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"It's Been Wonderful, Like Coming Home"- The Waskesiu Lakeside Music Festival

By Will Yannacoulias

Nested in the heart of the a waterfront village in Saskatchewan's historic Prince Albert National Park, the Waskesiu Lakeside Music Festival celebrated its sixth year in 2023. Growing from an evening of live music to a three day affair on multiple stages, this free late summer festival has made a name for itself with it’s gorgeous location, comfortable amenities and the top notch professionalism of the organizers. NSMZ ventured to the shores of Waskesiu Lake for our first time August 25-27, and spoke to several of the artists who graced the Saturday mainstage to gather their impressions of the park, the festival and the lineup.

Saskatoon roots rocker Lancelot Knight was one of the first artists to take the Saturday stage, appearing before a large enthusiastic crowd who were undeterred by the 11 AM timeslot. A first timer to the festival, Knight was excited to share his songs with a new audience, and found the festival goers receptive to his singer songwriter acoustic set. “It should be illegal to have to play this early!” Knight joked. “But I have the whole day ahead of me now to enjoy the festival and watch everyone. I’m most looking forward to Raven Reid”

Knight’s decision to perform his solo material accompanied only by an acoustic guitar was informed by a desire to share his storytelling style in a more direct, personal way. “I usually play with a band. I have a band Nightswitch, I play with my father Chester Knight, and I play with Joey Styles. With my own music, my solo career, I’ve been scaling it back to acoustic because there’s something nice about just you and your guitar, intimately sharing yourself with an audience.”

Lost Highway Navigators were another band who made their first appearance at the Waskesiu Lakeside Music Festival this year. A longtime fixture of the Capitol Music Club in Saskatoon, the Navigators' smooth, stripped down rockabilly sound is tailored to smoky saloons and honky tonk jukeboxes, so everyone was excited to see them on a big open air stage playing for an all ages crowd. The Navigators did not disappoint, delivering a fun, flawless 45 minute set of toe tapping cowboy cool.

“I’ve wanted to play this festival since it started, they’ve had such a great lineup year after year” Navigator Patton Maclean shared with NSMZ. “An unbelievable location, as nice a spot as we’ve ever played, with a lot of community support. All the Indigenous content has been great, I’m glad they’re making an effort to acknowledge there were people here long before Prince Albert National Park”

Cree hoop dancer Lawrence Roy Jr. performed for the audience while the stage was being set for the next band, sharing with the audience his dazzling personal take on the traditional dances while engaging the audience in a fun, informative and interactive way. “The goal is to connect this weekend’s festivities with the celebrations that would have been happening here a long time ago.” Roy explained. “I’m a dancer, and without song there would be no dance. My connection to music is to dance, to keep moving and keep my heart beating hard. Everyone is here because of a connection to music!”

The Mudd Brothers also made their Waskesiu Lakeside debut, but the longtime bandmates showed no first-time jitters. Playing a set of unique, upbeat takes on rock standards punctuated by a steady stream of banter and plenty of laughs, this troupe of greying class clowns threw a party onstage and invited the audience to come along. “We’ve always taken the approach that we’re up here to have some fun with you, not just play our songs and go” The Mudd Brothers explained proudly. “If the audience sees us having fun, they want to have fun with you. We had a great audience today with a real back-and-forth energy, and what a turnout!”

“This festival isn’t that old and it’s totally turned into the real deal.” The Brothers observed. “They’ve grown it to a whole weekend of music, and everything is going like clockwork. It’s been a wonderful experience coming in and having so many pros putting things together.”

It’s no surprise that the Velvet Threads were a returning artist, as their bluesy, retro-jam style is perfectly suited to summer nights and festival lights. Even returning artists have been awed and excited by the growth and trajectory of the Waskesiu Lakeside Festival, as Velvet Threads vocalist Kate Fyrk told NSMZ. “We played last year and the festival has really grown from then to this year. It’s gained traction and it’s only gonna get better. We always have a good time. We just went for a swim, got changed and now we’re gonna play a set!”

Fyrk, who grew up in nearby Prince Albert, feels a special connection to those venues and festivals that are a little further north. "Our whole band is from Prince Albert, this is our backyard, our stomping grounds, and we’re happy to be in the north playing music that we love.”

Another artist with deep Prince Albert and Waskesiu roots is Heidi Munro, who headlined the Saturday mainstage with The Real Groovy Band. Munro also heaped praise on the festival organizers and expressed to NSMZ how the people and the natural beauty set this event apart. “We’re blown away by the support that this festival gets! We just did our western tour, traveled to Salmon Arm and Revelstoke, and this festival stands up to the best in Canada. The organizers are absolutely fantastic and we would love to come back. Even the littlest things about this festival have been done so professionally! I lived in Prince Albert for many years and I spent a lot of time at Waskesiu, and made a lot of great memories for my friends and family in Waskesiu. This area holds a very special place in my heart and it’s been wonderful to play here, like coming home.”

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