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Shakin' Salt with the Garrys: A Manitou Diary

Updated: Aug 14, 2023

by Christopher James Vasseur

Photographs by Jessica Deback and CJV

Act One: A Salty Start

The over zealous cart driver went out of his way to stop a group of young hippies with drinks in their hands as they walked through the campground towards the evening's festivities.

“How far is Danceland?” One of them asked, innocently enough.

“45 minutes if you’re stumbling drunk”, he rottenly assumed. “You can’t have those in my park!!”, he grumbled.

He was kept pretty busy grumbling that phrase over and over again as the park was filling with eager young rock and roll fans (most of ‘em had walking around beers). All of them seemed to be being polite and responsible. You can walk anywhere in this small prairie oasis so as long as one is being responsible, I can't see a problem. We were tempted to rouse him a bit by putting our alcohol free bubbly’s in koozies and waving them about, but we’re far too nice for that plus it’s better not to stoop to that level this early on in the evening. It’s a 15-20 minute walk to Danceland from the campground most of the weekends guests and musicians are staying at. It’s a beautiful campground to be certain and we’ve been gifted with a beautiful central spot amongst the trees.

We arrive at the hallowed space just in time for the Bobby Tenderloin Universe to take the stage. We are vastly outnumbered by hot young people and we do our best to blend in, my partner Jessica excelling at the task. They are all wearing cool hats and ponchos and such. A spaghetti western fan's wet dream. The sound emanating from the stage is comparable. They channel Sergio Leone’s classic style and sound quite well, I regret not bringing my cowboy hat.

The four piece (steel, acoustic guitar, bass and keys) do a great job of bringing people trickling out onto the famous horse hair dance floor. They have a cool sound, it’s country but surfy and everyone is digging it:) Danceland is packed and it has a vibe for sure. It’s a cool mix of the aforementioned hot youngsters and then the oldies holding up the party around the edges of the dance floor. This music festival is for everyone and you can tell. We find our seat along the edge.

This party started its days as an event called the Manitou Boogaloo. A little party on the lake featuring its favourite musical siblings, the Garrys. That fab surf and doom filled sound rumbling off the lake as people listened on their floaties behind the fabled old barn. At least that’s how I picture it, I wasn’t there. But I’ve dreamt of attending this event for a few years now. The boogaloo has since matured like a fine wine and as it grew a new name emerged, The Salt Shaker.

If you didn’t know, Little Manitou lake is the second saltiest body of water in the world next to the Dead Sea. You can literally float atop its healing waters, I’ve done it and it’s wonderful. My hair was poofy for weeks.

Back to the Tenderloins….they switch things up and the keyboard player hops on a small three piece drum kit and they jump into another poppy country surf number which fills up the dance floor with people from 10 to 70.

They finish up their set with a cover of “Knights in White Satin”, a hard to pull off classic rock ballad that they land with ease. The people are smiling, dancing and singing, the horsehair floor is bouncing and the Garrys are up next.

Barret Ross from PR productions is killing it on sound and this place is about to go crazy. Two little girls cartwheel across the dance floor, carefree as the rest of the patrons. I’m sipping on a Salt Shaker Lager from Nokomis as the Maier (pronounced like the wieners, guitarist and lead vocalist Erica tells me) siblings take the stage.

They blast into the set with coordinated guitar moves from the front three as the song “Take Me To The Drive In” blasts from the PA for what is the fifth version of this festival. The Garrys have been such a great success story it’s hard not to fall in love with the surfy tunes and the chill vibe. The floor once again fills up, this time with people swaying back and forth to the music. At least half the crowd are wearing flowery beach shirts.

“Sintaluna” is up next which is a great track from the newest record, Get Thee to a Nunnery. They sound much fuller than last time I saw them with the simple addition of brother Matt on guitar. Lenore tells me how some people thought it took away, adding a boy to an all girl band. "That’s dumb", I nicely reply, "it fills out the sound which makes you sound better" (to be clear, they sounded amazing before too). I feel like I’ve unlocked some sort of Garry’s fan achievement, now that I’m finally seeing them on home turf (though I did see them at Little Manitou Art Gallery a few years back, another great show).

Then I notice the dancing shrimp…. At least I think that’s what I just saw?!

Dammit I love surf music and this band. Then they give us a preview of a brand new one! Danceland has a cool vibe tonight and I wonder if it’s always like this. I’ve seen shows here before and it’s a great venue to be sure but tonight is different. It’s Salt Shaker weekend and it’s just getting started. They dip into the surf classic “Apache”, channelling that generation's finest. Dammit, there’s that giant shrimp again….

