Sooke festival investment reaps dividends
What: Sooke River Bluegrass Festival featuring Jeff Scroggins and Colorado, the Pine Siskins with John Reischman and Eli West, the Barefoot Movement, the Lonely Heartstring Band and the Small Glories, among others Where: Sooke River Campground, 2259 Phillips Rd., Sooke When: Friday through Sunday Tickets: $20-$50 daily, $70 for a weekend pass at brownpapertickets.com or sookebluegrass.com
Smart festival programmers watch their budgets closely as the more money they make, the more they can reinvest. And when a festival finds itself on firm financial footing, the sky is the limit with regards to what it can do programming-wise.
The Sooke River Bluegrass Festival is one festival that found itself in great shape heading into the planning stages of its 16th edition, which starts Friday at the Sooke River Campground.
“We’ve done a really good job managing our finances so we had a fairly good budget this year,” said artistic director Robert Remington.
“When you go into booking a festival, I don’t know if there’s ever really a plan, but you have a wishlist. You see who’s available, and things kind of develop. They take on a life of their own.”
The byproduct of the festival’s shrewd management is perhaps the festival’s strongest lineup to date, with bands from Nashville, Colorado, Boston, Winnipeg, Seattle, Vancouver and Victoria on the roster this weekend.
“People just came to us. It really says something about all the work that we’ve put into this, because people want to come here and want to play. What I’m hearing from people, and the bands as well, is that everybody is really excited about the lineup, and when the artists are excited about the lineup, that has the makings of a very good weekend.”
Among the many crossgenerational acts Remington booked this year are the Barefoot Movement, Jeff Scroggins and Colorado, the Lonely Heartstring Band, the Small Glories, and Allison de Groot and Tatiana Hargreaves — acts whose youthful membership, in some cases, runs contrary to popular bluegrass idioms. More than half of the musicians coming to the event are women, and all of them, as far as he knows, have their full set of teeth.
“Many people still have an image of bluegrass that is toothless backwoodsmen sitting on the front porch playing a banjo, when, in fact, modern bluegrass is young and hip and energetic.” Remington said.
“There’s a vibe at bluegrass festivals that doesn’t exist at others. In addition to all the stuff that is going on at the main stage, there’s this other stuff going on all around you.”
The popularity of the Sooke River Bluegrass Festival has made life complicated for latecomers and last-minute planners. “Camping is sold out and has been for a number of months. I think the people who are in the know, and who go to the festival each year, are aware and book well in advance.”
Remington has sympathy for those who were unable to score a camping spot — “I tried to book one of the cabins for myself in February and was told they were sold out,” he said with a laugh — but there’s good news. “It’s only 40 minutes to drive out from downtown Victoria, and Saturday is expected to be a great day for weather.”
Remington vouched for the mainstage programming on Saturday night, which culminates with a big-top square dance under the festival’s circus tent. Hargreaves and de Groot will lead festivalgoers through their steps, with raging old-time music on fiddle and banjo as the soundtrack.
“There’s a saying now that it’s hip to be square. This is not your grandfather’s square dance. This is not frilly dresses and string ties. This is people up in their jeans being taught on the spot.”
The Barefoot Movement will be playing at the Sooke River Bluegrass Festival this weekend.