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Bluegrass Dun Rong

Donald Teplyske  |  August 31, 2011

At Alberta Buzz [] the writer performs an autopsy with blame on what was apparently a disaster, the first bluegrass festival (as far as I'm aware) within the city limits of Calgary.

The Calgary Bluegrass Festival attracted very few people over the past weekend, perhaps a surprise considering the health of the local Foothills Bluegrass Music Society and the support that has been shown the nearby Shady Grove festival over many years. The entire province of Alberta has been a relatively healthy envirnonment for bluegrass for many, many years.

Some of us saw this one coming.

I don't know everything about festivals, and I certainly don't know everything there is to know about putting on a bluegrass festival. Heck, what I know about bluegrass has been questioned. But, in my over ten years of involvement within the bluegrass industry of Alberta, I've learned this: you can't hold a successful event a) if you don't involve the community and b) if almost no one knows about it.

I have been involved with Red Deer's Waskasoo Bluegrass Music Society for eleven years. I've attended more meetings to discuss local bluegrass happenings than I care to remember. For several years I've worked with the bluegrass clubs in the larger cities to promote events, to bring major talent to our province. We've hosted and participated in a half-dozen provincial summits to discuss and plan the course of bluegrass in the province.

Admittedly, I'm a late comer to all this bluegrass stuff in Alberta, attempting to work with others to further the music in the manner of folks like Chuck Skinner, the Tameses, Laurie Mills, and many others did before us. I'll never be an insider because I don't jam, but that's okay: I'm more than happy to work behind the scenes.

And if I've learned anything in those many years it is this: you have to involve and appeal to the bluegrass core of the province, and you can't do that if you don't get the word out about your event. As far as I can tell, beyond having an underwhelming talent line-up (compared to other Alberta festivals) on offer, this was perhaps the most fatal flaw of the festival's organizers.

I first heard of this festival on August 2 when one of my fellow Waskasoo members mentioned it to me. It sounded scary- a festival featuring a U.S. band no one had heard of (no offense intended) with a plan to attract some crazy number of people- I think 5000 was the number quoted to me. Are you nuts? Well-established bluegrass festivals running for decades and booking the top talent in the world struggle to sell 5000 tickets...over a weekend!

But, fair play to them- if they've got the desire, good on them; not my money. Then I went home that night and visited the website. Three-and a half weeks out, there was no ticket information available on the website. Few details beyond a webapedia definition of bluegrass and a skeleton line-up of talent.

From a distance, this one looked like a disaster in the making. A few conversations with other Alberta bluegrass types confirmed that no one really knew too much about the event, something that can only be seen as a failure on the part of the organizers.

The organic component, the one that involves a festival growing naturally through a series of successes, was missing here.I'm not doubting the intensity of the organizers' passion for bluegrass. I wish it had turned out better for them and the performers they booked.

But sometimes you can see the car crash before it happens. And this was one of those occasions.

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