Sooke fes­ti­val in­vest­ment reaps div­i­dends

Times Colonist - - Go - MIKE DEVLIN

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.

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