It was about 4 PM Saturday when I found out The Sheepdogs probably weren’t having a good day. Their flight from Kelowna to Castlegar was delayed and their tour manager admitted he didn’t exactly know the location of the band’s equipment.
The Rock Renaissance men from Saskatoon were set to headline that night at the 2017 Kaslo Jazz Etc Fest.
They made it, and performed one hell of a show, but it wasn’t with their gear.
Story has it, a local old timer named Dave “Bugsy” Biggar supplied the guitars The Sheepdogs used that night. He apparently makes guitars and had an impressive selection laying around the house for, I assume, this very reason. The Sheepdogs went by his place, had their pick of the lot, and Bugsy got to hang out backstage during the show. At one point, a festival staffer leaned over to him and asked how cool it was to see his babies being used to entertain thousands and Bugsy replied, “They never looked so good.”
To top that off, despite being full throttle in the middle of their set after opening with a bombastic rendition of “Who”, lead singer Ewan Currie paused between songs to confirm with the audience the instruments in their hands were not their own.
Seemingly a tad flustered, he almost-jokingly asked if anyone in the crowd had an egg shaker.
“Where’s Fred Penner when you need him?” Currie quipped (The popular children’s musician played a set earlier in the day).
But all of a sudden a dude about four feet in front of me holds up his arm. He had to be at least 6’5, so people took noticed when a few flicks of the wrist revealed he was holding a shaker.
Ewan points at him. Dude throws. Ewan stretches out for the catch. Success. Ewan passes it to his brother Shamus for approval.
It was kismet.
In my article ahead of the event, I talked about the spirit in this community of just 1,000 people driving Kaslo Jazz Etc Fest and how it really takes a village to float that stage off Kaslo Bay Park every year. That was literally the name of the article.
As if I needed more evidence, the story behind the Sheepdogs’ Jazz Fest performance is an example I couldn’t script if I tried.
So, with the latest edition of the event having come and gone this past BC Day long weekend, allow me to make the argument: There is no better place for a festival than Kaslo, British Columbia.
The people on and off the stage, the energy, the setting, and a myriad of intangibles. As if it really is just something in the air.
“This is one of the best parts of Canada in my mind,” Sheepdogs drummer Sam Corbett said before Saturday’s show.
“We’ve never played on a floating stage,” he admitted when asked if there’s a nicer place to play live music? “We played a boat in Paris, but that was parked. So I guess that’s a floating stage but not quite like this. This is amazing here. The view is amazing. Awesome vibe. A lot of great people around here.”
To the band’s credit, after what was most likely a frustrating day, and with a quick turnaround ahead for a gig in Winnipeg the next night, they absolutely rocked Kalso Bay Park. The harmonizing guitars, Ewan’s booming bellow, and Corbett’s driving drums certainly delivered a roaring set filled with their new generation of Canadian rock anthems that had the entire crowd singing along.
“You get a lot of immediate gratification from playing a live show,” Corbett suggested. The drummer explains they spent many years slugging it on the road, playing to no one, even performing in the tiny community of Sirdar just north of Creston. Corbett says they were always focused on putting together an “energetic-rocking live-show”.
“Making an album takes a long time,” says Corbett who revealed they’ve recorded their sixth album and it’s just being mixed and mastered. He says there’s a major difference between spending six months in the studio creating something and getting up on a stage, “You play for 90 minutes and see the instant reaction from fans.”
And Corbett certainly liked the stage in Kaslo and its surroundings, “What more could you want? People really seem to support music here. It’s a nice scene. It’s great.”
For local bands in that scene, Kaslo Jazz Etc Fest presents many opportunities.
“It’s kind of a big reunion for all the local musicians,” says Dirt Floor drummer Eddie Thomas. “Being a musician in this town you have to work hard, and you’re always out at difference places, it’s hard to see each other all the time. This festival brings you all together.”
