Hanggai pleased audiences with their unique sound as the sun set at the Main Stage on the Salmon Arm fairgrounds during the Roots and Blues Festival on Saturday

Electric vibe fuels festival

Attendance might have been down, but optimism is way up for the Roots and Blues Festival.

Attendance might have been down, but optimism is way up.

Roots and Blues numbers were 6,500 people Friday night, 7,400 on Saturday and 6,900 Sunday for a total attendance of 21,000 – down 2,000 visitors from last year.

Salmon Arm Folk Music Society chair Lody Kieken said Friday’s thunderstorm is believed to have been a big factor in the drop in overall sales.

He concurs with office manager Cindy Diotte, who believes people who usually attend Friday night and buy three-day passes gave this Friday night a miss and, along with it, went the sales of the extended passes.

“The financials will come later and I think it might be a break-even year,” he said. “We were really aggressive over the year, cutting the budget wherever we could without cutting the experience.”

Kieken was also upbeat Sunday evening when he said his initial gut reaction to Friday night’s smaller audience was, “this is a disaster.” But he had a quick word with himself and acknowledged that in light of what goes on in the world in terms of real catastrophes like fires and floods, this was not a disaster.

As Kieken and many others who attended Friday night sensed, the electric energy  went far beyond lightning, with performers and festivalgoers bent on having fun regardless.

“I thought Oysterband should have been given an award for carrying on despite the rain, wind and a half-empty field,” he said. “They gave an outstanding performance.”

Kieken was also handing out kudos to this year’s staff and volunteers, including production manager David Gonella for his site enhancements, organization and calming influence.

“Cindy broke her leg and ran everything out of her house,” he said. “She has done phenomenal work – she just leads the festival.”

Kieken also expressed appreciation for new volunteer co-ordinator Jeff Topham’s efforts – something that was echoed by many volunteers, who said they were very happy with their experience this year.

As were the RCMP, whose report Monday morning was almost glowing.

“Overall the crowd appeared to have a wonderful time: There were no major police incidents associated directly with the festival,” wrote Staff Sgt. Scott West. “The RCMP did see an increase in call volume associated with having a lot more people in town but, from a policing perspective, everything went well and the interaction with volunteers and staff was positive.”

“I’m Elated Elaine,” laughed board member and festival cultural committee head Elaine Holmes Sunday, describing this year’s festival as much more relaxed.

“The process of putting the festival together was so smooth because everyone was onboard and really positive,” she said. “Friday night was crazy with the pyrotechnics and brought people together in a shared experience. You can’t buy shit like that.”

Board member Joyce Kenoras called the last year exciting but challenging, with a diverse board that has taken the opportunity to make some changes and evolve through those changes to give people what they want.

In charge of the Folk Music Society’s Outreach Committee, Kenoras would like to expand First Nations’ and local talent opportunities at the festival.

“I would like them to have their own place here, maybe a bit like the Shuswap Idol,” she said. “We’re such a community-driven festival and I would like to make them a part of the festival.”

A volunteer with the festival for many years, Kenoras says it is hard to express the depth of her gratitude to the many volunteers who make the festival run smoothly.

On Monday, a tired but elated Kieken said he and his wife Sharda strolled the grounds often and received accolades on all fronts.

“For me personally, I have had more unsolicited people coming up and saying ‘great festival,’” he said. “With David’s innovations, the experience of the audience and the whole atmosphere, it created a whole series of fans who will be back.”

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