Western Canada Bluegrass Association
STATEMENT OF PURPOSE
The Western Canada Bluegrass Association grew out of a 2019 initiative by Blueberry’s Anna Somerville to jointly host a booth at the Edmonton RV Show, which annually attracts 20,000+ people through its doors. Blueberry set up a banner with a map of Western Canada showing the location of each festival under the heading of the “Western Canada Bluegrass Tour.” The response was strong, with RVer and media interest in a heretofore unknown “circuit” of bluegrass festivals. “We had all these people coming by asking about the ‘tour,’” said Anna, who also organized a jam band of top local players to perform at the booth.
The six festivals decided to double their exposure this year with a return to the Edmonton RV Show and our first appearance at Wintergrass, which attracts 5,000 fans and a strong lineup of A-list artists to the Hyatt Regency and Conference Centre at Bellevue. Our hospitality suite gave us the opportunity to promote our festivals and host late-night showcases of regional bands including: The Doggone Brothers from Fernie, B.C.; Hardly Handsome, with members from Vancouver Island and Oregon; Victoria B.C.’s Old Paint Stringband, featuring award-winning fiddler Miriam Sonstenes; the Bella White Band (Calgary and Boston); and Greg Blake with the Savage Hearts, featuring Vancouver Island fiddler Tracy Lynn.
Still in its infancy, the Western Canada Bluegrass Association is realizing its potential in marketing not just our festivals, but the amenities of our local areas. With long distances across the region, it makes sense to encourage bluegrass fans to explore the wealth of what marketing gurus refer to as “natural capital” — the magnificent Canadian Rockies; the six UNESCO World Heritage sites in Alberta; the breathtaking Kluane National Park, home to Canada’s highest peak (5,959-metre Mount Logan), its largest icefield and North America’s most genetically diverse grizzly population; the lakes, hunting and fishing of northern Saskatchewan including Northern Lights’ nearby Prince Albert National Park; houseboating on the gorgeous Shuswap Lakes at Nimblefingers and the lakes, wineries and golf courses of the Okanagan Valley just to the south; and the Cowichan festival’s location on Vancouver Island, a CNN Top 20 destination for 2020.
The biggest news for the West arrived in September, when the Blueberry Bluegrass Festival at Stony Plain, near Edmonton, won the Oscars of our industry by taking home Event of the Year honours at the IBMA Awards. Everyone was thrilled. To have an IBMA event winner in our midst shines a spotlight on the Western scene and benefits all of us. There is a lot happening.
The Foothill Bluegrass Music Society's Shady Grove Bluegrass Festival is relocating this year to the Sundre Rodeo grounds after outgrowing its former site near Nanton. Entering its 30th year, Shady Grove’s new site gives it expanded camping and access to the rodeo ground’s amenities like a boxed seating area, saloon and big-screen TVs.
The Cowichan Valley Bluegrass Festival on Vancouver Island, which last year relocated to a new site near Lake Cowichan after outgrowing our former site at Sooke. The move resulted in a 30 per cent increase in attendance.
Also in B.C, the highly-regarded Nimblefingers Workshops and Festival at Sorrento, on the shores of Shuswap Lake, attracts top talent with two new directors at the helm, Kelly Sherwin and Peter Mynett, taking over from Craig and Julie Korth.
Up North, the Kluane Mountain Bluegrass Festival at Haines Junction, Yukon — the only festival “north of 60” — continues to present strong lineups.
And in Saskatchewan, the Northern Lights Music Camp and Festival enters its 15th year.
These six organizations recently banded together to form the Western Canada Bluegrass Association, hosting a hospitality and jam suite at the Wintergrass Music festival in Bellevue, WA in February — which dovetailed nicely with the 2020 Wintergrass theme of “Bluegrass Without Borders.”