Lil Jimmy Reed keeps tune on guitar and harmonica after climbing down from the ROOTSandBLUES main stage during the 2018 festival. (File photo)

Lil Jimmy Reed keeps tune on guitar and harmonica after climbing down from the ROOTSandBLUES main stage during the 2018 festival. (File photo)

30 years of ROOTSandBLUES: Volunteer reflects on festival’s humble beginnings

Spirited Spirit of the West performance leaves lasting memory

By Barb Brouwer

Contributor

A musical event with deep roots in the community is celebrating 30 years of providing a world of music.

Staff and volunteers are busy organizing another stellar live ROOTSandBLUES Festival, to be back on the Salmon Arm Fairgrounds Aug. 18 to 21.

Over the years, artists and performers have raved about the festival that offers much more than music.

But the event had humble beginnings in the Shuswap coffeehouse scene of the 1970s and ’80s.

Drummer and music therapist Larry Keats attended early coffee houses at Gleneden Hall where he met Linda Tanaka.

Keats, who owned Acorn Music at the time, said Tanaka began booking bands and would go to him for advice on equipment and more.

“She would say ‘I need a PA, and do you think so and so would go over in this town,’” he said, noting the two grew the folk music scene together. “She would also ask me to sell tickets.”

Keats said early artists included some big names – Roy Forbes, the Barra MacNeils and KD Lang before she was famous.

He said the festival began when a number of people were available on the same weekend and decided to bring it together.

“October 1992 was the birth of the very first festival and I have the lineups of all the early festivals,” he said, noting they were held in the Salmar Theatre and at the rec centre.

Fans at Roots and Blues circa 1996

Fans at Roots and Blues circa 1996

Organizers took advantage of a government grant program to host Winnipeg’s Mitch Podalik, whom Keats described as “a guru in the world of folk festivals.”

“He came in the summer, looked around and said ‘you should do an outdoor festival.’”

During a yearlong hiatus, volunteers worked to establish the non-profit Salmon Arm Folk Music Society (SAFMS) and organized the first outdoor festival, which took place at the Salmon Arm Fairgrounds in 2001.

Keats was a member of the SAFMS board from 2004 to 2015 and continues to volunteer as production manager, in charge of getting musicians onstage with proper audio and lights.

Keats has a head and heart full of memories and notes that while the musicians have always been stellar, some of their managers have been otherwise.

“We sometimes have trouble with people who come from bigger centres who think nothing exists west of Winnipeg.”

One of the funniest memories, he said, was the 25th anniversary show when Spirit of the West closed the MainStage on Friday night.

“One of the young fellows was sweeping the stage for the Saturday show and got his broom stuck in a hole the size of a boot,” said Keats, attributing it to enthusiastic stomping by the band. “We had to get the fall fair guy and it was fun getting it fixed and ready for 6 p.m. I don’t know many who break the stage down.”

Kimm Magill-Hofmann moved to Salmon Arm in 1987 and has been involved with the society in some capacity ever since.

Read more: Free concert in Salmon Arm’s downtown planned for ROOTSandBLUES kick-off

Read more: Grammy winner Alex Cuba returning to Salmon Arm for 30th annual ROOTSandBLUES Festival

Alpha yay Diallo performing at Roots and Blues circa 1996

Alpha yay Diallo performing at Roots and Blues circa 1996

Current board chair, Magill-Hofmann said she is still a member because she likes to volunteer and believes it’s important to give back to one’s community.

After volunteering in various capacities over many years, she wanted to continue but was no longer interested in doing so during the festival.

She was asked to run for the board six years ago and is now in her second year as chair.

“Once I retired from work, I had the time to donate and felt I had something to bring with my experience in government and in bringing the perspective of being a volunteer to the board,” she said. “It’s great to be able to bring music to the community; it makes all the hard work worthwhile to see people enjoying the festival.”

Magill-Hofmann is struck by the number of diehard fans who return every year and often buy tickets before they know who will be performing. She said staff and volunteers worked hard to keep audiences engaged by providing virtual festivals during Covid.

“Every festival seems to be a huge family reunion to all our regular patrons and volunteers,” she said with enthusiasm. “It’s just fabulous to be able to get back together and celebrate with music.”

Performers this year include Tom Cochrane, Jann Arden, Antibalas, Ruthie Foster, Snotty Nose Rez Kids, Five Alarm Funk and many more. Go online to rootsandblues.ca for more festival information and to buy tickets.

Roots and Blues circa 1996

Roots and Blues circa 1996


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