SUNDRE — This weekend’s return of the Shady Grove Bluegrass Music Festival might be the third time the outdoor concert has come to town, but it will be the first time since the stage was set at the rodeo grounds that several bands from the U.S. perform.
The first festival held in Sundre in 2020 under pandemic restrictions that required measures to accommodate physical distancing, was a one-day teaser sampler called the Taste of Shady Grove. Last year was the first time the festival was able to deliver a full weekend of outdoor music, but only with Canadian talent under the restrictions at the time.
“We’re back on the international stage,” Eric Holt, festival director, told the Albertan in the lead-up to this year’s event, adding the mix of performances will also include groups from Saskatchewan, B.C. as well as a number of Alberta-based bands and a group from Ontario.
“This year’s event is our most ambitious since we moved to Sundre,” he said, adding organizers were pleased to be able to boast a full lineup.
The three bands coming up from the U.S. are: Special Consensus, who took to the stage at the first Shady Grove festival back when the event was held in the Nanton area; the Po’ Ramblin’ Boys, who Holt described as “one of the top traditional bluegrass bands” that back in 2015 was little known but has since “gone on to great things”; as well as the Blue Canyon Boys, who have previously played in the festival a number of times.
The first performances start this Friday, July 15 at 6 p.m. and will continue past dusk, followed by some Saturday morning workshops that the bands will be putting on, said Holt.
There will also be a kids’ program led by an instructor who will prepare the group for a morning and dinner break performance.
The long lineup of shows on Saturday will start at noon with a dinner break from 5-6 p.m. followed be evening performances that will once again run into the night.
The three-day music festival winds up Sunday with tunes starting at 10 a.m. with an Alberta-based group called Go Ask Earl that will offer anyone who might be interested an opportunity to try their hand at performing.
“We have a gospel open mic,” said Holt, adding there are usually a few people who end up going on stage.
“So, if anybody wants to get up and sing a gospel song, they can have the backing of Go Ask Earl to play with them,” he said, adding they also have the option of just playing solo if they prefer.
Asked how returning to Sundre for the third year with international talent on the docket felt, he said, “Well, we’re a little nervous. But we're excited.”
Despite a level of lingering COVID-19 concerns compounded by high gas prices that will potentially keep some people reluctant from coming out, the organizers are nevertheless anticipating a reasonably-sized crowd, he said.
“We have done a fair amount of local promotions,” he said. “So, we expect that we’ll get a lot of people from the Sundre and Olds area out for the various performances.”
Offering some parting thoughts, Holt wanted to remind people who plan to attend to be sure to bring their own chairs, picnic lunches, “and whatever a typical Albertan would take to spend an afternoon or evening outdoors.”
Aside from warm clothes or blankets for potentially chilly nighttime shows, festival fans with their own musical inclination are even encouraged to bring out their favourite stringed or wind instruments.
“It’s a bluegrass festival,” said Holt. “So, expect there to be lots of people jamming in the parking lot, jamming after the shows, jamming until all hours of the night. If you’re interested in doing any of that, bring your instrument and join in.”
The event is organized by the Foothills Bluegrass Music Society and sponsored by the Alberta Foundation for the Arts as well as Calgary Arts Development.
Visit www.shadygrovefestival.ca for more information including band biographies and the weekend’s itinerary.