists to people in attendance. It’s not always possible to get who we’d like, but we’ve always managed to put together a cool line-up and this year is no exception,” he said.

This year, acclaimed Nehiyaw singer-songwriter Wyatt C. Louis, a CBC favourite, will kick the night off with rustic folk and soulful blues followed by Billianne, a 20-year-old Toronto-based singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist. After releasing her debut EP this July, she has since opened for artists such as Half Moon Run, Julia Jacklin and The Paper Kites. Victoria’s own The Bankes Brothers also join the setlist with their freewheeling indie-rock.

Jon and Roy. (Sara Spectrum)
Jon and Roy. (Sara Spectrum)

And, of course, it’ll be topped off with a set from seasoned musicians and long-time friends Jon Middleton and Roy Vizer, with Esme John on bass and Dave St. Jean on trombone. Together as a band, they have over 50 million streams worldwide.

In terms of growth of the event, Middleton said the first concert was held at Alix Goolden Hall, and it was popular from the get-go.

“It didn’t actually take too much to get it to where it is today, as we sold out the event from year one,” Middleton said. “I think the format really works as people love hearing the different acts perform.”

He said that some of his most memorable moments were having Damien Jurado and Bahamas perform in 2012, as well as the Cave Singers a few years back.

“Honestly, the vibe of the room and crowd is always a highlight as well. It truly is a special event for us.”

The Holiday Special starts at 8:00 p.m. on Friday, Dec. 8, 2023.

Tickets start at $30.75 (plus fees) and are available at RMTS.BC.CA.

Sam Duerksen

About the Author: Sam Duerksen

Since moving to Victoria from Winnipeg in 2020, I’ve worked in communications for non-profits and arts organizations.
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