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By Chris Marchand
There was a time when you might show up on the Friday afternoon of the Trout Forest Music Festival and still have your pick of the best spots to pitch a tent or park a camper. In 2017, the early birds show up on Wednesday.
While pushing steadily towards an attendance mark of around 1,800 in recent years, near tripling its host community’s population for a few days each August, the Trout wears the growing crowd well, preserving the warm hospitality and ‘low barrier’ scene that brings festival goers back year after year. A place where the talent mixes freely with the crowd, joins them around roaring midnight fires for acoustic jams into the wee hours of the morning.
Add a sweltering ‘dog days of summer’ weekend to preside over the fun and you’ve got a Trout Fest for the books.
Friday night’s Frank’s Tavern Lineup provided a tantalizing taste of what was to come as performers mixed it up on stage, taking turns with songs and helping each other out. Virtuoso stepdance and fiddle family act The Fitzgeralds, Winnipeg’s Joey Landreth and songstress Jadea Kelly used the time to make a big impression on the crowd in hopes of drawing ears to their main stage appearances on Saturday.
An emergency surgery kept performer Ridley Bent out of the lineup Saturday night, though his band — aided by supernaturally talented guitarist Chris Dunn (of nearby Quibell) — carried off their set without a hitch with various players sitting in.
The Weber Brothers capped the night in front of a writhing sea of folk fest dancers with an impressive yet ambiguously ironic cover of Gun and Roses’ rager ‘Welcome to The Jungle’.
And the music did not stop when the sound board was switched off, it just moved around — arising where the glow of a campfire and atmospheric conditions proved favourable.
A planned power outage on Sunday morning was easily overcome by the power of bluegrass as the Osmond Davis Band joined ‘In With The Old’ and Del Barber for an unamplified gospel workshop.
Festival Chair, Kathy Robinson says she thinks that attendance of around 2,000 would be optimum for the festival.
“We don’t have that much room to grow, physically,” said Robinson. “Although we are always trying to make improvement to the site to allow more tents. People online are already saying things like, ‘I’ve heard the tickets are sold out’ — not yet. It may yet come to that point. We have a lot of people coming back year after year. It used to be chaos trying to direct people around between parking and camping, but now they all seem to know what to do.”
The festival operates on a volunteer base of around 100 who staff the many operational crews.
Artistic director Devin Latimer continues to draw on a rich network of musical contacts from the prairie scene and beyond to produce a lineup of acts on their way up through the Canadian music scene.
“I love Devin,” said Robinson. “He’s working on the next one the day it ends. He always gets the most amazing performers. Being a musician himself (Leaf Rapids, Nathan) he has a lot of connections so he knows the Canadian music scene really well. Plus, he’s just a really great guy.”