Daniel Lapp is performing at the Sooke River Bluegrass Festival on the Father's Day weekend

Bluegrass festival is back better than ever

Festival will have square dancing in the big tent at the Sooke Flats

Pirjo Raits

Sooke News Mirror

It’s been two years since there’s been a bluegrass festival in Sooke and there are many fans who have missed the yearly event usually held mid-June.

“We’re on!,” exclaims Larry Statland, one of the festival directors.

For 11 years, the banjos and fiddles, guitars and bass were heard resounding through the valley as bands struck up a chord and let ‘er rip. Some of the best bluegrass pickers and strummers journeyed out to Sooke to start off the season of bluegrass festivals. But, for the past two years, the fiddles were silent at the Sooke Flats and people missed it, said Statland.

This year, the festival, which takes place June 14 to 16, will have a new feature — square dancing!

“We’re going to have a Saturday night square dance under the tent,” said Statland. “A real live square dancer with a caller and a band. The caller promises to be gentle with the newbies, so don’t be scared.”

Statland mentioned that this used to be the way guys met girls and it still works.

The organizers are trying to round up a huge circus tent which they say would be ideal for the dance.

There is a resurgence of square dancing in Victoria and it is mostly young people who are do sa doing, allemande letting and rolling away with a half sashay.

“We’ve been organizing dances with them, we hope they show up cause they are a lot of fun,” said Statland. “The more people there, the better it is. Square dance has a rural base and it kind of disappeared and it’s interesting how young people go back to it.”

He said a lot of older folks remember square dancing and thinks it would be great to have both groups there at the same time.

“There’s not very many events where young and old can participate — I’d like to see that,”

The festival, along with the main stage performances, will have a number of workshops for musicians, as well as, what Statland calls the best part, the jamming around the campsite.

“Most music festivals are meant for people to listen, but here you go and play music with other people, the main stage is secondary,” he said. “The best music you’re going to hear is in the campsites and everyone can stand by and listen.”

Plus Slow Pitch Jam, Open Stage, Flat Picking Competition, Instrument Workshops including the fiddle, banjo, guitar, dobro and mandolin, and the Big Top Square Dance on Saturday night.

Weekend Pass $50 – Friday Only $20 – Saturday Only $30 – Sunday Only $10 – Tickets available at the Royal McPherson Box Office 250-386-6121 or at any Victoria Bluegrass Association event. Ticket prices do not include camping fees (which will vary according to a campers requirements).

The festival is family friendly and features a wide range of acoustic talent, food vendors and music workshops.

All of the bands performing are from Vancouver Island and include such notables as The Sweet Lowdown, Clover Point Drifters, Maple Mountain Boys, Moonshiners, Riverside Bluegrass Band, Eric Day and Friends, Riverside Trio and the Hub City Rambler Duo.

The Moonshiners first played at the Sooke River Bluegrass Festival in 2010, except they were all in different bands at the time; Flash in the Pan, Skagway and Last Train. This year, after the festival hiatus, the Moonshiners are back with a new name and a vengeance.

“We’re excited about that,” said Chris Herbst. “It’s good that the festival is back on.”

The Moonshiners got their name from an old traditional song called Moonshiner and they adopted the moniker when they formed the band to play gigs every Sunday night at Swans Pub in Victoria.

“We thought the name Moonshiners would fit for a bar band,” said Herbst.

But it is all about the music after all, and the Moonshiners play classic bluegrass, honkey tonk, blues and funk. Herbst says they are probably more diverse than the average bluegrass band. They are known for their powerful three-part harmonies, danceable grooves and wild instrumental excursions. They are West Coast urban.

Born and raised in Prince George, British Columbia, Daniel Lapp learned the joy of fiddle music from his grandfather, five uncles and numerous accordion playing aunts. Family events were excuses to play music and he carries this tradition into a new era and contemporary culture.

The Maple Mountain Boys  are a bluegrass band based in the Cowichan Valley who are quickly becoming fan favourites. Bringing together a group of veteran and new musicians, they showcase their own unique style of hard driving bluegrass that ranges from easy listening to traditional flavoured songs.

The Hub City Ramblers bring their own west coast style to the traditional brother duo. The music they play speaks to old world sensibilities, but leaves you feeling fresh and new. Brad Shipley’s mandolin work is filled with cascading melodies and ear catching fills, and Ira Pelletier’s guitar playing is soulful and intense. They play a mix of traditional bluegrass, old time songs and instrumentals, as well as original tunes.

The Sweet Lowdown is an acoustic roots trio from Victoria. Drawn together by mutual passion for old-time groove, hard driving bluegrass, sweet harmonies and well-wrought songs, The Sweet Lowdown (Amanda Blied, guitar,; Shanti Bremer, banjo and Miriam Sonstenes, fiddle) blend original song-writing with old time roots music to create a sound that is both unique and timeless.

Originally conceived as a duo in 2008 by Blied and Bremer, The Sweet Lowdown recorded a seven song EP with Adam Iredale-Gray (Fish & Bird), touring and performing in the Pacific Northwest.

By the spring of 2010, the duo was ready to develop a fuller sound and fiddler Sonstenes joined the group.  The newly formed trio quickly set to work refining their new sound and in January 2011 they traveled by train to Parry Sound, Ontario, to record their self-titled debut album with musician and sound engineer Andrew Collins (Creaking Tree String Quartet, Foggy Hogtown Boys). By 2011 the trio had garnered quite a local following and won the Monday Magazine M-Award for Favorite Roots/World Music Group.  In June they released their debut album which was nominated for 2012 “Album of the Year” by the Vancouver Island Music Awards.

More information on the festival, the entertainers, tickets and schedule is available on the Sooke River Bluegrass Music Festival website at: www.sookebluegrass.com

Be there or be square (dancing that is).

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