SUNDRE — The rodeo grounds will host a combined physically-distanced outdoor as well as drive-in live acoustic music experience on Saturday.
Organizers of the annual Shady Grove Bluegrass Festival recently decided to offer a small teaser sample of what’s to come next year by way of a reduced one-day format with health protocols including limited attendance in place.
“It’ll be our first time putting on an event in Sundre,” said Eric Holt, president of the Foothills Bluegrass Music Society and executive director of the Shady Grove Bluegrass Festival.
Due to the pandemic, they were previously forced to cancel the traditionally three-day outdoor concert that was poised to celebrate its 30th anniversary this year.
The Foothills Bluegrass Music Society, in tandem with the Sundre Rodeo and Race Association, will be presenting A Taste of Shady Grove on Sept. 26 from noon to 6 p.m. The lineup features some of Alberta’s top bluegrass and roots talent, namely The Buggs, The Bix Mix Boys, Allan and Arnell, Goaskearl, Al Christie Band as well as Steve Fisher Band.
“We’re not going to call this the 30th anniversary, because we want next year — when we have the full, three-day festival — to be our 30th anniversary,” Holt said during a phone interview.
“So, what we’re calling this event is A Taste of Shady Grove, just to sort of keep the name out there and give people and idea of what they might have if they were able to come to the full festival a year from now,” he said.
Asked whether they intend to return to Sundre next year, he said, “We sure are.”
The festival had in the past been hosted in Nanton, south of Calgary, but organizers decided to seek out a new location.
“There were some other issues with the venue, and we just felt it was time to move. We’d really outgrown what we could do there,” said Holt.
Scouting for a new site that offered a welcoming, small town atmosphere, he said Sundre was among a few municipalities to make the short list.
By random happenstance or fate, Holt said he met Barb Rock, with the municipality’s community services department, more than a year ago during an event management seminar in Calgary.
After introducing one another, he said during a break the two discussed the idea of hosting the festival in Sundre.
“That kind of got the ball rolling.”
The rodeo grounds offer plenty of space to accommodate an outdoor concert, so Holt was also put in contact with the Sundre Rodeo and Race Association.
Out of the three or four small towns that essentially fit the bill of what organizers were looking for, he said, “Sundre is the only one, where as soon as we said we were interested in this, people were interested back — they were enthusiastic about it. There was no ho-hum, is this going to be noisy? It was all, ‘Yeah, we’d love to have you! What can we do to help you?’”
From people like Rock and Jon Allan, the municipality’s economic development officer, as well as Shane Crouch, president of the rodeo association, there was no hesitation and even plenty of help facilitating the process, said Holt.
“It was the only place that not only got back to us, but had some enthusiasm for our event.”
Including event volunteers, Holt said organizers are hoping to see 200 people attend.
“We’re going to provide for approximately 25 drive-in spots, and then the open area (on the) field, the number of spots is kind of depending on the size of the groups that we have,” he said.
The open area will be divided into marked areas so cohorts limited to a maximum size of six people per group can physically distance themselves from others. There is no provision for dogs in the open seating area, and porta-potties will be available. There will be no camping on-site, reads a portion of a press release.
“It’s going to be a bit of a challenge,” said Holt, jokingly adding, “It’s kept my poor little pea brain turning for sure!”
People do not have to sign a waiver or release regarding the possibility of contracting COVID-19. But anyone who attends must voluntarily assume the risk, he said.
“Through our ticketing method, we have contact information if we need to follow up if something happens,” he said.
“We recognize that COVID is highly contagious, and can lead to serious health problems or death, and we expect that you accept this risk.”
Anyone interested in obtaining tickets or more information can email firstname.lastname@example.org. Tickets will not be sold at the gates since numbers must be restricted, and can also be purchased through Eventbrite or by Interac e-transfer.
Organizers are excited for the opportunity to connect people with a blend of bluegrass, roots, as well as folky tunes, and to promote homegrown, acoustic musical talent, he said.
“Some of the clubs have started to open up for some things. But there really hasn’t been a lot going on,” he said, adding the society wanted to consider ways to remedy the situation.
“We were looking for a way to employ a few musicians and put on a fun event — that is sort of our mandate as a bluegrass club, to support and promote bluegrass music.”
Seeking to tap into the abundant enthusiasm from the music community in Calgary and the surrounding area, he said organizers also equally wanted to respect COVID-19 health guidelines and keep the festival more controllable.
“We’re not allowed to have concessions. So we’re encouraging people to bring a picnic lunch, and bring some hot drinks and cold drinks. If you’re going to sit outside, bring some blankets,” he said.
“But come and have some fun. Come and enjoy the music — it’s about the music. And if you want to stay warm, you can come in your car.”