Birchbark on the stage at the new Friday Nights Live location
Live music in public spaces has long been part of the human equation, given the countless number of bandstands found in communities around the world. There is not much that can beat the enjoyment of listening to music on a summer evening in a peaceful, beautiful surrounding with friends and neighbours. It was the old adage, “build it and they will come” that spawned the Shuswap’s first summer music series in 1994 when the Salmon Arm Arts Council began using the repurposed Expo 86 gazebo installed by the city to host Wednesdays on the Wharf, also known as WOW.
A big crowd at WOW
Over the years, WOW has grown from a small gathering run by volunteers to a weekly festival with paid staff supported by significant grants and sponsorships that attracts from 500 to 1000 people. The quality and diversity of the music has also improved thanks to artistic director, Tori Jewell, who brings in acts from across the province and bands that are on tour.
“Old Man’s Beard” played WOW in 2009
In addition to the subsidies, WOW also depends on the generosity of the audience as the donations often cover half the costs. Recently, a sound system was purchased to reduce expenses and a youth employment program funds the technician, who also mentors a local student. One of the unique bands playing this summer is from Australia, the fusion group This Way North on August 1st.
There is live music in the Shuswap in six communities nearly every day of the summer. Enderby was the next community to host live music in the summer when it began Music by the River in Belvedere Park in 2004 and here too, it is the Arts Council that organizes these five Sunday evening shows. Given the group gets funding from the regional district, it hosts one show in Grindrod during the Garlic Festival, one in Mara and three in Enderby. The most popular in the series is during the annual Enderby Arts Festival weekend and this year they are hosting bluesman extraordinaire, Sherman Doucette and his band on July 29th.
It was a group of local business owners that launched the North Shuswap’s Friday Nights Live series in 2013. The event grew from a small stage in the parking lot of a shopping centre in Scotch Creek, to a larger backyard lawn area with venders and fun dance bands, which attracted larger crowds. Thanks to a partnership with a local community organization, funding was provided from the regional district. The event has now moved to a large field behind The Hub across from the provincial park and crowds are growing much larger, thanks in part to the beer gardens and some great bands, including Jon Treichel’s Scattered Atoms on July 27th.
Music in the Bay attracts large crowds
On Thursdays, it is Music in the Bay, which began in Blind Bay’s Centennial Field in 2015, and has grown significantly thanks to the efforts of the South Shuswap Arts Council and funding from sponsors, the regional district and the BC Arts Council. With professional music promoter Mark Greenhalgh on board, there are some terrific groups this year, including Locarno on August 23rd, who play a blend of jazz, Latin and pop and the wildly popular Shred Kelly for the August 30th finale.
The village of Chase built a fabulous stage in their lakeside park
Two more communities began sponsoring summer music series in 2016, with the Mondays going to Sicamous for their Music in the Park and Chase picked Tuesdays for their Music on the Lake. When Chase celebrated their centennial in 2002, the Village built a magnificent stage and a Festival Society was organized to host the events. In 2009, the Society began the popular Cornstock Festival, which this year will become part of the weekly series.
In Sicamous it is the Chamber of Commerce that sponsors Music in the Park, with help from the municipality and local businesses help by sponsoring the shows. When the events coordinator for Sicamous, John Price, books the bands, he chooses a variety of genres to appeal to different demographics, which has been successful given the expanding audience numbers. The favourite band so far that has attracted the largest crowd is Devon Coyote and they are playing again this year on August 20th and also at WOW on August 29th.
Kids have a great time at WOW
On Saturday evenings the music scene returns to Salmon Arm where there are bands playing at the Ross Street Plaza Stage. As Mark Greenhalgh explained, “the Shuswap has something special and really magical,” and the music in the summer certainly helps build our community and make it even better.
In addition to the many summer music series and the Roots and Blues Festival, there are more outdoor events during the summer that involve live music, including the Nimble Fingers Festival and the Swing Camp at Sorrento Centre, Canada Day festivities, and the Summer Stomp in Sicamous. Lumby also hosts Lumby Live on Wednesdays at the Arbour Park Gazebo.
As good as the music scene is in the Shuswap, there is room for improvement. Now that there are events in every community, the various groups that host the events could cooperate to bring major bands to perform for a week in the Shuswap with a performance at each event. It would also be wonderful if the Salmon Arm Fall Fair Board would allow the construction of a permanent stage where Roots and Blues puts up the main stage each year. This site would be perfect for a weekly Saturday night concert complete with vendors and food trucks. There is certainly room to grow the music scene in the Shuswap, as we see many more events nightly during the summer in Kamloops and Kelowna.