Music nature and nude slip-n-slide

Smaller independent music festivals guarantee a unique experience

There’s no doubt that summer is the most exciting and action-packed time of year for the Calgary music scene. Thanks to events like Sled Island and Calgary Folk Music Festival — both of which are looking promising for 2009 — there’s really no need to venture far from home to see excellent world-renowned acts. Still there’s something special about getting out of town hunkering down at a nasty-ass campsite and spending the weekend swilling beer and enjoying music. And while the brightest and shiniest are big names like Sasquatch Bonnaroo Lollapalooza or Pemberton (shucks — that one’s cancelled until 2010) there are plenty of small independent destination festivals within a few hours of our fair city.

July 17-19 Mukwah Base Camp southwest of Sundre mukwahjamboree.com/

Bottom line: Psychedelic jams and whitewater rafting

If you’re keen on a far-out adventure soundtracked with acid-drenched jams look no further. Mukwah Jamboree 2009 presents an interstellar lineup that features some of Western Canada’s most promising young outfits. From established acts like Azeda Booth and Beija Flor to local mainstays like Kuboaa and the Firm Handshake Calgary talent is given a tremendous emphasis.

“It’s an off-the-grid celebration of nature and the outdoors of music and art of people and community and of shenanigans” says organizer Danny Vescarelli. “A broad group of Calgary’s music community goes off the beaten track together meets up with other good folks from other places and collectively takes in this often surreal experience.”

Camping sites are free on a first-come first-serve basis and thrill seekers can call ahead to book a whitewater rafting trip with the tour company that operates out of the same space. As indicated on the festival website the only drawback is that cellphones don’t work from the remote location. But when you’re shooting rapids by day and expanding your mind by night is that really a bad thing?

July 31 to August 2 Homecoming Park Stony Plain blueberrybluegrass.com/

Bottom line: Bluegrass. Food. Bluegrass. Food. Bluegrass. Jams.

Unlike modern folk fests which tend to have a loose working definition of their eponymous genre the Blueberry Bluegrass Festival is a decidedly as-advertised gathering. And while the 2009 lineup has been announced there is one item on the schedule around 11 p.m. each day that says it all: “Jamming Begins.” So in addition to daytime performances from some of the aces of the genres from household names of international renown like Marty Stuart & His Fabulous Superlatives to homegrown talent like Edmonton’s Alfie Myhre festival goers will be treated to impromptu collaborations in a style of music that’s exceptionally well-suited to off-the-cuff jams.

“Blueberry is the most underrated festival [in the province] with an average attendance of 3500 to 4000” says Dave Johnston director of the society that puts on the show. “Our reputation among entertainers and booking agencies out of Nashville is extremely high and we are touted to be the best-run festival in North America. We have a relatively new large acoustic-friendly stage and a reputation for looking after our patrons and artists in a most professional manner. Most U.S.A. festivals that I’ve attended with lineups like Blueberry’s usually attract triple the attendance.”

July 16 to 19 Bent River Ranch Drayton Valley motionnotion.com/

Bottom line: Mind-blowing electronic music and lunatic art wilderness edition

It would be easy to write off an event like Motion Notion as a four-night rave in the middle of nowhere but it’s much more than that. Yes the focus is on electronic music particularly psy-trance and the parties do routinely churn along until the sun comes up the next day but revellers are treated to much more than thumping beats. With lavish multicoloured stages interactive art installations and daytime workshops on topics ranging from meditation and yoga to something called “interactive quantum-physics efforts” mastermind James Katalyst has created an event that has appeal far beyond the soother and glowstick set.

“In terms of numbers compared to country music or rock festivals Motion Notion is a ‘boutique’ experience and Western Canada’s best kept secret” says the ebullient organizer. On of the event’s craziest traditions is nude slip ’n’ slide. “Every year a team of enthusiasts create what is basically a waterslide made from a long sheet of plastic on a grassy slope which is then greased up with KY personal lubricant” says Katalyst. “Brave participants are rewarded with a slurp from the ice bar.”

And if that doesn’t float your boat this year’s titanic lineup of DJs and visual artists includes a very special Friday night performance from Amon Tobin one of recent history’s most influential pioneers in electronic music. The opportunity to see such a master at work in such an exceptionally unique setting is not to be missed.

August 7 to 9 Carstairs Memorial Park Carstairs mvmusicfest.ca/

Bottom line: Pay what you want for high quality music in a great setting

“You are guaranteed amazing music in a grassroots atmosphere” says organizer Sheldon Valleau. “There isn’t any heavy corporate vibe. Most of the volunteers are from central Alberta and are excited to be a part of it. It’s a very laid-back event at a small-town pace with top-notch entertainment.”

Carstairs’s own Mountain View is the brainchild of Valleau and his brother Jason a duo also responsible for the musical exploits of the Polyjesters. This year’s lineup has yet to be announced but with past headliners like Barney Bentall and Patricia Conroy expect to see lots of Alberta talent seasoned with Western Canadian acts.

While it’s hardly the only festival to boast a small-town feel it’s one of the few that truly delivers: with a donation-based entry scheme and a concerted effort to make everything else free or as cheap as possible the event is truly a community affair.

“During The Fates’ last song at [last year’s festival] the sky opened up and dumped an extreme amount of hail on us” recalls Valleau. “Instead of everyone running for shelter half the audience helped get the tent secure so the gear wasn’t damaged. It was amazing to see such unselfish and communal thought be put to such fast action.”