SUNDRE — Music fans and outdoor concert enthusiasts are soon going to have a chance to pack up their lawn chairs and roll up their picnic blankets for a show at the local rodeo grounds.
Following last year’s teaser sampling in the form of a one-day concert called A Taste of Shady Grove, the 30th anniversary of the Shady Grove Bluegrass Music Festival is poised to make its Sundre debut in August.
“Shady Grove hasn’t gone away,” said Eric Holt, president of the Foothills Bluegrass Society.
This year, a lineup of nine bands from B.C. and Alberta will be performing on one stage set up at the Sundre Rodeo Grounds’ arena starting Friday, Aug. 20, with final performances wrapping up the three-day event on Sunday, Aug. 22.
“We’re quite excited about what we’re able to do this year,” said Holt, who is also executive director of the Shady Grove Bluegrass Music Festival.
However, uncertainty regarding pandemic health measures in the months leading up to an event that requires plenty of time to properly prepare for as well as ongoing international travel restrictions put a slight hamper on organizers’ hopes.
“It still isn’t going to be quite what we expect the full Shady Grove experience would be like given enough time to prepare and given the ability to bring (some) more well-known acts up from the U.S.,” said Holt.
Additionally, the pandemic remains on the minds of many people as COVID-19 variants continue to spread.
“It’s pretty obvious that there are still a number of people that are concerned about getting together in a crowd,” he said, adding organizers are anticipating a smaller turnout as a result.
But featuring only Western Canadian talent and having a smaller crowd are not necessarily bad, he said.
“Because it’s like small steps,” he said, adding last year’s one-day event offered the organizers an opportunity to get a feel for the space.
And even a smaller event this year will be much larger than last September’s one-day concert, even if it’s “not the full festival feel that would we expect to have another year from now,” he said.
That being said, Holt answered “absolutely” without missing a beat when asked whether Sundre would likely be the festival’s new home for the foreseeable future.
Previously hosted in Nanton, south of Calgary on Highway 2, he said the organizers sought a new venue that maintained the traditional Small Town, Alberta atmosphere.
While a few other municipalities boasting adequate facilities to host the festival had made their proverbial radar, the enthusiasm from local people — whether town officials or members of organizations like the Sundre Rodeo and Race Association — who were eager to get involved to help make the concert happen essentially sealed the deal.
“Sundre is the only one where as soon as we said we were interested in this, people were interested back,” he said.
Further solidifying their decision, he added, was the venue.
“The grounds are really, really nice — they’re just well looked after and clean,” he said. “It’s a super, super nice setting with lots of space and good facilities.”
That means Sundre will likely remain the Shady Grove Bluegrass Music Festival’s new home for now, he said.
“We love the site, we love the enthusiasm that the people that we’ve dealt with in Sundre have had to sort of help us out,” he said. “People are there to give us some direction or pitch in. So, you know, we’d kind of be crazy to go anywhere else.”
Initially planning prior to the pandemic in anticipation of accommodating approximately 1,000 or more people, Holt said that was also why a larger area like the Sundre Rodeo Grounds was so appealing.
“That’s not a big crowd for the rodeo grounds, but it would be a big crowd for us,” he said. “It’s a beautiful spot with lots of space, which I could see very easily having a much larger festival.”
But in light of circumstances being what they are, organizers expecting a more modest turnout.
“We’re kind of basing our projections around having approximately 400 people,” he said.
More than 100 tickets had been sold as of Tuesday, July 27 when Holt spoke with The Albertan, but a few more were going every day and advertising efforts were expected to ramp up, he said.
As Alberta is well into Stage 3 of the provincial government’s economic relaunch strategy, there will be no mask mandates or distancing requirements.
“People will be able to distance themselves if they feel uncomfortable,” he said. “But our set up this year will have a much more elaborate stage.”
The stage will be placed inside the arena, with room for about 250 people in the newer stands that are wheelchair and handicap accessible forming the back of the crowd, with room for an additional 150 people to sit on the ground in front of the stage, he said.
The main headliners are Allen Christie and Acoustic Mayhem as well as the Denis Dufresne Band, he said.
The lineup also features performances from Back Spin, the Steve Fisher Band, Craig Young & Rhonda Shippy, Under the Rocks, Doggone Brothers, Straight Raisers, and Over The Moon.
Visit foothillsbluegrass.com/shady-grove or check out their social media page to find links to ticket purchases. And unlike last year, admissions can be covered at the entrance.
“This year, we will have tickets available at the gate,” he said, adding the cost will be the same as buying online.
Additionally, tech savvy music fans who are inclined can also download the ShadyGrove Bluegrass Festival app, which features information including a map, schedules as well as links to band profiles, and is available on Apple and Android devices, he said.