Dirt Floor is a West Kootenay based band that began when Peter Reed met Sean Cameron working in the bush. Reed describes it as an organic and quick bond, that grew out of sharing song ideas during lunch break. They would bang on anything around them – mostly just rocks.
As Reed puts it their music covers a broad range, “Songs about farming, songs about love, songs about vampires, mental illness is something covered that has been covered in the band.”
Broad indeed. But for the local group it fits in nicely with a diverse lineup made up of artists from all different places.
“[Kaslo Jazz Fest] is just a great way to get world class music in our area,” adds Reed, who suggests he just loves taking it all in like everyone else “in one of the most spectacular settings in the world”.
Reed admits they don’t think much about the exposure when sharing the stage with the likes of The Sheepdogs, Los Lobos, Preservation Hall Jazz Band, and A Tribe Called Red but rather, “it’s just fun to be part of it all.”
“The coolest thing about the festivals out in this area is the ability to swim, dance in the sand, go in the shade and camp. It’s all right there,” Thomas remarks. “You can’t really compare it. Everything about it. It’s just amazing.”
It truly is a sight to behold. People of all ages sprawled out over Kaslo Bay Park. Partying together. Singing together. Discovering new music together, or screaming the chorus of their favorite song together for the 100th time. Everyone’s on the same page. Everyone is there to have a good time. So when an act like Fred Penner takes stage, it’s no surprise that everyone in the crowd, whether baby or Baby-Boomer, feels like they can jump around like a kid. And they did.
There’s a surreal nature to Kaslo Jazz Etc Fest. It’s the “Kootenay-vibe” but then some. It’s like a fiction, but you’re living it.
“It felt like we were in a movie, it was such an incredible experience,” says Kurt Loewen of Tequila Mockingbird Orchestra who closed out the festival Sunday night. “So many people, so many smiles, such good energy. Everything was just working and the mojo was just really high.”
Loewen, whose responsible for guitar and vocals in the group, says in so many ways Kaslo feels like a home for TMO. The group’s members aren’t centralized in one location and sometimes are scattered across Canada if not different countries. But they’re currently together on tour as they celebrate their tenth anniversary.
“Probably for nine of those years we’ve been coming to the Kootenays. Coming to Kaslo, playing at the Blue Bell a lot. So [Jazz Fest] kind of felt like a home show. We feel really, really welcomed to be there,” Loewen explains as he sits on the side of the road en route to a gig in the Yalakom Valley near Lillooet.
“Honestly, it’s a true honour” he says in response to being scheduled as the event’s final act. “Some of the acts we saw this weekend set the bar so high for what a performance can be.”
Arguably, none of those acts had a bigger crowd than TMO. That’s not to take way from the dozens of other incredible performances this year, especially notable outings by In Orbit, BadBadNotGood, C.R. Avery and the Preservation Hall Jazz Band (which was truly a special moment), but the mass of people that packed in the bay for Tequila Mockingbird Orchestra’s closing set was a spectacle to behold.
“[Jazz Fest] is absolutely heading in the right direction,” Loewen proclaims. He says talking to people in the community and long-time volunteers, despite its ups and downs, people are impressed with how far the fesitval has come since its inauguration in 1992.
Loewen says a major benefit for the event was bringing Executive Director Paul Hinrichs on board, who has been able to use contacts he’s developed through company On The Road Management and Production and attract artists that may stop in Nelson but not know of the tiny village of Kaslo. Loewen says the groundwork organizers have done over the past two and a half decades is essential to the festival’s success but Hinrichs is taking it to another level.
“He’s bringing the young people out,” Loewen points out. “I was talking about it with our billets, who were wonderful, and they’re in their 60s. They were saying that’s it great [Jazz Fest] can accommodate everybody. But by the same token they recognize if the festival is going to live for another 25 years, it needs young people to come. Simple as that.”
“I think he’s done an amazing effort at booking contemporary, hot bands that are important on both the Canadian and international music scene and I think because of that [Jazz Fest] is going to live on.”
(Labelled photos courtesy of Louis Bockner)