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Doylefest 2023 Part Three: Making Music with my Friends

Updated: Oct 1, 2023

pictures by Melanie Macpherson

story by Christopher James Vasseur

Dawson Wayne, Eliza Mary Doyle, Christopher James Vasseur, and Graham Tilsley were all part of the Sunday morning jam that made me glad I woke up early.

Morning arrives and I’m up about an hour before I gotta host the jam. Disco Jesus is up too and now he’s found himself a nice top hat!

I head down to the stage and to set up because I can’t sit still. Steve is once again missing so I’m on my own to play...usually it’s a good turn out on stage though.

As I’m setting up, Shea Goyer (Valley Bandits, Little Darkness) comes up to play with me. I’m quite stoked as we were in a band together for a while and he’s played on a few of my songs. Shea is a great player and it's been a while so that gets me excited to play. As we are setting up, Graham Tilsley comes on stage and asks if he can play bass. Um, yes please. Tilsley is an amazing singer/songwriter, session musician and multi-instrumentalist. Now I've gone from excited back to nervous. Wow, this is already a killer line up.

We play a few standards and halfway through our second song, Dawson Wayne (Little Darkness) gets up and hops on the drum kit. We are now rocking out as a four piece and having a blast.

A few songs in and two more jammers join us on the stage. I know these two trouble makers too…it's the Doyle Clan from good old Swift Current. Eliza’s Father Ed and Uncle Gord to be exact. Both are amazing musicians (they played as the Blackstrap Mountaineers this year with a couple of other friends) who joined me up here last year. Eds got his big double Bass and Gord a Banjo. As they finish setting up we crack into another Dylan tune (we rocked out “One More Cup of Coffee” early in the set).

The sheer amount of talent that came together on the jam stage was incredible.

This stage is alive with players and is sounding so great. My biggest problem is always coming up with what to play, but I find covers of recognizable songs are always best.

I offer up “Wagon Wheel”, and expect to get hit with something. Everyone nods and says they know it. I already secretly knew everyone knew it.

I say, “but let's do the Hootie version” to the band and you can hear crickets. Best not to push. Into the microphone I say, “Here's one that's never been covered before to my knowledge”.

We rip into a super long version of the modern classic. It really is a great song, just suffered from the old overplayed blues. I look to my right and see Mitch Dureault stepping up to the microphone with fiddle in hand. Damn. This is a great band. We do “House of the Rising Sun '' with vocals from Eliza's very talented friend, singer/songwriter Joule Tallman who has also joined us on stage.

Before the set ends a few more people come up either to sing or to play a song. The jam is probably the most fun I’ve had hosting yet. Every year it gets a bit less intimidating being up there with all these great players. Then for the last song, Eliza gets up.

The teacher in Doyle comes shining through as she shows us all the chords, slowing down when she gets to me. I could not follow along last year, so I turned my guitar down during her songs and I may or may not have let that slip over the course of the weekend.

This time, I keep my guitar at medium… baby steps. Doyle is great as she mouths the chords to everyone (mostly me) in between verses. Her and Tallman trade vocals, harmonizing the choruses nicely. Not one face on stage isn’t smiling. Crowd too. As I mentioned before, the vibes are catchy here.

About halfway through the set I noticed Steve join my partner Jess in the crowd. Another mystery solved. We finish up the set and everyone is smiling and shaking hands as we make way for the next act. Steve later tells me he got lost in the beautiful hills of this valley, oh Steve.

The whole weekend was super low key and Doylefest may possibly be the friendliest place on Earth, but Sunday was a whole new level of chill vibes. Melting into a lawn chair in the sunshine while listening to hangover friendly music made me never want to get up and leave. But real life was waiting, and that tent wasn't going to shake the maple bugs off and pack itself... and just like that, Doylefest came to an end.

I'm always charged up after a show, I think most performers are. This one is different though, at least it feels different. Playing with this caliber of musicians will inevitably make you a better player, even in these short intimate circumstances. I also find that the need to “be on your feet” a bit more in a jam helps tons. I love playing with anyone so this is always such a big treat for me.

We wander back to our site to pack up our camp. Once again Steve has eluded us and we decide to head back down for a little bit of the Sunday stage.

I was pretty burned out from the weekend so I don't recall much of the afternoon stage specifics as I watched from up on the hill, save for a cool showcase from friends at Remedy Music that stood out with their diverse group of musicians, including Tilsley. Steve and I once again met up on said hill and caught up. He was blown away by how tight the musical community is here and how everyone seems to know each other. He said it was one of his favorite musical experiences and he can't wait to come back next year. A couple days later he texts me a picture of a Doylefest poster displayed proudly on his wall at home in Calgary.

The afternoon stage included a performance from Phoenix Rising as well as a showcase of musicians (including Just Dave and Graham Tilsley) from the relatively new to the scene Remedy Music Label.

It's not just Steve either. This festival is one that people keep close to their hearts. The talent and dedication from everyone from the organizers to the volunteers, to the sound crew to the performers themselves. Everyone involved is doing this for no charge, just because they love what it is and what it stands for. Eliza Mary Doyle is a Provincial treasure and we are lucky to have her.

Even through a personal disaster (Eliza lost much of her belongings to a fire on her property this past June), Doyle puts forth an enormous effort to make sure this festival thrives. It really does get bigger and better every year as does the CAMP organization it supports.

Can’t wait for next year, see you there!

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