The Daily Courier
COVERAGE FROM ROOTS & BLUES IN SALMON ARM
Record concert attendance
The return of outdoor concerts on a grand scale saw thousands flock to Salmon Arm this past weekend for one of Western Canada’s largest music festivals.
Shuswap locals, music lovers from the Lower Mainland and Alberta, and thousands from the Okanagan Valley crashed box office records at what could be dubbed the “coming out party for COVID.”
It’s been two years since Roots and Blues last brought the community together in person, and 2022 marked a milestone for the annual festival.
“When we started to announce some of the artists, we started to feel the excitement of the community that the festival was coming back,” said artistic director Kevin Tobin on Sunday. “That passion just continued to snowball until here we are today on the final day of the 30th anniversary.”
“I think that’s a testament to the community and a testament to the passion that people have for the festival. It has been absolutely inspiring to see the community has come out to support.”
Tobin, who joined Salmon Arm Folk Music Society following 18 years at the helm of the Saskatchewan Jazz Festival, took the reins from incumbent Peter North, who stepped down last fall.
“I just love the personal relationships that are built in a smaller community, and there’s so much passion here in the community for the festival and to see 10,000 people on our site in a city that holds 17,000 people is pretty remarkable,” said Tobin.
Crowds were thrilled with the intimate live experience – and the chance for hugs with friends not seen since the pandemic – while the artists themselves poured out gratitude for their return to the stage.
Canadian rock icon Tom Cochrane, frontman of the rock band Red Rider and acclaimed for hits like Boy Inside the Man and Life is a Highway, took the stage Friday night and vowed to make the Okanagan Shuswap region his home.
On Sunday night, multi-platinum, award-winning singersongwriter Jane Arden closed the festival with a stunning and heartfelt performance with the 13,000 in the crowd joining in singing well-loved lyrics from top hits like Insensitive and Good Mother. Her encore was an impassioned plea to come together, remember how great Canada is, and “count your mercies.”
Behind the scenes, learning about a new festival was a bit nerve-wracking for Tobin.
“When we started programming, we weren’t sure how many people we could let on the site. We weren’t sure if international artists would be able to cross the border. From a programming perspective, the elephant in the room was what happens if we book a lot of international acts and they can’t get across the border?”
Planning for a primary Canadian showcase, the Society scaled back invitations for international artists. One of those making the list – to the delight of the hot bodies dancing in the heat of the Barn Stage – was the garagecumbia-marimba-punk Son Rompe Pera. The young artists put a new twist never before seen in Mexican folk music.
Tobin’s ability to plan on the fly continues to be tested as COVID-related cancellations meant last-minute changes to the artist line-up, including the return to the Blues Stage of Harry Manx after Colin Linden testing positive for COVID.
The festival is built from the ground up with volunteers, and Tobin had been watching numbers from other festivals across the country trend down as people were cautious about stepping up in such an uncertain public landscape.
“Thankfully, we had a crush of volunteers come on late into closer to the festival,” he said, reporting counts just over 600. “We were hoping in the 750 to 800 range.”
For some, that gap was most reflected in the long lineup for beer garden service.
Tobin smiled and said, “When you have that level of experience, one person with a lot of experience can do the work of maybe two or three new volunteers.”