by Christopher James Vasseur
photos by Alia McBain
The talented, lovely soul Raven Reid takes the stage to announce the next band. Raven is a really great singer/songwriter and she is also today's MC. She is dressed in a beautifully bright blue dress, beaded hat and really cool eye makeup. I ran into her briefly on the way in, this place is filled with familiar faces. The festival has been going on since Friday (It's early afternoon on Saturday at this moment…2:00pm) and goes till Sunday. I’m on stage tomorrow at 2pm…24 hours from now and we just got here to Loon Lake after a three hour drive from Saskatoon. Just in time to see some friends and fellow radio peeps take the stage in The Ray Elliott Band.
I met organiser and host Marc Butler last year sometime online as I have met a ton of people as of late. We shared similar thoughts on some things as well as taste in music. He invited me to do an audition spot for next year and I happily agreed as it also included VIP passes to the festival. Marc is the nicest guy and had already displayed his generosity before I even met him in person!
Romeo Klyne putting his masterful guitar skills on display
We wandered around the festival site after chatting with Ray and his cronies out front as they were loading in. We had a bit of time, they said. Time to get some good seats. Marc had built this festival with his own two hands, quite literally. The stage was brand new this year as was the really cool lounge area that had nightly bar shows into the early hours. He had also built a small section of covered theatre seating that served quite well as it goes along the entire back width of the main stage area. He had a great crew of course with a ton of help from friend Jason Kennedy.
The giant new stage looks like a converted old grain elevator, there's a small side stage for “tweeners” and such tucked perfectly to the side. A ton of thought and preparation went into this festival, you can tell. It's attracting some big names as well, on the way inside we also passed Gord Bamford’s two giant tour buses. As Saturday night's headliner, Bamford is one of the most decorated performers in his genre of popular country music. 26 CCMA Awards, multiple Juno nods….etc. This guy is the real deal.
The back side of the stage is fenced off into a lovely VIP area that includes Marc’s own house right in the middle. There's shady trees with musicians playing acoustic instruments of all kinds and all around, a food tent for the artists and even a green room directly backstage with a stocked beer and refreshments fridge. He takes care of his guests. Most of the bands are actually even camping back here. The property is so beautiful. Did I mention it’s directly on the side of a lake?
Friday night's headliner, Jake Vaadeland & The SRB
There's merch, there's vendors, there's food, there's beer in the lounge. Pretty much all the necessities of a music festival. A line of port-a-potties tucked away is set up nicely out of view. Giant trees loom all around and it really is a breathtaking sight. Northern Saskatchewan is absolutely beautiful territory.
Because I like to punish myself, we camp at the back of the giant field Butler and crew have mowed for the camping/parking lot. As we arrived I was a bit taken aback at the sheer number of campers there were fully set up in a little city. Super cool. So, I walked back to my van camp for chairs then back again for Gillian, Fabian, Peter and Ray to take the stage.
Put a lot of flip flop miles on that weekend, I can say that much. We settled in to watch our friends perform. Gillian and Fabian are both fellow radio hosts on CFCR Community Radio in Saskatoon. Peter is too, he co-hosts The Guitar Show with yours truly and Nicholas Chisholm-McCormick … he’s also in my band as it turns out. All three of them are very, very talented multi-instrumental musicians. Ray is a great songwriter and musician and has been hailed as “Saskatoon's Bob Dylan”. He writes stories of the places he’s been and the things he's seen. He speaks the truth and he plays a variety of guitars including a cool old resonator. We’ve sat around in my shop trading stories of guitar making and fixing and such. Ray is a good dude.
Raven takes to the stage again and welcomes the band. The Ray Elliot band comes on stage and starts to play, we settle in for a listen. I already know these guys are good. They get the crowd moving with their folky/rocky/jazz infused tunes.
About halfway through their set, they welcome friend Shannon Elizabeth to the stage (another great local singer/songwriter) and they close the set together. We learn they are off to Jasper with Elizabeth in tow as opener for a string of shows.
The light is getting low and the lights of the stage are becoming very apparent, I marvel again at how Butler has pulled this off. Everything here is pro level.
