Jim Elliot/Salmon Arm Observer Rebecca Habiak lights up the night with her glow-in-the-dark hula hoop at the Roots & Blues festival on Friday, Aug. 18.

The music-infused Shuswap

Music alive in the Shuswap

Thanks to so many dedicated people, the 25th Roots and Blues Festival was a big success.

Shooting footage for my annual festival video review kept me busy visiting many stages and interviewing attendees, artists, vendors and volunteers. My filming primarily focuses on my favourite music genres, and there was no shortage of great bands and artists this year. The diversity of music was in sync with the diversity of the festival attendees who were of all ages and from all corners of the globe, as our festival has now become one of the best in Canada.

There were many highlights for me this year. One of my favourites was Mystic Bowie’s Talking Dreads, who played reggae-themed Talking Heads tunes. Mystic stayed in the Shuswap eight years ago when he played at the Squilax Music Festival and he loves our region. His band, which includes two fantastic back-up singers and a dynamite keyboardist, gives a very dynamic performance with Mystic moving around the stage like a gymnast.

The roots of the Festival stretch back to 1976, when Jake Jacobson and I helped form the Shuswap Coffee House Society, which sponsored events featuring both local artists and groups from across Canada and other countries. Venues for these concerts and dances included the former log youth centre, local halls, Shuswap Theatre and school gyms. Some of the artists that played here during those early years included, Sukay, Pied Pear, Ferron, Barde, and Stringband.

In the late 1970s, Linda Tanaka joined the team to help promote Coffee House events. During Salmon Arm’s 75th Anniversary event in 1980 at the Fall Fairgrounds, we held what was likely the Shuswap’s first music festival.

When a piano was needed for concerts, we raised the funds to purchase the one that remained in use at Shuswap Theatre for many years. By 1983, the Coffee House ran out of steam and the stage was dark for a few years until Linda began sponsoring events. The Salmon Arm Folk Music Society was formed and touring musicians began to play here again.

The first Roots and Blues Festival was held at the Gleneden Hall in 1992, with Salmon Arm’s own Richard Underhill and his rocking Shuffle Demons headlining the event. In following years, the festival moved up to the community centre and the audience grew in size as high profile performers began to participate, like Maria Muldar, Toots and the Maytals and the Downchild Blues Band. With the increasing success, a consultant was hired who recommended creating an outdoor, summer event.

As the festival grew in size and scope, the Folk Music Society decided to abandon holding concerts during the year. Fortunately, given the number of talented musicians living in the Shuswap, other groups stepped up to sponsor shows. Coffee houses have once again become a fixture in the region, with monthly shows in Celista, Sunnybrae, Salmon Arm, Carlin, Silver Creek and elsewhere.

One reason for the Festival’s rave success is that it has a vast talent pool of local musicians and technicians to manage the stages as volunteer staff. As well, the festival has benefited from superb leadership beginning with Linda Tanaka, who focused on diversity and world music, followed by Hugo Rampen who brought in more youth-oriented rock bands, and now Peter North, who is reviving the roots music tradition with great blues and folk acts along with tribute bands.

Thanks in part to the ever more successful Roots and Blues Festival, the Shuswap has become a music infused region. Additionally, it is the stunningly beautiful Shuswap’s creative atmosphere and alternative, relaxed country lifestyle that helps to nurture the local music scene.

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