The mood in the Roots and Blues office Tuesday was as bright as the summer sun.
“We’re still not sure of the numbers but I know we’ll be in the black,” said an elated executive director David Gonella.
He says up until July, ticket sales were even stronger than last year. But the wildfires kicked into high gear, smoke descended and sales dropped dramatically.
Thankfully, just as they did two years ago when a thunderstorm added a dramatic twist, a core group of eager festivalgoers showed up to enjoy the hottest show in town.
“They basically give us the option of having the festival; they buy early, they’re excited early and they give us the momentum,” Gonella says. “That’s what we try to tell our team, the show promotes the show.”
He says efforts are put into providing the best festival possible, not just from a performer lineup point of view, but from the sights, activities, food and beverage amenities as well.
“When I returned to the festival two years ago, I wanted to make it so that we would not have any dead spots anywhere on site,” he says. “The word festival comes from festive and festive is an action word, a word that conjures activity.”
Gonella is quick to hand out kudos to the team he credits with making the festival a success.
“The crews have been beyond fantastic; site co-ordinators Marcel Gysi, Jeff Topham and Clint Creasey are responsible for how smooth it looked and all the details. I had a plan, but they’re the ones who made it happen.”
Gonella was equally impressed by the work of the festival’s two stage co-ordinators, Kelly Hopkins and Larry Keats, who were in charge of co-ordinating all four stages, and Bryan Coffee who organized the stage for the volunteer party.
“It was the smoothest behind-the-scenes, back-stage operation we’ve had since I’ve been back,” he says.
And high-level performance is the mainstay of the Roots & Blues office, adds Gonella, calling administrator Cindy Diotte the bedrock to the office and Mico Miege-Moffat a great media co-ordinator, who delivered a new level of energy that helped get the word out.
“I feel proud of the event, of the team that put it together – the community, city council, the city workers who come on their own time to water the roads, and those who come to reunite with friends who work together year after year. It’s not common in this day and age and it’s part of the uniqueness of Roots and Blues, part of what makes the musicians want to be here.”
Which brings to mind another important cog in the festival wheel – the artist liaison crew comprised of Diane Jewell, Tori Jewell and Valerie Ellis-Peet.
“They support the artists from the moment they arrive, providing a stress-free environment,” said Gonella. “There’s no buzz of negativity or stress; they can just get on stage and perform at a high level.”
And the way they are treated is revealed in the artists’ performances and comments.
“Isn’t this just the best festival?” raved Irish Mythen during the tribute to Leonard Cohen. It was a comment reiterated by Mystic Bowie of the Talking Dreads as he was preparing to head back for a second concert.
The positive attitude is no surprise to Roots & Blues artistic director Peter North who maintains he has two rules for hiring artists – they have to be really talented and really nice.
“The artists continue to talk about how gracious everyone is,” he said, noting they also expressed their approval of the workshops, the people they were paired with and were willing to take part in more than was scheduled. “Dan Shinnan (Boogie Patrol) played three extra workshops, just playing the harmonica, as did Sherman Doucette. He’s our mascot.”
North raved about Irish Mythen among others and, like Gonella, believes the talented and funny artist who drew a huge, appreciative crowd and standing ovations at the Shade Stage, will soon be selling out halls that accommodate 3,000 people or more.
He believes one of the reasons for the festival’s success, including the thoughtfully crafted workshops, is that artists are advised what they can expect and what is expected of them, well in advance.
“Instead of locking in in half an hour, they lock in in two minutes,” he says of their performances. “And I thought the (quality of) the sound took a huge jump this year.”
Back in the Roots and Blues office Tuesday, Gonella says he is especially proud of staff and volunteers, who coped with four thefts from the organization’s quonset since February.
“We lost small lights, extension cords, first aid kits, a myriad of small things,” he says.
“Kits for the information booth were mixed and dumped, but the volunteer team and staff did a fantastic job recovering and being ready.”
Minor theft was one of the few issues RCMP officers had to deal with during the weekend.
“From a policing perspective, all the complaints that police responded to were minor in nature and consisted of some disorderly conduct, minor thefts, and small drug seizures,” Staff Sgt. Scott West said in an Aug. 22 press release. “Given the size of the event, the calls for service are expected and there were no major incidents.”
That’s the way North and Gonella like it.
Both are already working on Roots & Blues 2018 – a family friendly festival that delivers a high quality experience to fans of all ages.