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Northern Lights Bluegrass and Old Tyme Music Camp and Festival 2023: Prologue

Updated: Aug 23, 2023

words and pictures by Scott Roos (Scotty the Rooster Photography on facebook)


Happy Trails, Prospector's twin fiddle attack of Sarah Hamilton and Nathan Smith reminded me of Iron Maiden's Dave Murray and Adrian Smith. Once a metal journalist always a metal journalist I guess. Sorry Joyce I'm still very much into "that rock shit". haha

It’s early Sunday afternoon when I stroll casually backstage at the Northern Lights Bluegrass and Old Tyme Music Festival. It’s the last day and I should be in hurry up mode but, these days, when I’m at festivals, I’ve had a more chill approach so it seems as though I’ve saved all my interviews for the final few hours this time around. Happy Trails, Prospector, a veritable supergroup of instructors forged during the 2021 version of the camp are just getting off stage. They were all instructors again this year too.


Composed of Sarah Hamilton (fiddle), Patrick Hamilton (guitar), Miles Zurawell (dobro, banjo), Nathan Smith (fiddle) and Nico Humby (bass), who all hail from different parts of our beloved country, Happy Trails, Prospector has just finished their final set of the festival. They’ve played three times throughout the weekend, as many of the bands at the festival do, and I’ve lapped up every moment of their energetic, foot stompin’ and sometimes even humorous antics. In short, their energy and vibe is infectious. They have a lot of fun on stage and it shows.


It’s funny, even before the festival started I had sort of made the decision early on that I wasn’t going to chat with any of the headliner bands this go round but these guys had me hooked from the moment they played “Old Black Choo Choo”. What can I say? I’m a sucker for train songs…


*don't worry, this pic on the right is not of the moment I am about to describe. This was the backstage huddle I had witnessed earlier.


I round the corner near the Cantina, which is sort of the backstage hub of the festival, and past the equipment shack just in time to see the band getting off the stage. They are locked in a huddle, something that I witnessed them doing prior to their set on this day as well. I chalk it up to it being a part of their routine as a band so I don’t think anything of it. Then there’s hugs; a lot of hugs. I’m just sort of standing there awkwardly but it looks like they’re starting to wrap things up so I blurt out, “Hey guys you got time for a quick interview?”. I then notice heads coming up with red puffy eyes and some clouded with tears. Oh my God… I’ve stumbled into the most inopportune moment EVER to do an interview it seems but now I just gotta roll with it.


What I'm witnessing is a tender, emotionally charged, beautiful moment between musical kindred spirits who may not play together again. Maybe it's hyperbole but this band has achieved a rare, once in a lifetime kind of bond with one another and, in a few short hours, the quintet will all go their separate ways and the reality of that has just now set in amongst them all. They’ve created something truly awe inspiring here at the festival and camp this year. There’s simply no denying it. Their chemistry every time they came together to play music was captivating. They've all been fantastic teachers as was evidenced at the camp's class performance night. Happy Trails, Prospector was formed because they came here to camp to teach two years ago. This year they're back and they've given a lot of their time and energy into helping ensure, along with their instructor peers, that we had an awesome experience. It’s quite a sobering thought.

*Zurawell was this year's dobro instructor. Smith taught advanced Fiddle.


Dare I say it, but what Happy Trails, Prospector has accomplished here is indicative of many experiences at the camp and festival that have happened over the years. Maybe not to the same level of expertise musically or the same bond emotionally but it is fair to say that many lifelong friendships have no doubt been made and groups have been created out of what seems like thin air in the past. Kids like Jaxon Lalonde, Kasia Thorlakson and Jake Vaadeland have started at the camp with youth orientated, entry level programming and worked their way up the ranks in the instrumental and vocal classes, grown up, formed bands, and moved on to do truly great musical things. Bands like Five Guys Named Dave, Hummingbird Crossing, Soil and Grass and Gil and Will, who all played this year's festival, to name but a few, have cut their teeth on these Ness Creek grounds.


Then there’s personalities like Joyce, Tracy, Neil, Jennifer, Tanya and many others that are just sort of… here. It’s so hard to articulate it all into words. Let's just say that at Ness Creek there must be something in the water. During the camp and festival things sort of morph into a little village of musicians that support and nurture each other. You are met where you are and your musical growth is fostered and encouraged. You get caught up in the moment. The camp culture has a way of pulling you in and then you get to see many of your instructors put on a veritable clinic in bluegrass and old time music if you stick around for the festival.

Shaking the thoughts from my head. I coming back to the present. Humby, Smith and Zurawell have agreed to chat and, as the old saying goes, ‘it is what it is' . My interview query to this crew can’t be unsaid now. I apologize profusely but the three guys are pretty understanding of my blunder. I take a deep breath, roll up my sleeves, hit record on my phone, and then we get our interview started…


But first, let me take you back to the beginning of the week so you can see how everything unraveled. I'll give you a view of camp and festival life through my eyes in hopes that if you're of the uninitiated, you'll consider coming next year. If you were there, then maybe this will help you to relive many amazing moments and you'll have something to look forward to until you return again...

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