Bluegrass Festival draws record crowds


  The 2015 Bluegrass Festival events kicked off on Thursday, June 18, with some good old fashioned jam sessions and an open mic. By the time everything had wrapped up on Sunday, June 21, paarticipants, organizers and visitors alike were saying that this was the best festival yet at the Iroquois Point.

The park was packed with campers: the live bluegrass, and on Friday, country bands, drew enthusiastic applause and cheers. Under perfect skies, in an ideal scenic setting, the Iroquois Bluegrass festival attracted more people than ever. “It’s been a great response,” said Geraldine Fitzsimmons of the South Dundas Chamber of Commerce. “The numbers are up, and people have been telling me how much they enjoyed our venue here. It’s just great. And our sponsors have been great too.”

Fitzsimmons, Joey Vankoppen, president of the Bluegrass committee, Pauline Flegg (on the Bluegrass committee) as well as dozens of volunteers were on site throughout the four days making people and performers feel welcome and solving any issues. Bank of Montreal and Royal Bank volunteers handled the gates over the weekend. The Golden Gears were also at the Point so that visitors could examine some classic vehicles.

But for everyone, the great bluegrass music was the chief draw. The bands did not disappoint. “I loved the music at this festival,” said Winchester fan, Kathy Spruitt. “It’s fantastic to hear these bands, especially groups I hadn’t heard before. “

Doug DeBoer of Hard Ryde, host band of the Festival, organized free workshops for the event. John Steele of Hard Ryde was the banjo instructor, Ben Wright of the Barrel Boys and Bernie Colville of County Road 44 handled guitar, while Gilles Leclair of Hard Ryde led the mandolin workshop.

Fiddler Nathan Smith of the Barrel Boys was one of the performers at the Festival. His band, made up of bass Tim O’Reilly, guitar Ben Wright, banjo Rob McLaren and dobro Kyle Kirkpatrick, were a hit with the audience. Nathan, who recently performed at Upper Canada Playhouse in Leisa Way’s premier musical, Oh Canada, We Sing for Thee, shared insights into the appeal of bluegrass.

Smith, a university trained classical violinist laughed that “I actually found bluegrass an acquired taste. I played the Ottawa Valley style of fiddle, a mixture of Irish and Scots, but when I was busking in North Bay, Murray Hill asked me to jam with his bluegrass group.” Smith began to drop into bluegrass venues in Toronto and Ottawa, “and I started to fall in love with the music. Then I met the Barrel Boys in 2012, and we’ve been performing ever since. (They released Early On in the fall of 2014.) What I love about bluegrass is singing the harmonies, and the incredible versatility of the music. You can jam with friends, or play professionally. Bluegrass is actually becoming very popular with young people, especially in the city. I think that with bluegrass there is a strong connection between the performers and their listeners. No age limits.”

The Barrel Boys have been writing and performing original music as well as bluegrass classics. It helps to have a sense of humour when you compose bluegrass. “Yes there are certain themes that are popular in bluegrass,” said Smith. “One of them is definitely murder,” he laughed. “The roots of bluegrass are in Appalachian music where heart break, and yes, murder, are themes. Drinking, hard times, pining for the outdoors and for the rural life are also themes you’ll find. Gospel comes into it too, that Southern influence. Bluegrass is a wonderful genre. Songs are sad, but they sound joyful.”

Nathan Smith had a lot of praise for the Iroquois Bluegrass Festival. “I love this community and this festival. The setting is intimate and this is a great stage. Everyone here is friendly, and the audiences just love the music. It’s refreshing to come here to Iroquois.” 

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