They play “Danceland” at Danceland and it’s transcendent. Or meta…or whatever it’s called, I dig it. Next comes a cover of the Go Go’s “We Got the Beat” and they absolutely slay it. Almost the entire building is on the dance floor and after the song ends and they take a snapshot of the crowd for loving prosperity. I never thought the surf rock genre would not only thrive again but do it with a foot firmly planted lovingly in Saskatchewan.

“He’s so fine”, originally by the Chiffons, is next and the harmonies these siblings can pull off are perfect for this song.

They play a rousing encore finish with “Manitouna”, a tribute to the mythical tuna fish monster of Little Manitou Lake.

I’ve seen the Garrys quite a few times now over the years and this ranks among the top performances for me for sure. They have honed and dialled their sound right in and if you aren’t fooled by the stoic faces of the band, you’d see they are having a blast too. Can’t wait for the festival to really get rolling tomorrow at Mike's Beach Bar. A high bar has been set. Limbo!!

Act Two: Party at the Beach

It’s noon the next day and we are soon headed for the stage once again. The music starts at 12 and doesn’t stop until the wee hours of tomorrow when people like me will be fast a slumber with dreams of rock and roll running through my mind.

Mike’s Beach Bar is the next location in the small venue hopping travelling festival. As I mentioned, everywhere in Manitou is walk-able and its undeniable charm shines through everywhere.

I’m excited to see Lucy’s Seduction as I’ve heard great things about this group. The evening stage goes to Little Manitou Art Gallery…a magical little garden of art and music. But more about them later. We’ve got a beach party to get to.

We skate (electric cheater style) down to Mike’s just in time to see the Steve’s finish their set. It’s rousing and the place is starting to fill up. The beach next door is packed full of people. It’s a good day in Manitou. I’m a bit sad we missed their full set, they seem really fun.

This is a lifestyle a person could get accustomed to. Frosty drinks under an umbrella on the beach. The water is full of splashing music fans.

A three piece takes the tiny Beach stage. Buzz and fuzz come from the Pa, this is gonna be a loud one. Mulligrub from Winnipeg started with a song called 60/40…. not available on either of their records.

I’m surprised as it’s not loud or heavy at all. It’s boppy with a bit of edge. Guitar, bass and drums is such a classic line up and they use it to their advantage. The bass is catchy as hell and they have a great 90’s reminiscent sound. The song ends with some nice cranberries style harmonies and I’m gonna be adding these guys to some playlists, I can already tell.

These guys are fun and play a song about Montanas and the RCMP. The prairie oasis is filling up and there are more and more free loading floaters around the edge of the stage by the water. Under a tent or at the hallowed Danceland, this is a well organised festival and one that has a great vibe continuing from last night.

The air smells of hamburgers which is a welcome nostalgic beach smell from my childhood. If this isn't paradise, I’m not sure what is. Smiles are all around and the sun is shining.

Someone yells, “This feels like Mexico!” I have an ice cold cerveza and a plate of some of the most delicious chicken nachos I’ve ever had in front of me so it’s hard to disagree.

Lucy’s Seduction is setting up to close down the beach stage. To be more accurate, we are moving the main stage over to the Little Manitou Art Gallery. Karaoke will continue at the beach bar, likely into the wee hours.

I’ve heard great things from many reliable sources about the next band. Someone at another table says, “these guys are fucking awesome” as the first sounds erupt from the amplifiers. Then it goes up to 11 and they begin. The SG blares out an opening riff along with a tight drum beat and punchy bass keeping down low end. They trade vocals and as the bassist sings, she is terrifying but energetic and she has an incredible stage presence.

This band is great and takes the day up a notch. These guys are surf punk and fun as hell. The bassist/leader tells the audience that they have a favourite liquor and it’s tequila. The next banger starts. The SG player takes lead in the next one, a Ramones feeling sing-along. Two older fellas float by on a single small floaty, nonchalantly passing a big doobie back and forth on the tiny raft.

A line of young folks line up outside the fence and seem to have been blown away by what is sure to be most of their introduction to rock and roll. More specifically, punk rock.

The recommendations are correct and I love this band, even the valley girl accents they assume between songs. People are getting up and dancing in the sand at Mike's beach bar.

It feels like the 1950’s, 60’s and 70’s in a deliciously 2023 fashion. A loud gentleman beside us keeps sending shots to the stage and the band graciously accepts every time.

