Updated: May 13
by Scott Roos
pics by Deanna Roos
*editor's note: My family went to the Northern Lights Bluegrass and Old Tyme Music Camp and Festival. It took place on the Ness Creek site near Big River, Saskatchewan back in August. The camp went from the 15th - 19th and the festival the 19th - 21st. It was five days of camp plus a weekend festival. This is my final piece in a series I've been writing about my experiences.
“Our instructors are loving the festival part of it because this is where they get to strut their stuff. The sharing of music and the sharing of knowledge is really important too. But they want to show you how far you can take that,” Northern Lights Bluegrass and Old Tyme Music Society executive director tells me during the brief chat we had as she sat literally signing checks next to the trailer she’s been residing in all week.
It’s about midafternoon and it’s still unbearably hot outside. I’ve sort of inadvertently stumbled upon Wagner’s campsite so I decide to make the best of it and talk business with the boss. We’re just a few minutes in but I can already glean that she cares deeply for all of the events of the past week that have transpired during the camp and festival. In the past year, a lot of the long serving members of the society’s board of directors have changed over. There’s new faces. Young faces. It’s an exciting time.
Wagner was on the board too but pivoted roles to assume the executive director title. She did this to shepherd along this new generation. She’s proud of how far this fresh faced board has come in such a short period of time and it shows in her cheerful disposition.
All these Bluegrass Society public service announcements aside, Wagner’s exactly right. it’s been pretty uplifting and inspiring to see our camp instructors for the week shred on the main stage during the festival. And although I know for a fact that all the instructors had a great time teaching us, the stage really is their natural habitat. Musicians always love that “buzz”, the rush of adrenaline one gets, of performing on stage. It's what made them go into music in the first place. It makes them feel good and watching musicians do something they are good at makes us, the audience, feel good as well. The festival started Friday night and it's been amazing so far to see all these great acts strut their stuff.
“I love it when you can tell that the crowd is really connecting with what you’re doing. I think it’s more of an energy thing but that goes along with the band too. If you feel like you’re playing with the right people then your performance energies just kind of all line up and there’s no better feeling than doing that,” remarked Leanna Price in a brief interview that I did with the Price Sisters.
“It really is when (you're connecting with) the people you’re playing with and then the audience you can tell are connecting with what you’re doing too. Your message is getting across. Whatever the message is, it’s that you’re all in it together really,” adds Price’s sister Lauren Price-Napier.
The Price Sisters are onto something. It's really the key to everything I've been trying to say up until this point, I think. The bluegrass and old-time music genre's accessibility, at times, blurs the line between performer and patron. When we see the artists perform during the festival, we get to see the pinnacle of what we can do but at camp jams we can also all grab a piece of that for ourselves.
I don’t know. It’s hard to capture. God knows in this four part rabbit trail of a series I’ve tried. It boils down to a “you had to be there” type of situation. I hope you can glean enough info off of these diatribes for you to make the decision to come next year to not only the festival but the camp too. It sort of inspired me to finally get myself a banjo. I’ve always loved that instrument so now I guess it’s my time to learn.
*Here's a whole bunch of photos from the festival. L to R from the top: Five Mile Mountain Road, Stanley County Cut-Ups, Jolie Blue w/ The Local Group, Clayton Linthicum of the Salt Licks, The Doggone Brothers, Quinn Legare of Soil and Grass with Ethan of the Local Group on bass
I’ll just say for now, though, that I’ve had the time of my life at camp and the festival but by this point on the Saturday night, I’m flat out exhausted. I’ve experienced it all: classes, workshops, jams, dances, and, of course, the freakin' festival. I think this whole thing, if you do everything there is to do throughout the week, is a marathon but at the pace of a sprint. For the record, though, as an embedded journalist, camper and festival goer, the words “I’m getting too old for this shit” never came out of my mouth. It was a hell of a good time. I was in my element there, doing my thing.
The people here have been amazing - spectators, musicians, instructors and campers alike. It’s late out now on Saturday. My kids have gone back to our campsite for the night and Deanna is snapping photos of The Local Group. Later on we’ll dance the night away to the brilliant music of the Salt Licks in the Jack Millikin Centre. But for now, I’m sitting on my camping chair reflecting on my time here and how great it's been all round as I watch the Local Group do their thing.
There’s one more day but it will be mostly about relaxing and unwinding. Groups will still play up until mid afternoon, but the pace won’t be as hectic. Things will slowly grind to a halt and eventually this good thing, at least for this year, will come to an end.