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Indian River Festival’s artistic director tunes in to 20 years this season

St. Mary's Church
St. Mary's Church - Darrell Theriault

Robert Kortgaard breathes new life into St. Mary’s historic church for 20 seasons

INDIAN RIVER, P.E.I. - Historic St. Mary’s Church will once again come alive with the sound of music vibrating through its rib-vaulted wooden hall for the Indian River Festival, but this season marks a very important anniversary for the man that planted the seed and watched it grow.

Robert Kortgaard is celebrating his 20th year as the Festival’s artistic director this summer.

“When I became the artistic director, I wanted to keep the building standing so the festival became a way of fundraising for repairs. It began with one week of classical concerts and grew from there,” explained Kortgaard.

Robert Kortgaard is celebrating his 20th year as the Festival’s artistic director this summer.
Robert Kortgaard is celebrating his 20th year as the Festival’s artistic director this summer.

The Festival, located in the historic church that was built in 1902 by P.E.I. architect William Critchlow Harris, has branched out over its 23-years with the biggest names in Canada taking to the stage.

“We realized, maybe 12 years ago, that we couldn’t keep it as a one week classical summer series if we wanted it to grow. Keeping the venue in mind, we decided to introduce the best in folk, jazz, roots, blues, choral, traditional and contemporary music.”

In 2018, it was nominated for Best Festival (medium size) in Canada for Live Music Canada Awards, which was presented during Canadian Music Week in Toronto, in May.

Indian River Festival has also received a nomination for Festival of the Year from Music P.E.I. Award for Achievement in Classical Music, as well as several East Coast Music Award nominations for event and venue of the year.

“As soon as you walk in to the venue your jaw will drop because it’s all the original carved and beautiful wood from when it was first built. The architect must have had music on his mind when he designed the structure because even behind the organ the wood vibrates the notes, like the strings on a violin.

“It’s more than just music, it’s a whole experience when you drive down a rural country road and come up to this beautiful white historic church,” he added.

Kortgaard, now a resident in Toronto, said he is appreciative of the kindness and dedication from the countless people through the years that helped develop the organization.

“We would not exist if it were not for the people in the community supporting us, as well as all the volunteers that do an incredible job on the board and those that sign up for the tasks just because they love what they do.”

He continued, "It truly does seem like only yesterday that I came for those first few concerts with wonderful musical colleagues, all those years ago.

"I’m proud of what we have created, how we’ve learned and grown year by year, and how we came to recognize that what we are doing in our beautiful venue on the country road on gentle P.E.I., is an amazing achievement. Here’s to many more years of great, live music at the Festival.”

The lineup for this summer includes Sarah Slean, the Atlantic String Machine, Michael Kaeshammer, The Sirens, Lennie Gallant, Amanda Jackson, Mike Biggar, Payadora Tango Ensemble, Chris Norman, Trio Tangere, Justin Nozuka, The Sweet Lowdown, Marc Djokic and Isabel Bayrakdarian, Meaghan Blanchard and more.

Kortgaard will return to P.E.I. in mid-July and at the end of August for the Festival.

All concerts take place in St. Mary's Church, located on Hamilton Road in Indian River. Doors open one hour prior to concert time and everyone is encouraged to arrive early, enjoy a drink and conversation in the pavilion, then relax and find out why many say, “Music breathes here.”

The season kicks off with a free open house on Friday, June 8th at 1 p.m.

For more information or to book visit or call the Festival office in Kensington at 902-836-4933.

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