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Young talent will still roar at Highwood Lions Music Festival

The 41st anniversary will be held online in 2021 due to COVID-19

Future stars of the stage will be in front of a camera for a long-running music festival in the Foothills area this year.

Registration for the Highwood Lions Music Festival has started, but after 40 years of performances from the stage, this year it is virtual due to COVID-19.

"We made the decision to hold the virtual festival because we knew that we would be able to run that," said music festival president Chelsea Bustin. "You register the same way as always, then you get to submit a video of the performance."

The adjudicators will view the submitted videos and then provide feedback to the participants.

“The adjudicators will talk about participants' performances and basically give them a lesson together,” Bustin said.

While the Highwood festival is in High River, it has a distinct Foothills flavour, with more than a sprinkling of talent from Okotoks.

“It is probably a little bit more than half (the participants) are from Okotoks" said Bustin, a piano teacher in Okotoks.

Participants will include students from the Voice Studio of Naomi Koch in Okotoks, Bustin will have some piano entrees from Music With Chelsea, and entries will come from other instructors in the area. 

“There are so many reasons I value having my students being part of the festival,” Bustin said. “It’s really important for them to get input from someone who isn’t their parent or music teacher.

“Another reason is it (the festival) puts huge emphasis on teaching and mentoring. We ensure there is a lot of time spent with the adjudicators."

COVID-19 had muffled some of the sweet sounds of the 2021 festival. Unfortunately the previous award-winning performance from schools — Alberta High School of Fine Arts, Strathcona-Tweedsmuir School and others — may be more limited than in the past. 

"We are in contact with the schools right now, but some of the things we have had in the past won't be able to run this year," Bustin said. "Especially the choirs and the bands that have wind instruments.

"We are hoping that some of the safer instruments like the fiddle, some of the speech parts are able to continue.  We are in contact with teachers right now to see what that could look like."

Past performers at the Highwood Festival include Blackie’s Nicole Percifield, a graduate of Yale Opera, where she performed with other members from the Ivy League School at the famed Carnegie Hall.

Calum Graham, a classical guitarist/singer songwriter who has toured the world, most recently at Tribal Connection Market in Okotoks, is also a festival grad.

Another participant as a youth was Chelsea Bustin.

“I participated with my schools (Brant Christian School and Highwood High) for many years,” Bustin said. “I also participated in the voice category and for five or six years in the piano category.”

Video uploading for some categories will begin on Feb. 15, with the deadline for piano, guitar and speech March 19; for musical theatre and voice March 26 and for fiddle, strings, woodwinds and other disciplines April. 1.

The festival celebrated its 40th anniversary in 2019. Last year was cancelled due to COVID-19. The adjudicators will evaluate the videos in early April with feedback provided through online Masterclasses in mid to late April. 

Registration for the festival is until Jan. 31. For more information go to or email


Bruce Campbell

About the Author: Bruce Campbell

Bruce Campbell is the editor for and the Western Wheel newspaper. He is a graduate of Mount Royal College journalism program, 1991. For story tips contact
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