They cement a place in my heart when they cover “Rock Away Beach” by my heroes, The Ramones. Now it really is a beach party. They just kill it, I think they should record that one if they haven’t already. Great band. “Man, Man, Manitou Beach”, they chant at the end instead of the usual Rockaway. They close with kisses and a stern warning to put on some sunscreen. What a fun band! Highlight of the festival for me:)

Act Three: Music in the Magic Garden

I gotta give another shout out to Barrett and PR Productions who handled this (3 separate events) with charm, wit, skill and quality. The sound was great everywhere and the last stop here at Little Manitou Art Gallery… the gem of the community, I expect no less.

Sarah and Clayton are the owners of said gallery and they are such a loving force in the small

Manitou music scene. Lots of great acts have graced this tiny stage with the post in the middle.

Every year owners Sarah and Clayton improve on the unique venue and it comes shining through with each visit. I’ve personally played this venue five times so I’m pretty much an intrusive family member at this point:)

We’ve been using our electric e-sk8’s to get around the tiny lakeside community and it feels like surfing every single time. I’d imagine…never been surfing. I do know that pavement hurts but I can’t resist one more surf down to the beach to watch Dump Babes close down the festival, kinda. There are still community events all around town tomorrow and all summer long.

The wonderful sounds of Beau Nectar fills our ears as we skate up to Little Manitou after a slight detour to watch an amazing sunset out by the truly magical Camp Easter Seal.

This band has a wonderful Franco infused slightly electronic, slightly rock and roll sound. Again, I’m disappointed we missed most of the set save the last two. But they will be on my radar as the soundtrack to the second evening begins with rainbow lights and Beau Nectar.

Andy and the Dandy’s are up next and I’m very curious based on the name alone. It sounds like a name from the 50’s but I don’t even know what decade it is anymore as I gaze out lovingly across the garden of art and music. The Maier siblings have mastered the organising of this small festival and everyone is obviously having a wonderful time.

This band is surfy but more on the punk side of the line once more. The two genres have been interweaving all weekend and it’s working. I’m gonna be doo-woppin’ and oi oi oiing late into the week.

Lenore gets a big shout out as does Barrett who has handled sound and set up at the three locations. Lenore not only handles the skins for the Garry’s, she showed up at every single set up at every stage to set up drums and gear and pretty much run the show like a boss.

My partner Jess and I have been assisting all weekend as volunteers and have had a first hand look at the heart, dedication and talent that goes into planning a festival of this calibre. It’s truly a project of passion for everyone involved. There’s lots of Regina friends here and lots from Saskatoon as well, all over the province and farther.

The punk pop sound of adolescence wafts over the air and I kinda want to break something for no reason and put a safety pin through my eyebrow.

That feeling fades and I drift again into the music. The amplifiers are cutting in and out, the band admits they are a bit unrehearsed but none of it matters, the Salt Shaker is unstoppable at this point. Best to grab a board and catch a wave or get outta the water. However, at this point it is very dark and I would not advise entering the salty body of water, just sayin. They get their poop in a group and rock out a fun cover… Weezers “Surf Wax America”. I squint lovingly at the skateboards beside me and mouth “this one's for you guys.” I think I’m done with booze for the night, I’m getting sappy.

The Dump Babes are set to finish up the evening and everyone is reeling in the neon lights. There is often stage banter from all the bands today about what everyone’s karaoke picks are. That is set to go till Sunday morning back at Mike's place. This has been such a warm, even familiar, Saskatchewan adventure but it somehow feels like I’m still in California, waxing a surfboard and listening to the music play.

I’m pulled down back to earth in this lovely garden as the Dump Babes dive into their set. I’ve seen this band before and they have heart and grooves in spades. The singer mentions it’s the last time to party “except later at Mikes and all day tomorrow!!” Ha ha. What a vibe. I feel 40 years old again.

The bass groove is gonna carry me across the water to an excellent night's sleep. Then they say that’s it for slow songs and start to get a bit rockier.

My last burst of energy is reserved for the skateboard ride uphill. Both ways. It’s been a wonderful weekend and I’m thankful for the wonderful people behind this cool festival. It’s uniquely Saskatchewan and uniquely Garrys.

Barrett surprises me by being the amazing keys player for these Dump Babes. Killing that too, what a talent. Yellow swim suits and beautiful bearded dresses jump together in an attempted “Tequila” cover that falls apart immediately. They vow to only play it at Salt Shaker till they nail it. And they will.

This is such a special place. I’m lucky, as we all are, to have been a part of it. Surfs up, Cowabunga.

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