In 2001, Canada legalized medical marijuana, the BC Liberals won more than 50 per cent of the popular vote, the B.C. Lions finished in third place in the CFL’s western division and, drumroll please, the Salmon Arm Folk Music Society took the ROOTSandBLUES Festival outdoors.
Among the artists at the event which attracted 12,000 people on a sunny weekend from Aug. 24 to 26, were Tegan and Sara, Bill Wyman (of Rolling Stones fame) and the Rhythm Kings and Sheila Wilcoxson.
Also on the bill were the Puentes Brothers, a duo that featured the early work of Alexis Puentes, who became known as Alex Cuba and will be a feature act at this year’s 30th Anniversary Festival on Aug. 18 to 21.
Long-time volunteer Brook Roberts attended the first festival at Gleneden Hall in 1992, but went away to university for several years and missed the first outdoor festival.
“I came back to work and suddenly there’s this big festival,” he said, noting he attended the 2002 festival at the Salmon Arm Fairgrounds and started volunteering shortly afterwards.
“Holy smokes, I thought, this is not a very Salmon Arm thing, this is a big-city event.”
Roberts began volunteering with Larry Keats, his former music teacher and owner of Acorn Music. “I was playing in bands with Larry and he asked me to volunteer on the mainstage, hauling gear, being a runner, doing whatever Larry was yelling at me to do,” he laughed. “The next year, the board was trying to diversify and bring in someone younger and I was a music teacher with a long history of playing music, so they asked me to join.”
At 29, Roberts was the youngest board member. He turned 45 this year and continues to serve on the board of directors. He was chair for five years, treasurer for two years before that.
He said Salmon Arm is a better place because of the marquee event that promotes cultural diversity through performers, attendees, food and more.
Like many others, Brooks and his family were sad when COVID-19 shut the live festival down.
“We plan our summer around it, something special always happens with my family,” he said, pointing out that while he has a list of artists he wants to see, it’s the combined experience his family enjoys that matters the most.
“It’s like Christmas is August. It’s that important and that much to look forward to.”
Roberts, who has played the festival twice, said ROOTSandBLUES is a community event meant for the whole family and he has never worried about his kids being on site, getting harmed or in trouble.
“We’re grassroots and our main goal is to reach out to Salmon Arm, which is very different from corporate festivals that are driven by profit,” he said, with pride. “Every event we ever worried about, rain, wind, smoke, we have survived.”
Not only survived but thrived, added Ian McDiarmid, another longtime board member who remembers when the festival caused complaints and store closures.
He said ROOTSandBLUES is now one of the community’s foremost events and he is happily anticipating being back at the fairgrounds for a stellar festival.
Salmon Arm Mayor Alan Harrison is equally proud of the event and the people who make it possible. “Thirty years in an environment of dancing, fun and sweet sounds,” he said, pointing out that the festival puts Salmon Arm on the map. “The premier entertainment event in the North Okanagan, ROOTSandBLUES is a labour of love, for all of those who work and volunteer.”
Shuswap MLA Greg Kyllo shared his enthusiasm in a letter of support he wrote when organizers were seeking funding for the 2022 festival, and by addressing the legislature in May during Creative Industries Week.
“The Shuswap has become a hub where some of the province’s greatest talents gather to create, master, and share their art with one another,” he said. “The annual Salmon Arm ROOTSandBLUES Festival is a three-day music festival that occurs every third weekend in August with six stages and features an international roster of artists as well as a strong contingent of Canadian talent.”
Long-standing fans and newcomers are invited to go online to rootsandblues.ca.