South Country Fair returns this weekend for its 28th year of showcasing a diverse range of music to an appreciative audience.
Classic folk, world music, emerging artists and contemporary acts shape the line-up July 18-20 at Fort Macleod Fish and Game Park.
“The great thing is that the South Country Fair crowd is fairly open to whatever is being presented to them,” artistic director Jana MacKenzie said. “I know that many fair-goers purchase their tickets each year without having to see the line-up first, which is unique in the festival world.”
MacKenzie is charged as artistic director with choosing acts from a huge pool of talent from around the world, and often finds herself wishing South Country Fair had a full week to showcase the music.
South Country Fair finds itself in competition with other summer music festivals happening at the same time, many of which have much bigger budgets than the Fort Macleod festival.
“It helps that we aren’t a festival that is defined by having popular headliners,” MacKenzie said. “We consider all of our performers to be equally amazing and tend to prefer the less heard-of acts, allowing us to educate as well as entertain.”
The process of booking acts begins shortly after South Country Fair ends each year.
“I have a growing list of performers that I’d like to bring to the festival so I start with checking their availability,” MacKenzie said. “Often their touring schedules don’t coincide with our dates, so I have to deal with a certain amount of rejection for the first few months.”
Once MacKenzie has booked three or four acts she then widens her search to ensure South Country Fair will have a diverse and interesting line-up.
There is no shortage of musicians interested in performing at South Country Fair, including ones who have already been to Fort Macleod and enjoy the fair’s casual vibe and welcoming community.
South Country Fair shies away from booking acts in consecutive years in order to expose fans to a wider variety of music and performers. That doesn’t stop acts from applying year after year.
“We receive hundreds of submissions each year, which makes it difficult to decide from so many great acts, ” MacKenzie said. “As the line-up builds certain acts stand out more if they provide a good contrast to the confirmed slots. The annual music showcase BreakOut West has also been helpful in connecting with regional artists.”
The process of reviewing music has changed with technology over the years. Where long-time artistic director Maureen Chambers would listen to hours of music on tapes and CDs, MacKenzie can peruse Web sites and YouTube.
“I am super grateful to have the technology to access and communicate with acts from all over Canada, U.S. and internationally,” MacKenzie said. “It’s also helpful to see videos of musicians playing live, as this often helps me to get a feel for what kind of show they would provide.”
The Friday night line-up begins with Clinton St. John at 7 p.m., followed by poet Greg Frankson, Stephanie Nilles, South Country Fair songwriting contest winner Sarah C. Louise, Little Miss Higgins, Namgar and Cousin Harley.
Performers on the south stage on Saturday afternoon include Maria Dunn at 2:10 p.m., followed by poet Andre Prefontaine and Declan O’Donovan.
The east stage on Saturday gets under way at 12 noon with Tin and The Toad, followed by Jenie Thai, Ryan McNally, Adam and Chelsea, Blackberry Wood and Whiskey Sheikhs.
Entertainment Saturday night on the south stage starts at 6:15 p.m. with Geoff Berner and Kris Demeanor, followed by Mamselle Ruiz, AroarA, songwriting contest winner Curtis Glass, Young Benjamins, Good Co. and Bend Sinister.
Little Jill’s Big Grass Jam kicks off east stage entertainment Sunday at 12 noon, followed by David Newberry, Twin Peaks and The Crooked Brothers.
South stage entertainment on Sunday features Steve Brockley at 1:40 p.m., followed by poet Dia Davina and Kim Churchill.
Poets performing in Lotus Land include Christa Mayer, Prefontaine, Demeanor, Amy Muir, Dia Wren Davina and Frankson.
In addition to the entertainment on stage, South Country Fair has an “awareness” component that includes Nia, yoga, meditation and other workshops.
There are songwriting workshops and jam sessions throughout the weekend, along with the Prairie Tales film festival.
Kidz Kountry features games and activities for children and performances by Aytahn Ross.
MacKenzie is pleased with the South Country Fair line-up and while hard-pressed to name any favourites is particularly looking forward to seeing AroarA, Good Co., Bend Sinister, Kim Churchill and Stephanie Nilles perform.
Jana MacKenzie is a long-time volunteer at South Country Fair, and while she relishes her latest position as artistic director has an appreciation for the greater meaning of the event.
“It’s certainly an exciting world to be a part of and exposing myself to the constantly growing and expanding performing arts scene has been an enriching experience,” MacKenzie said. “The best part, though, is being a part of the community of volunteers who work all year to make this event happen, often working through unforeseen circumstances and wild weather.”
“I began helping with set up about a decade ago, which allowed me to be exposed to the unique structure and co-ordination of the festival. No matter what position I hold, it is being a part of a group of individuals who do this because it brings joy and satisfaction to their lives, not because there is monetary value.”