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Salmon Arm Roots and Blues Festival bucks the trend and survives

The 23rd Annual Roots and Blues Festival runs from Aug. 14-16.
March 27, 2015 - 4:33 PM

SALMON ARM - We’ve got Joni Mitchell to thank for the words ‘You don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone’ but the community of Salmon Arm gets the credit for acting on that epiphany before it was too late.

Six months ago, things were uncertain for the Roots and Blues Festival. A number of factors had depleted its financial reserves, and there wasn’t enough cash to book acts for the summer 2015 season. Organizers appealed to the city and the public for $150,000, and the community responded. 

“Because of the mild panic that situation created, people all of a sudden woke up a bit,” Lody Kieken with the Salmon Arm Folk Music Society says. “It’s one of those things, you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone.”

The City of Salmon Arm came through with a $50,000 grant and a well-attended benefit concert further topped up the society’s reserves.

“We had one person walk in off the street and give us a cheque for $2,000,” Kieken says. “We’re really thankful for the community support.”

The festival is now fully booked and looking forward to a bright 2015 event with names like Canned Heat, John Oates and Adam Cohen (Leonard Cohen’s son) on the roster. One attraction you won’t see this year, however, is ‘Routes and Blues’, which featured shows in various local communities leading up to Roots and Blues.

“After we realized we were short, we looked at the bang for our buck. Routes and Blues was a great event, but the attendance and the (earnings) didn’t justify the expenditure of money and staff time it took to put it on,” Kieken says.

He adds the whole situation led to closer partnerships and strategic alliances with community stakeholders, like the Chamber of Commerce and Tourism Shuswap. Times are hard for music festivals, with the rising costs of utilities, security, booking artists, and renting equipment — you just have to look around the Interior to see that. The Nakusp Music Fest, Komasket Music Festival and Rare Earth Music Fest all packed it in, and newcomer Boonstock recently announced it won’t be returning to Penticton this year.

Orchestrating a music festival is no easy task, but Kieken says the hard work is worth it, especially for an event as unique as Roots and Blues. For him, it’s hearing what people take with them — a new band they previously hadn’t heard of, or the memory of a once in a lifetime performance — that makes the event so special.

“It’s not all about the headliners. In the end, when I talk to festival-goers, their peak experiences were at the small stages throughout the day,” Kieken says. “That’s the difference between a concert and a festival, stuff happens there that’s not going to happen anywhere else. Our festival has a reputation for putting people together from around the world to create something magic.”

Money continues to be raised through a raffle and tickets can be bought on the Roots and Blues website.

To contact the reporter for this story, email Charlotte Helston at or call 250-309-5230. To contact the editor, email or call 250-718-2724.

News from © InfoTel News Ltd, 2015
InfoTel News Ltd

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