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Bluegrass & Grassicana Coming to Alberta's Blueberry & Edmonton Folk Fests

Donald Teplyske  |  July 31, 2023

Western Canada has had an active bluegrass scene for many years. The first Blueberry Bluegrass went in 1985, and since then the activity—both localized jamming and performance as well as larger summer fests—has only grown in intensity. The 36th iteration of the Blueberry Music Festival will be held this coming weekend in Stony Plain, Alberta.

The following week the Edmonton Folk Music Festival occurs, and this year are presenting a range of acts that should appeal to the bluegrass, old-time, and acoustic-country-folk folk among us.

This year, August 4-6 will see another great lineup for the festival as the two-time International Bluegrass Music Association Event of the Year (2019, 2021) presents the finest in local, regional, and international bluegrass and acoustic music. As these IBMA bonafides attest, Blueberry is an extremely well-organized and pleasant festival experience.

Headlining the festival is the most popular band to play Blueberry in recent years, The Po' Ramblin' Boys. Nominated this year as IBMA's Entertainer of the Year, The Po' Ramblin' Boys are not only incredible musicians and singers, but great entertainers and ambassadors for the music.

Another headliner is multiple IBMA Award-winning bandleader Becky Buller–up for another award this fall–who brings her group to Blueberry for the first time. Buller isn't the only IBMA nominated artist appearing at Blueberry. Bluegrass humourist and broadcaster Chris Jones is up for Writer of the Year. Also headlining are the well-respected and popular Chris Jones & the Night Drivers, with former Night Driver (and Songwriter of of the Year nominee) Jon Weisberger back on bass for the weekend as Bluegrass Hall of Famer Marshall Wilborn has sadly stepped away from touring with the band, and California's fresh AJ Lee & Blue Summit. As a bonus, Sally Jones and daughter Joanna are slated to make appearances with Jones and the Night Drivers. Additionally, Johnson City's Bill and the Belles return to Blueberry for the first time since 2019, as do Jessie & the Gents, an acoustic country group from Switzerland.

Blueberry has long mixed in some country and folk with their brand of bluegrass and this year is no exception. The Gift: The Words and Music of Ian Tyson is a long-running tribute to the Canadian folk, country, and cowboy culture legend headed by his long-time collaborator Stewart MacDougall and featuring Tyson sidemen including Thom Moon, Gord Matthews, Myran Szott, and Julian Kerr as well as Ian Oscar and John Wort Hannam, an award-winning Canadian folksinger held in high regard by all who are familiar with him. Wort Hannam and MacDougall will do additional sets featuring their own music. Norway's Magnus Wiik makes his first appearance at Bluberry, and the sibling duo of Kayla and Matt Hotte provide old-time influence to the weekend.

Bringing local flavour to the three-day bill are area bands The River City Playboys, featuring four high profile Alberta bluegrassers in Byron Mhyre, Marc Ladouceur, Matt Hotte, and Curtis Appleton with Zach Daniel keeping these master players between the ditches with powerful bass playing, as well as Passin' Through and The Lost Prospectors.

With multiple stages running concurrently as well as terrific facilities and sound production, Blueberry Bluegrass has become a destination festival for people looking for a festival that is more intimate than some of the large, multi-day American bluegrass festivals, as well as the area folk festivals.

When at Blueberry, you can expect high-calibre bands as listed, friendly audiences, and well-organized, welcoming presenters as well as great tasting food and beer. There is also a range of activities for children of all ages including a petting zoo, crafts, and mini-golf. Oh, and your dollar is going to go a lot further. Blueberry is a community filled with musicians, volunteers, and patrons, many of whom will be jamming much of the day and night. It has wonderful facilities including onsite camping.

I look forward to seeing you at Blueberry this year. I will be MCing throughout the weekend, and if you want to say, Hello, I shouldn't be too hard to find.

The Edmonton Folk Music Festival is a large event in Edmonton's river valley, and annually brings some of the biggest names in roots, folk, blues, and Americana music to Gallagher Park August 10-13.

In addition to acts such as Fleet Foxes, Ben Harper, Margo Price, Valerie June, Tami Neilson (Oh, yeah!) and Feist, Edmonton Folk Festival also presents acts from the 'grassier side of 'our kinda music.' Greensky Bluegrass, IBMA-nominated Molly Tuttle & Golden State, and Old Crow Medicine Show. Also from our world, you will hear and see Jake Blount, Allison de Groot & Tatiana Hargreaves and Alberta's Nashvillian Bella White make appearances, some on the main stage and others at multiple appearances on the many alternate stages running through the weekend.

I would suggest, Come north and find out for yourself what these Edmonton and area music festivals have to offer, especially if you are a bluegrass and Grassicana fan. Limited tickets are available for the EFMF, but tickets of all sorts (VIP passes, three-day festival passes, single day tickets) remain available at the website: children 16 and under are admitted free of charge.

©Country Standard Time • Jeffrey B. Remz, editor & publisher •
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