SUNDRE — Rainfall that preceded this past weekend’s 30th anniversary of the Shady Grove Bluegrass Music Festival, turning the Sundre Rodeo Grounds’ arena into a muddy pit that prompted organizers to relocate the stage behind the Wildhorse Saloon on a grassy field facing north toward Snake Hill, might well have been a blessing in disguise.
“We were supposed to be in the rodeo grounds, (but) I actually prefer this,” said Denise Bratko, who lives east of town and came out with husband and bluegrass music lover Len.
“This is more festival-like,” Denise said, referring to sitting right up front close to the stage out on a grassy field cozy in lawn chairs as opposed to the rodeo’s main grandstand.
“I hope that the organizers get that message, that this is more festival-like than in the rodeo grounds,” she said.
The couple are long-standing fans of the music festival, having attended performances for many years dating back to the days the event was held on a farm near Nanton.
“We have been going to the Nanton Shady Grove for years. We’re so excited that it’s now in our hometown,” said Denise.
“This venue is just going to grow and grow and grow. Whereas when we were in Nanton, it had kind of reached its max,” she said.
An enthusiastic fan of string instruments, Len said he loves acoustic performances, live music, as well as the energy and positive vibes the musicians bring with them.
“They’re so talented,” said Denise.
“And they’re so good at their instrument that they can just jump in and play — and multiple instruments,” she said.
“We’re really proud of it being here, and hope that the community gets more involved.”
Among other music fans taking in the festival was country performer Tim Hus, who came out with his sons Arlo and Huckleberry as a spectator.
“Bluegrass festivals are the friendliest festivals,” said Hus.
“Bluegrass fans — well, you know how that is, they’re like jazz fans. Jazz fans really love jazz and aren’t really interested in too much other than that. And bluegrassers are kinda the same way!” he said with a chuckle.
“I’m happy to have it here. This is great,” he said.
The main headliners were Allen Christie and Acoustic Mayhem as well as the Denis Dufresne Band. But the lineup also featured performances from Back Spin, the Steve Fisher Band, Craig Young & Rhonda Shippy, Under the Rocks, Doggone Brothers, Straight Raisers, and Over The Moon.
Put on by the Foothills Bluegrass Music Society, the festival’s organizers had anticipated a turnout of as many as 400 people. Although numbers were a bit shy, they were nevertheless pleased by a crowd that numbered more than 300.
“Personally, I think it’s turned out really well,” said organizer Sue Holt, who works to put on the event alongside husband Eric.
“We’ve had lots and lots of good compliments, and some really good feedback about what we can do different and better for next year,” she said.
Although they were able to offer a one-day, physically distanced sampler of the music festival last year amid COVID-19 pandemic restrictions, the organizers felt this was their first real crack at the bat.
“We did Taste of Shady Grove last year — it was only an afternoon teaser and it was a little challenging because of the COVID pandemic,” she said.
“But this year, we have exactly what we wanted. We have the stage outside, the beer garden, and that’s what people want,” she said.
Some of the volunteers who pitched in to help make the festival possible came from Sundre and area, while others came in from Calgary, Cochrane and even as far away as Regina, she said, adding they were eager to lend a hand in exchange for the opportunity to “listen to some really great music, because they missed it. It’s just a great experience for everybody.”
The festival’s new location also seems to be have been a perfect fit, and the Sundre Pro Rodeo grounds are poised to remain the new home of the Shady Grove Bluegrass Music Festival for the foreseeable future, she said.
“I don’t know why we’d move anywhere else — this is a great venue. The town has really embraced us and the rodeo people love us,” she said, referring to the Sundre Rodeo & Race Association, the community organization that cares for the grounds and hosts the annual pro rodeo.
“Prior to this, we of course were down in Nanton on a farm, and really quite a small venue. And we wanted to grow, so this is where we’re going to grow, and I can’t see us leaving any time soon,” she said, grateful to have a welcoming location that boasts plenty of open space to stretch their legs out on the spacious Sundre Rodeo Grounds.