In the green room, after my set, we talk of how the festival has grown substantially this year and about its short roots. He tells me of how it began as an EDM type rave festival that “really didn't even get started until two am”. This was in part to his now ex-wife's interests, but now he’s happy with the form it's taken as a country roots type festival. No real boundaries exist, but there's also not much for dance music. Unless you mean two step or jive… then you are in the right place indeed.
Marc Butler and Partner dance to the music
Later that evening a super group of Sasky country artists assembled on stage under the direction of Berk Jodoin who is a powerful singer/songwriter from Leader, SK. Joining him on stage are a gigantic lineup of local talent with pal Will Ardell at his side. Romeo Klyne is on lead guitar…this guy can play and I've been wanting to see him in person for some time. Kit Langfield is on his right playing guitar and Aspen Beveridge is back on the drum kit. All of these guys have extensive musical resumes and it comes bursting through in the songs. They play a song of Berks called “Starlight Tour,” about an ugly series of events that happened here in Saskatoon a short time ago. His songs are powerful and you can tell he's a fighter for the good side. I'm inspired as hell.
We spend our time wandering between the backstage area chatting with friends, out and around the grounds taking in the people and of course down by the stage where the music hasn’t stopped since we got here.
We stayed for the evening's headliner, Gord Bamford and a few more of the bands. I’m getting sleepy but the party down here is just getting going at around 11 pm. In the small saloon Butler and his team have built, there are after hour bar shows into the wee hours. But before all that, we head back to van camp for the night. I’ve got a set to do tomorrow after all.
The next morning we head down to the grounds shortly before the first act goes on at 12. There is, again, a food tent set up in the VIP with all kinds of morning goodies. We grab a muffin and head to the stage. The crowd is quite smaller than the night before but that’s fair, this is the first time the Patch has happened on a Sunday.
I head backstage to catch the end of Larry Krause’s set. This cowboy singer had a great stage presence, very witty sense of humour and he acted as not the first up and the emcee for the day. He announced he was emceeing then introduced the first act, himself. Before he started his first song he goes, “as the announcer said, I’m Larry Krause ''. The small crowd erupted in a small giggle. Great set and very entertaining. After a few songs, as if to open up the last day, a solitary loon flew over head and sang that uniquely loony sound we all know so well. Krause drily goes, “well I can’t compete with that”. You often get so into the stage action, you forget you are beside beautiful loon lake. Just meters from it in fact. The loon from overhead settles onto the lake for the rest of the performance.
Backstage, there was a bit of a panicked emergency happening as the next act had not yet shown up and no one knew where they were! This is a rarity in the music biz, to just not show up. As I was supposed to go on after, I volunteered to swap set times until they got things figured out. So I did just that. I found out later that they got held up but were still on the way. Cell coverage can be spotty out here.
I walked up the wooden staircase to the elevated stage (it stands 6-7 feet above the crowd) and put down my stand with my cheat sheets. Miss Maple, my guitar, is already strapped on and the sound guy plugs me into a rad wireless system. Lee Bell and LAB Soundworks are doing an excellent job on sound this weekend and Lee even jumped on stage right after my set for an impromptu guitar performance.
Anyway, I’ve got a tuner at the touch of a toe in front of me. It’s quite a fancier set up than I’m used to. I step to the mic and start my performance. It goes medium but I’m over critical. By the end a few people were tapping their toes and I even sold a few CDs (digital files on a little disc that goes into a car) so I can’t complain. Plus Marc said I sounded alright so maybe the band and I will really be able to show em what we can do next year. If they’ll have us:)
Either way I’m sure I’ll be back to this charming festival. The beauty of the land and the friendliness of the host/crew make for a great experience both as a music buff and a performer. I would even say it’s more of a performers festival if that makes sense? It sure felt like that kind of party to me. Dog Patch returns next year, probably even bigger and more bad ass. Marc is a dude with a big heart and it comes shining through with the passion he obviously pours into this festival.
Another cool thing that happened at this festival was that I noticed an eager young person snapping pics the entire time, it seemed like she was there professionally. I asked her backstage who she was shooting for and she replied, “no one, Marc is my dad”. So, as the result of a couple more online chats, she agreed to do the pics for this piece and join the amazing NSMZ creative team of volunteers and miscreants. All the pictures in this piece are hers.