At the corner of no and where
FarmFest makes 10th annual bid to be the best little music event in Saskatchewan
Willow Bunch is not a big place.
But once a year, hundreds of people descend on the Campagne family farm for FarmFest and more than double its population of just under 300.
“Part of the reason we started this festival was to bring music into the community,” said a member of the family and one of the organizers of the three-day event Connie Kaldor. “Willow Bunch is a small community and they probably couldn’t afford to bring any of us here, so this is a way for us to bring our talents and our friends’ talents to the area.”
Artists like The Arrogant Worms, Red Moon Road and Les Barricades will flock to southern Saskatchewan July 28 through 30 for three days of music, food and fun. They will be joined by other performers, as well as the Campagne family itself.
This the festival’s 10th anniversary, which means the usual 300 or 400 attendees will likely swell to closer to 500 or more. Kaldor — who herself has a career in the folk scene that has taken her across Canada, the United States and abroad — said many acts and spectators from previous years are coming back to help mark the milestone. Many if not most of those artists are connected to the family in one way or another, either through sharing the stage at other festivals and events for years or through more familial bonds. Kaldor’s niece is dating a person connected to the Winnipeg-based band Red Moon Road, so they too have been roped into the event.
Willow Bunch is a small community and they probably couldn’t afford to bring any of us here. Connie Kaldor
“That’s how we can get these people out here, because they like us and know us,” she said. “That’s how we can get them here for probably not as much money as they would make going other places.”
Kaldor said the family is grateful to all the artists who make the trek, acknowledging that it is off the beaten path for most of them.
“We say it’s at the corner of no and where, but it’s beautiful,” she said, adding that they are lucky that many of their friends are sound people and other music industry professionals. “It started out on the deck at this place, and now there’s a whole stage.”
More than anything, Kaldor emphasized the low-key, laidback nature of FarmFest, compared to other festivals. She said people are welcome to camp for the weekend, there is a pancake breakfast and other food and drink on offer throughout the weekend. They still encourage people to bring their own lawn chairs, but this is an improvement on when the festival first got started and the poster read, “bring your own everything.”
“It feels like a family run affair,” she said, noting that it is not like Craven’s Country Thunder, nor do organizers want it to be. “There’s a family element to the show, to the music, too. We’re lucky enough that our family is mostly musicians. Everybody plays.”
This is also one of the few festivals to mix French and English and agriculture in any way, making the experience something new for many people. Spectators come from across Manitoba and Saskatchewan to take part.
“Just nice to sit out on the Prairies and listen to some music,” Kaldor said. “If I was in the city, I’d want an excuse to get out of the city for a day.”
For the family, many of whom split their time between touring and farming, this is also an opportunity to give back to the community.
Kaldor said the hotels and restaurants are full for the weekend and it gives neighbours and friends a chance to experience some great music without having to drive hours to get to it.
This year, organizers have added the Friday night to the mix, featuring a Cheesy Song Social in which performers and the audience are encouraged to sing along to the corniest songs they can think of.
In previous years they have had comedians and unexpected musical talent take the stage, and are always looking for something new to add.
“It’s a lot of work, and every year we vow we’re not going to do it, until we actually get on stage and then it’s all worth it,” Kaldor said.
“But I have played every festival in this country and this is like no other. It’s all about music, it’s all about community, and it’s all about family.”
A few hundred people flock to the community of Willow Bunch for FarmFest. This year, organizers are expecting more for the 10th anniversary of the event.
Aleksi Campagne, Benoit Forest and Mia Gallant perform at last year’s FarmFest in Willow Bunch.
Slim Williams performs at last year’s FarmFest in Willow Bunch.