By Mike Dunn
CALGARY – Most of us festival humans have a personal affection for one festival or another, and that’s natural – our formative experiences in those settings, surrounded by like-minded friends getting wild and seeing really cool bands while free and slightly crazy, is an experience that hangs with you awhile. As always, I was late to damn near every party I ever went to, and only first attended the North Country Fair in 2010. As happens with magical places, we somehow found our way, unguided and in the twilight, to the exact spot I’d camp for the next seven years along with my pals, who’d made my mind up to go in the first place.
The thing about the Fair is that unofficially it’s a weeklong event for a lot of people, although formally held over the solstice weekend from Thursday night to Sunday. While I’ve never spent the week out there, it’s where I learned the first rule of festival partying – It’s only Thursday, bud. When the chains of cars and trucks and phones and houses and jobs get cut loose, it’s the easiest thing in the world to get just as loose and see exactly how far you can ride that train. You find yourself kicking up the dust and still in the dusk at midnight. By the time the bands finish, around 4 a.m. nightly, the campfire jams are in full swing, friends singing along to each other’s songs, and laughing as the sun makes its quick pass over Lesser Slave Lake and then high up back over the trees.
The artist lineups have always tended to move from easygoing and laid back in the daylight, to full-scale, trip-out weirdness stretching into the wee hours. It wouldn’t surprise me this year to see the tightly-arranged folk of Tequila Mockingbird Orchestra, the theatrical indie rock of The Mariachi Ghost, the sweat-soaked dance party of Five Alarm Funk, and the Indigenous electronic blast of DJ Shub within a three-hour span. And as an Edmonton-based artist, there’s always been a special feeling when you get the opportunity to play the Fair, whether it’s the first time or the fortieth time. It’s a feeling you’re going to get to play for your whole community at once, a sentiment likely shared by both veterans Scott Cook & The Second Chances, Boogie Patrol, and Dana Wylie, and first-timers Bad Buddy.
It’s a hard thing to put into words the effect the festival has blowing minds wide-open to the vast possibilities of live music, performance and community. I attended the Fair for seven years in a row, and five of those years I got the opportunity to play, whether as backup for my pals or with my own music for a musical community that gave me more than I ever gave it. I haven’t been there since I moved to Calgary, and I miss it. The camaraderie, the wild-eyed insanity, the schedule that veers from traditional folk, juke-joint blues and honky-tonk into absurdity and mayhem. I miss all the late-night fireside jams and solutions to the problems of the world that float by the river, to the inability to get any self-induced sleep whatsoever, or the pals I made that I might never have met – none of it is a blur to me. Well, there’s one exception – that one night I got lost as a result of overconsumption and had to be dragged, in the friendliest of ways, off the roadside where I’d decided that sleep was inevitable. Definitely looking to avoid such kind-hearted drunken rescues this time, but sometimes that’s where the most memorable stories (of sorts) come from. Once you get to The Land, Fair Time becomes reality, and it really is the best time.
The 40th annual North Country Fair runs from June 22-24. Go to lslncca.ca for all the details.North Country Fair, Slave Lake