Mavis Staples completely mesmerizing her audience Friday evening at the main stage of the 22nd annual Salmon Arm Roots and Blues Festival held over the weekend at the fair grounds.

Mavis Staples completely mesmerizing her audience Friday evening at the main stage of the 22nd annual Salmon Arm Roots and Blues Festival held over the weekend at the fair grounds.

Roots and Blues Festival charms crowds

Saturday's weather dampened attendance, but patrons raved about the music and organization.

Roots and Blues Festival artistic director Peter North had a grin to match the sea of smiling faces on the other side of the fence Sunday.

Catching a quiet moment behind the Main Stage late in the afternoon, North was happily relieved.

“It is a really good feeling to have my first festival and understand the makeup of the event,” he said of his introduction to the three-day musical love fest. “All the photos, articles, anecdotal comments – it can’t paint the true picture until you’ve lived it.”

North said the feedback he heard many times throughout the festival was that people wanted to be at three stages at once.

“By and large, everywhere I walked, crowds were attentive and very enthusiastic,” he said, noting several artists had sold all of their CDs. “I think if you get that reaction from the merchandise tent, that’s a serious voice.”

While there were no so-called major headliners to attract festivalgoers this year, those who showed up discovered extraordinary talent on all  the stages.

“Bill Kirchen is a prime example of someone who came to town and nobody knew him, and he’s leaving with a ton of fans,” North said of the talented guitarist who had a major hit with Hot Rod Lincoln and blew the crowd away with his tribute to other guitar greats.

North also commented on the way local artists such as Jesse Mast, Herald Nix and Steel Skull Hammer fit in seamlessly and made Salmon Arm proud.

“The artists have been so gracious; if somebody wanted to add another person and invite them to a workshop, they ended up on the stage too,” he said, noting he had put the workshops together based on prior discussion with the artists and was thrilled to see they had added more musical flavour on their own.

“I’m blown away by the volunteers; it’s their festival,” says North, offering the highest of praise to the sound crews. “I guess we’re all stewards of this thing – not like corporate rock festivals. We have to take everyone into consideration and make sure we have something musically for everybody.”

And that is something that figures prominently on North’s to-do list that already has five artists North wants to book for next year.

I’ve got lots of lists,” he says with enthusiasm. “I will be making offers within the next 10 days for headliners.”

And then, the artistic director will retreat to his lakeside cabin where he will digest this year’s program and begin to build one for next year based on a slate with a wide musical menu.

“We had a great balance of younger acts and older established ones this year,” he says. “I’d maybe like to see more world acts.”

Salmon Arm Folk Music Society chair Lody Kieken was also in relaxed festival mode Sunday afternoon.

Like many, he was “really happy” with the mellow nature of this year’s festival and even more effusive in his praise of North.

“He’s a great guy; I think we’ve found the guy for the festival,” said Kieken with a grin. “There was a really wide range of ages and styles of music – something for everyone this year.”

While the workshops are always a priority, Kieken was thrilled with some of the musical elders who stunned festivalgoers with their performances.

“I am really glad I saw some icons we may never see again,” he said, paying particular tribute to people like Ian Tyson and Kirchen.

“It’s the first time I’ve seen men in the audience cry,” said Kieken of Tyson and the surgery last year that gave him back his voice. “I think he realized what a blessing it is (his voice) and to do what he does.”

Like North, Kieken heaped praise on the volunteers, many of whom have been committed to the festival for many years.

“We were short this year and everyone is pulling their weight, more than their weight,” he said, noting United Church Minister Will Sparks returns to Salmon Arm for the festival. “He said this is his pilgrimage because it feels so good to be here.”

Once again the festival caused no major problems for police. Staff Sgt. Kevin Keane reports that eight people were arrested, mainly for alcohol-related issues.

“In addition, police seized minor amounts of drugs and dealt with intoxicated minors who frequent Blackburn Park adjacent to the festival site. It was a successful year with no major policing incidents stemming from the festival.”

Attendance was down about 3,000 people from last year, with 7,100 festivalgoers on Friday, 8,300 on Saturday and 7,500 Sunday.

Kieken says he thinks people were put off by the threat of poor weather, something that turned out to be pretty nearly perfect.

Last year numbers were down as well, but Kieken notes it’s hard to establish a pattern as attendance does fluctuate. He said factors such as gas prices have an effect.

That aside, Kieken has high hopes for future Roots and Blues.

“I think this festival is going to continue to grow and be something Salmon Arm can be proud of.”