story by Christopher James Vasseur
pictures by Melanie Macpherson
From high atop a hill, I’m looking down over the Eagle Creek festival grounds. It’s lit up with Xmas lights along with the bright stage lights. The music is sounding so great from up here as Old Joe and the Truth Hurts are rocking out on stage.
Joey Truthhurt, the singer and band leader, asked the crowd; “is it better to stare down from a skyscraper or up from a waterfall?” as he breaks into a song with such a great poetic introduction.
I’m chatting with an old friend, Mitch Dureault (Saskatchewan fiddle legend) about this wonderful festival as he’s been involved for a number of years. He tells me this is Joey’s seventh time here. It’s Dureaults sixth and my own fifth. His walkie talky crackles and I hear Eliza Doyle’s distinct voice come through….Mitch has to get to the stage and I gotta get back to watching the show. This is Doylefest, a familiar and wonderful place.
My partner Jess and I arrive shortly after the festival begins, but we just miss my talented buddy Lily Naytowhow which I was a bit bummed about. With so many great artists on the bill this year, it’s hard to stay bummed for long though.
We set up camp across from the Doyle’s (Eliza’s folks and family and the festivals namesake). Last year, Eliza’s old man Ed joined me on the open jam stage with a bunch of his Swift Current cronies and we had a grand old time.
I hope the same occurs as I once again host this Sunday.
As we wander towards the stage to see the show (Friday night is for fun, tomorrow it’s business time) we pass Marc Butlers (Dog Patch Festival) camp….I love how the different festivals support each other so much here in old SK. The Dog Patch truck is parked at their party site, that's how I know.
Colin Farnan was joined on stage by Eliza Mary Doyle during his solo set
Next up is a wonderfully voiced young singer named Talynn Joan. She does a cover of an Eliza Mary Doyle song, “Say It”.
This is a song I first heard while going through a divorce a few years back, I really connected with this one. A powerful song made even more powerful as Eliza herself joined her on guitar. A beautiful moment.
Then, they welcome another singer who’s name I unfortunately missed and they rip up John Prine and Iris Dements “In Spite of Ourselves”. It’s one of my partners favorite songs and we’re both already tearing up. We still have two more days to go!
Chesterfield is up next so I gotta run back to camp for a “quick break” so I can catch their set. As you know if you are a NSMZ fan, or just a SK music fan in general, this band is super fun and so great live! I overhear more than a few people remark how much they love this band. It’s hard not to, they bring a crazy energy to the stage.
Chesterfield kicked us in the teeth with the usual high energy round of musical chairs (or is it instruments?)
Tonight is for fun, tomorrow business. I gotta keep saying this to myself as I'm here to play, to host and to cover the thing for NSMZ. Its a precious balance.
Right before the set change, Talynn does an a Capella version of Jolene that is one of the most beautiful things I’ve heard. A concentrated hush goes across the crowd as everyone listens intently. Another beautiful moment, I’m sure there will be tons more.
The energy rose, Friday night, as the temperature dropped and the die hards dug in their heels
After the set, Jaimie Peever is on stage with the Chesterfield's making sure they sound as good as can be. Peever Productions has been expertly handling this festival for years. One of the very best in the business to be sure.
I met this fun gang of youngsters a couple Doylefests back when I camped beside them. I was playing solo and quite nervous…it was my very first festival set. This crew not only hung out with me, they came and watched my set and even cheered when I mentioned I was originally from Swift Current.
“Swifty!!” One of them yelled.
Chesterfield surprised the audience with some brand new tunes!
I’ve followed along with this dynamic group ever since. As it happens, Eliza has spent some time in old speedy creek as well. There’s cool connections like this all over the place, I’m camped beside Little Darkness who feature the talented Shea Goyer on guitar. We used to play together.
I spot the odd Perkin wandering about and I smile as this festival really is for musicians. By that I mean everyone here is donating their time, doing it for the love of music, art and of course CAMP. Plus maybe the all night parties, five years in I've still never been to one. I've heard they are off the hook if you can stay up that late though.
CAMP stands for the Community Arts Mentorship Program which bring arts programming into remote, underfunded communities across the province. It was founded by Doyle and Holly Rae Yuzicapi, and is now a thriving non profit. Dureault is the president of CAMP with Hip Hop artist Zhe the Free acting as vice president. There is much to celebrate here.
Zhe the Free joined The Steadies for some freestyle fun on Saturday night
We listen to a bit of Chesterfields set (all of it was heard, some of it was seen) and head back to camp for another "break".
On the way out I run into Melanie and Nolan…two of NSMZs best and brightest. We devise a plan to conquer Scott’s five article spread on Bluegrass with a Doylefest extravaganza!! Game on.
Earl Pereira is on stage with The Steadies. As set up goes on, Chris Valleau twirls his guitar around his body….the Steadies are about to close it up for Friday night. For the mainstage anyway….the music keeps going into the night if you know where to look.
“It’s time to get down with The Steadies” Earl announces as the band dives in.
A drum kit and a hand drummer. A crazy good veteran bassist who is perhaps playing better than ever. A guitarist who gets completely lost in the song. These guys bring reggae vibes to a good old rock band. I get why these guys are a big draw across western Canada and beyond, they have a great party vibe mixes with excellent musicianship and flavour. Such a great way to wind down the first night. The entire festival is charged up and there is a very noticeable positive vibe radiating across the valley.
The Steadies brought the party to the stage (and the campground from what I heard)
At this point, I’m sure there is going to be countless memorable stories made into the night but for now this middle aged cat is off to bed.
The Steadies groove makes me strut back to camp to prepare for tomorrow. “Come and Get Your Love” is gonna be stuck in my head for days….forget the Guardian’s of the Galaxy, here’s The Steadies of the Doylefest!
Chris Valleau is a maniac on stage and I can't wait for another chance to shoot him (with a camera....)
Chris Valleau does a little solo bit that vibes hard. This is such a great cover, wow. That’s right I came back. But now I’m off again? There's dancing and cheering all around but I am quite sleepy so I head back for reals.
I hear the groove of the band and the cheers of the crowd as I drift off to sleep. My final thought as I drift off... dammit, where the hell is Steve?