Roots and Blues comes down to earth in Salmon Arm

Jessica Klymchuk, Contributor Ω

There’s nothing consistent among the genres of music or age and nature of the crowd at Salmon Arm’s Roots and Blues Festival. What binds those at the event together is the shared enthusiasm among them and the carefree atmosphere of acceptance.

A shoulder-top seat for a youngster in front of the TD Main Stage at the 2013 Salmon Arms Roots and Blues Festival

A shoulder-top seat for a youngster in front of the TD Main Stage at the 2013 Salmon Arms Roots and Blues Festival. Jessica Klymchuk/The Omega

Between Aug. 16 and 18, 26,000 people came through Salmon Arm to attend the 21st Annual Roots and Blues Festival. The gates opened Friday night and welcomed festival-goers to two evening stages featuring Fatoumata Diawara, Tommy Castro and the Painkillers, The Harpoonist and the Axe Murderer and Mississippi Heat. Six-time Juno-nominated bluesman Harry Manx also took the Boogie Bar-N Stage followed by blues pianist Ben Waters.

On the TD Main Stage, Jamaican Ky-Mani Marley serenaded the larger audience with a set that, as expected, included Bob Marley songs. The reaction was mixed. For some, the laid back Jamaican tunes were welcomed, but others lost interest, wanting to hear more Ky-Mani than Bob.

With handcrafted bagpipes, horns, drums and medieval attire, Corvus Corax exploded the stage next with their innovated medieval sound, inspired by the ancient musical manuscripts of Viking, Celtic, Chinese and German culture. For many reasons they represent a unique and free-spirited vibe that the festival is all about.

Corvus Corax’s alter-ego, BerlinskiBeat hit the Boogie Bar-N Stage on Saturday for a workshop with Finnish beatboxer Felix Zenger and Ontario’s powwow electronica sensation A Tribe Called Red. Workshops brought two or three artists together to jam, often fusing contrasting sounds to produce impromptu magic. Four daytime stages hosted 16 workshops over the weekend, offering plenty of opportunities to see artists vibe together organically.

Zenger said he doesn’t often jam so publicly, but there were moments when the product was brilliant.

Even amidst the line-up of heavy blues artists Shakura S’Aida, Steve Strongman and Rita Chiarelli and classic legends including Bruce Cockburn and Daniel Lanois, Zenger’s beatboxing was a hit. He, A Tribe Called Red and DJ Skratch Bastid offered urban alternatives that simply worked, even in a barn. Everyone, including those upwards of 60, could be found bobbing their heads.

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The Bright Light Social Hour receives praise from the crowd. Jessica Klymchuk/The Omega

For their grandkids, the Hub International Barton Family Stage featured a line-up of kid-friendly acts such as the African jams of Jacky Essombe, who visited the stage on both Saturday and Sunday.

Many artists frequented the stages with solo acts more than once. Selah Sue’s soulful voice serenaded the TD Main Stage crowd on Saturday night and again at the Boogie Bar-N Stage on Sunday. The 21-year-old Belgian reggae-soul singer held the crowd’s attention with a voice beyond her years.

The Bright Light Social Hour proved to be a crowd-pleaser on two occasions, as well, with their rock and roll meld of psychedelic blues and deep soul. Their album was sold out at the merchandise tent long before their second performance.

The always popular City and Colour (or as others may know him, Dallas Green) wrapped up the weekend with some mellow acoustic solos. About half way through his set he stopped to acknowledge a front-and-centre couple. Green dedicated the last verse of “Northern Wind” to the pair.

Leading into “Paradise,” which Green described as a “woe is me” song, he said “If I had more experiences like these moments, I wouldn’t have written this song.”

Green’s commentary is similar to something Shakura S’Aida also said: the Roots and Blues audience produces a spirit, unlike other festivals, that resonates with the performers and fuels their energy. Even from the stage, the artists are aware that the vibe is unique.