Some of the most memorable moments at each Roots and Blues Festival play out on small stages throughout the day.
And from hot licks to awesome vocals and extraordinary wordsmiths, this year’s workshops promise to feed the musical soul.
When new artistic director Peter North had a full sale of performers, he put their names on a large grid and began building workshops in his mind.
“I looked at all the artists and side artists too; look at Cousin Harley, they are all stars not just the front man,” says North enthusiastically. “It’s nice to see them work outside of their world in a few things.”
A total of 21 workshops will take place this year, beginning on Saturday at 11 a.m. and going right through to Sunday at 4:30 p.m.
“It’s the most enjoyable experience within the equation of putting the festival together,” says North, who immersed himself in the task for a week. “I stayed at home and kept moving stuff around, made phone calls, listened to disks and reminded myself of some people had worked together.”
One of the angles North worked this year, was to find out from the artists themselves if there was anyone they had already worked with at another festival and really jelled with, or, anyone on this year’s roster that would wet their musical whistle.
“When Jim Byrnes was added, I knew he had worked with Alvin Youngbood Heart on a project called Tribute to the Mississippi Sheiks, so there was an obvious place to put those two together in a workshop,” he says, noting these two great artists will share the Blues Stage with Herald Nix and Little Miss Higgins for a hot afternoon of pioneering blues, jazz, country and roots.
When Ian Tyson was added to the slate, and agreed to do a workshop, North put him on-stage with Tim Hus and two young writers who were influenced by the legendary artist.
“I know they’re both very excited about doing the Home on the Range, Home on the Road workshop with one of their heroes,” North says. “And I wanted to look at where we are really strong instrumentally.”
Discovering a strong base of fiddle players from a variety of groups, North put them together – six fiddlers from four different groups – at least.
“They have that common denominator with the instrument, but we’re gonna hear Celtic, Cajun, bluegrass and hard core country East Coast Messer style,” says North with a happy grin. “I think that’s gonna be a great journey; a lot of talented artists.”
Also amping up North’s enthusiasm is the stellar selection of guitar players appearing this year.
“These are guys who don’t touch the volume dial,” he says of Bend me Shape Me, the workshop that combines the talent of Paul Pigat, Bill Kirchen and Tim Hearsey of Cannery Row Saturday afternoon. “I wanted three guys who would make their impact through dynamics as opposed to volume.”
“Ladies Sing the Blues; people will be knocked out by this one, and not just the three voices, it’s because Samantha Martin brings two other exceptional singers,” he says of another Saturday afternoon treat. “These are five women who can cover it all.”
Look for standards and favourites that cover soul, jazz, R&B and maybe even a soulful country classic.
“Apparently Bob Dylan won’t be coming to Salmon Arm Roots and Blues anytime soon,” says North in his description of Positively Fourth Stage. “that doesn’t mean we can’t pillage the incredible songbook Dylan has created over the past half-century and have a whole lot of fun doing so.”
North points out that anybody worth their salt knows some Dylan songs and different artist put their interpretations on them.
“I could have had 20 artists – everyone wanted to be in that workshop,” he says of the Sunday afternoon workshop that features Cannery Row, Bill Kirchen, J.R. Shore and Joe Nolan.
“The artists liked the idea of me inquiring about who they might like to work with. Lots of festivals you just show up and are told ‘here’s where you are,’” North says, noting some artists need a bit of a nudge to work without the safety net of their own group or genre. “When they make connections with people outside their genre, I think they take that back to what they’re doing. And sometimes it isn’t immediate so it’s interesting to see them work through and come out the other side.”
While he’s looking forward to getting his first Roots and Blues festival under his belt, he is excited by the artists, the people he is working with and the community.
“I am amazed with this community, there’s support not just for this event but all sorts of things in the Shuswap,” he says, before heading out to MC a festival in Hinton, Alta.