The folksy notes of bluegrass music skipped out of the open doors of the large wooden building nestled amongst the trees at the Kakabeka Falls Bible Camp this weekend, defying the overcast sky and occasional downpours of rain.
It was the ninth annual Kakabeka Falls Bluegrass Festival and the entertainment did not disappoint.
“Everybody was really pleased with the lineup,” said Lou Hebert, president of the Thunder Bay Bluegrass and Old Tyme Music Association, organizers of the event.
People made their way across the lawn from the camp ground area to the main stage inside Tabernacle in the Pines Sunday morning to hear local musician Rob Donaldson start off the final day of festivities.
The Tabernacle, a comfortable building, cozy and inviting, makes this Bluegrass festival unique, offering an indoor venue.
“We’re fortunate we have that building,” said Hebert. “It’s a very special place for us to play. It’s the right atmosphere for our kind of music.”
It also means weather is not such a big factor in the success of the event, which is a good thing, according to Eddy Van Ramshorst, one of the event founders.
“Seven out of the nine years have been bad weather,” said Van Ramshorst. “It’s just a bad time of year to have an outdoor event because the weather’s always questionable.”
But weather doesn’t deter the fans from camping out for the weekend. Bill and P.J. Gillespie have been attending the event for at least the last five years.
They come “for the music, of course,” said P.J. But also for the camaraderie, said Bill.
“So many of our friends are both from here and from (the U.S.),” said Bill. “We belong to the Minnesota Bluegrass Association as well so it’s a big family.”
While the Kakabeka event is not huge, said Hebert, “it’s not like other places in southern Ontario or Minnesota, we’re in the middle of nowhere,” it has a lot of heart, attracting fans and performers from Minnesota, Red Lake, Dryden and Sudbury.
Sunday’s headliner was Red Lake’s Franklin Mullen, a life-long musician and singer-songwriter.
“This is the best show I’ve ever played,” he said, because of the crowd. “(A fan) said ‘you put your heart and soul into your music.’ That’s all I want to here. It’s a blast.”
Mullen, who travelled for years playing on the road and last year signed with major music label BMG, auditioned last year at the open mike for a spot on the main stage this year.
“I played five songs and three different guys came up and asked if I was interested in playing next year on the main stage,” he said. “I would love to play.”
The Kakabeka Bluegrass Festival has its roots in an event called Gospel Fest that was held at Marina Park a number of years ago, said Van Ramshorst.
“We went to that and thought that is a great thing,” he said of his band The Kings Highway. “So we started this one here as a gospel thing on a Sunday afternoon.”
The three-hour Sunday afternoon event grew and grew and eventually became the three-day Bluegrass Festival.
In the beginning The Kings Highway did everything, said Van Ramshorst.
“We did the sound system, we hired the bands, we did food, making hamburgers and everything,” he said, explaining he and his wife eventually had to take time off work to organize the event. “It was getting too big so then we got a committee and we’re always looking for volunteers.”