The warm, happy vibe of last summer’s Roots and Blues Festival continues as preparations are already well underway for the 2016 version.
“The guy from Heritage Canada wandered around for a day-and-a-half (incognito); he goes to festivals every weekend all summer and he said the vibe at Salmon Arm was so good,” says artistic director Peter North of the organization festival organizers seek funding from. “That’s the kind of vibe that’s good for the festival.”
As well, he says festival director David Gonella is thrilled that half of the 130 volunteer supervisors have said they’ll be back and are already committed to attending an initial meeting for next year on Dec. 6.
Last week, North was prepared to reveal the names of two groups already signed on and looking forward to Salmon Arm’s hottest show of the summer.
“Whitehorse and Great Lake Swimmers are some of the finest roots acts in the country – both sold out Massey Hall in Toronto last year,” he said with enthusiasm, noting acts are being booked that will appeal to long-term festival fans and younger generations as well.
Touring behind their sixth album, A Forest of Arms, the Tony Dekker-led band that is Great Lake Swimmers has once again received critical acclaim that has lifted the band to a lofty plateau that is only achieved via a decade’s worth of an unwavering creative vision, dogged road work, and a collaborative team effort that consistently highlights the talents of Dekker, guitarist and banjo player Erik Arnesen, Miranda Mulholland on violin and backing vocals, Bret Higgins on upright bass and Joshua Van Tassel on drums.
Whether it’s a performance in London, England, Dublin, Ireland or at Massey Hall in Toronto that has been put under the magnifying glass, Great Lake Swimmers rise to the challenge of engaging audiences across the western world, spinning together a broad cross-section of subject matter into songs that tackle our responsibilities as global citizens to the universality of affairs of the heart.
“What made me feel really good about the negotiations was these are not artists who are just interested in a Saturday or Sunday afternoon performance,” North says. “When management came back, they wanted to collaborate; they want to be part of the festival, to be all in for all three days – two concerts and two workshops.”
North is equally impressed with Whitehorse, which is touring New York and the Eastern Seaboard, and has been chosen by Rolling Stone magazine as a band to watch.
Because the low Canadian dollar is reducing his ability to hire by about 15 to 20 per cent, North is having to be come up with unique ideas to spread the money as far as possible while maintaining a high standard.
“We have to be really clever,” he says, hinting he will be announcing some solo members of American bands who will play with Canadian groups. “We will have a rehearsal hall and they can come up and rehearse together before going on stage.”
North maintains there is a wealth of talent right now, but says that by being in the mid to end of the festival circuit, he is challenged to make sure he doesn’t book acts that festivalgoers will already have heard.
Building upon the success of the tribute to the Grateful Dead this year, North has come up with a theme for the 2016 festival.
The year will mark the 40th anniversary of the film The Last Waltz, a documentary on Bob Dylan’s backup band and one of the five most influential roots rock bands ever, says North.
“They made the movie when they decided to pack it in and it’s one of the greatest moments in music ever,” raves North, noting performers in the film include Dylan, Van Morrison, Joni Mitchell, Neil Young, Muddy Waters – and more.
There will be a core band performing the tribute, with several guests, all performing the music from the film.
“Almost everyone knows some of the songs and will be clamouring to get onboard,” says North. “And I am already coming up with a workshop, Hynes Sight, on (the late) Ron Hynes, who was one of the top-10 songwriters this country has ever produced.”
And, so fans don’t have to go a whole year without a taste of Roots & Blues, there will be a dance or concert sometime in March.
Earlybird tickets for the 2016 festival that runs Aug. 19 to 21, went on sale last week and are easier to buy than ever.
As well as traditional places like the Roots and Blues office and online, over the holiday season, 2016 tickets can be purchased at Askew’s Foods uptown and downtown in Salmon Arm, Sicamous and Armstrong.
And Askew’s has created a Family Pass Pack that includes two adults and two youth tickets for $376. They are available only at an Askew’s store.