Bluegrass and old-time music for young and old: Northern Lights Bluegrass Festival has something for everyone

Jodi
Jodi Schellenberg
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As more bands are adding bluegrass and old-time influence to their songs, the young and old can finally agree on a music festival to attend together.

The Northern Lights Bluegrass and Old Tyme Music Festival will be hosted at the Ness Creek site on Aug. 15-17.

“It is the bluegrass and old-time festival, so it is a long name and it means many things -- most of all it means it is an acoustic music festival,” president Tracy Lalonde said. “You normally won’t find things like electric guitars and a lot of amplified sounds.

“Bluegrass and old-time are some of the genres that we present -- it is some of our major ones -- but we also have a lot of really exciting acoustic music that we present.”

This year, the festival boasts a Tex Mex band coming out of San Antonio, Texas, and a traditional Quebecois band with their own updated version of the genre.

Lalonde stressed that just because it has the name old-time and bluegrass doesn’t mean it is just for older generations.

“When people hear old time, they generally think older people’s music -- they think of maybe polkas and the music that was in the Saskatchewan dance halls years and years ago,” she said. “We do preserve and present some of that music but there is a huge variance in the music we present.”

This is the ninth year the festival has been hosted and every year it grows a little bit more.

“It has been growing among the younger crowd,” Lalonde said. “At first we had a lot of older people checking us out because that is generally the demographic that enjoys the kind of music when they hear something like bluegrass or old time. They are familiar with that type of music because it was a bit more common in their day.

“Now, we are getting a lot of younger people catching on to this kind of music because of bands like Mumford and Sons -- the instruments that are used are becoming more common in mainstream music,” she added. “They are sort of coming back around trend wise.”

Instead of appealing to one age group, it spans generations.

“It is a family-friendly festival so people can feel very comfortable bringing their kids and it is kind of a great festival that works for intergenerational families,” Lalonde said. “We have a lot of grandparents who are bringing their grandkids out -- they want to spend time with them and they both can connect to this kind of music.”

Not only will people have the opportunity to enjoy many different old-time and bluegrass artists, they will also enjoy the beauty of the Ness Creek site, which is west of Prince Albert on Highway 55, close to Big River.

“It is a beautiful natural area -- there is a creek running down through it,” Lalonde said. “Of course, it is a very well used area because of the Ness Creek festival and there are actually several events that go on there during the summer.”

Leading up to the festival, the organization hosts a week-long music camp, utilizing the talents of the main stage acts.

“Some of these main stage guys come out the week before and they teach individual instruments throughout the week to 125 music camp participants,” Lalonde said.

They will teach preschoolers to elderly instruments such as banjo, mandolin, fiddle upright bass and more.

“We have this week with these musicians and it is a really great, intimate time with them,” Lalonde said. “On the weekend, they are festival main stage acts, but we have already gotten to know them and met them, which is a unique situation. It is not normal for a music festival.”

Bluegrass music is a very complicated genre to learn to play, she said.

“Bluegrass music is really an involved form of music -- some people may not think that because maybe they think of banjos and hillbillies and that slant that gets put on music like this but the skill level required to play bluegrass music is very high, it is very involved,” Lalonde said.

“It is much like jazz music where there is a lot of solos that happen and a lot of interpretive work done,” she added. “It is a form of music that you really can appreciate what the musicians are doing.”

Tickets can be purchased online at northernlightsbluegrass.ca. The website also lists the vendors in local communities selling tickets.

“The best thing to do is to buy advance tickets -- for a weekend pass you will save $20 rather than getting your tickets at the gate,” Lalonde said. “The ticket price you would pay for one major concert in the city, you have three days of music in this beautiful Ness Creek Boreal forest setting.”

Geographic location: San Antonio, Texas, Saskatchewan, Big River

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