Twin Butte Store’s SoulFest celebrates 12 years of being a small-town, big-heart, community-building music festival

Just call it the Greatest Little Outdoor Community Building Show on Earth in Southern Alberta.

Pretty sure the lawyers won’t have a problem with that.

Even then, they would have to prove that the Twin Butte Country General Store’s SoulFest isn’t that. And probably fight Cam Penner as well.

The roots festival grew out of the store’s owners — Jeny and Phill Akitt, who took over from Jeny’s parents more than two decades ago — and their love and support for live music, with their Mexican restaurant, post office, liquor and general store turning into a venue for two or three nights a week, hosting such acts and artists as Corb Lund, Cowpuncher, Ian Tyson, Fred Eaglesmith and, of course, Penner.

“Every touring musician needs a place like that,” says Penner. “And every music lover wants to be in a place like that.

“It’s a place you go where some nights it’s fucking crazy in there and people are dancing on the bar, and tequila and Coronas all night long, or Sam Baker’s playing in there and it’s dead quite.

“It’s a joint like that’s a destination for players and listeners.”

And then came Jeny’s idea 11 years ago for SoulFest, a multi-date, multi-act roots festival which they originally ran out of the store for five or six years, before moving it to the couple’s own eight-acre property nearby.

The 12th year runs Friday, July 6 to Sunday, July 7 and features a quietly impressive collection of talent including Tequila Mockingbird, Shred Kelly, the Wine Soaked Preachers, Little Miss Higgins, and Jon Wood and Penner acting as hosts — “with a headband and a bottle of champagne in my hand,” the latter laughs

For the weekend the entire farm turns into a festival site, with music on the stage during the day and early evening, before things get a little weird, action moving inside to the barn, where the bands have their sleeping quarters on the top and the bottom turns into a nightclub that goes until 5 or 6 a.m.

The $75 ticket gets you camping as well as a Saturday buffet supper that includes beef and often Hutterite turkeys or chickens— festivalgoers are asked to bring a potluck item and their own booze, as the Twin Butte Store is closed — and on the final day a huge Sunday buffet breakfast is provided.

While it sounds like a pretty great private party, SoulFest, which averages 200-300 people each year, is completely open to the public including kids, but, as Penner says, “it’s a bit of a barn burner — like, they go for it.”

He laughs, noting that every time he goes — and he’s either hosted or played for 10 of the 12 years — his wife’s only advice is, “Just don’t fucking hurt yourself.”

“Because I’ve come back from there with chipped teeth, broken glasses.”

That said, all of that was self-induced. Penner points to the fact that there has never been a fight there in the entire SoulFest history, because of the respect for the people, the property and, yes, the community.

“It’s a good mix of locals, ranchers, oil people, people from the city, people from the town, people who are working in Waterton Park — so you’ve got a lot of foreign workers there — and it’s just crazy,” he says. “It’s just a blast.”

He continues. “And it really draws the community it, it really is a community-based festival. And that’s the best thing about it. That’s why I think that you don’t have commotion, you don’t have all that other garbage — people are there for the music and to hang out with each other and to spread the good times.”

(Photo courtesy Christine (plus) Nathan.)

SoulFest 2018 runs July 6-8 in Twin Butte. For tickets, more information and directions, please go to http://www.twinbuttestore.com/soulfest/.

Mike Bell has been covering the Calgary music scene for the past 25 years with publications such as VOX, Fast Forward, the Calgary Sun and, most recently, the Calgary Herald. He is currently the music writer and content editor for theYYSCENE.com. Follow him on Twitter/@mrbell_23 or email him at mike@theyyscene.com. He likes beer. Buy him one.