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Outdoor music festival in Sundre continues to grow (5 photos)

Shady Grove Bluegrass Festival at Sundre rodeo grounds saw substantial attendance boost over last year

SUNDRE — The recent Shady Grove Bluegrass Festival brought back to the Sundre rodeo grounds not only some live outdoor music and entertainment, but also a local record attendance turnout.

“Everything panned out really well,” Eric Holt, festival director with the Foothills Bluegrass Music Society, told the Alberta. “We had good advance ticket sales.”

Nearly 400 tickets had been sold in the lead-up to the event.

On July 15-17, the festival returned to Sundre for the third time after relocating from a Nanton-area venue that had previously hosted the event until organizers sought more space to stretch out, said Holt.

“I think we ended up with about 500 maximum attendance on Saturday,” he said. “Last year, we had about 350.”

He partly attributed the increased turnout to this year’s lineup, which for the first time in Sundre featured musical talent from several US-based bands.

“They were awesome,” he said, adding the weather was all but ideal with near-perfect conditions for the Friday evening concert.

And despite a minor delay on Saturday, the night-time show nevertheless went off without a hitch.

“It was an excellent, excellent show Saturday night,” said Holt, adding performances wrapped up by about 11 pm “We just got the edge of a thunderstorm, so we were a little bit delayed because of that, but not too much.”

Yet the music wasn’t limited to the outdoor stage set up on the grassy field immediately north of the Sundre Pro Rodeo grounds’ arena, and the tunes did not stop after the bands finished their performances.

“There was jamming in the campground pretty much all day,” he said.

Some people also stayed up through the night and into the wee hours of the morning.

“At about three in the morning, there was still two jams going strong,” he said, adding that it was about when he decided to call it a night. “So, I don’t know what time those guys finished up.”

While the turnout was roughly what organizers had been anticipating, Holt said the music festival overall “exceeded my expectations in a lot of ways.”

Not only was the weather pleasant and largely cooperative, but there were also “way more campers than I thought we would have.”

An entire section of the rodeo grounds dedicated for music fans who wanted to camp out for the weekend – with the exception of a portion reserved for day parking – was essentially packed to capacity, he said.

“We had it laid out for camping, and it was filled,” he said, adding organizers estimated there were about 130 groups who camped in.

“And having said that, there was also a good component of people who were either staying in motels or from the local area, because the car park – or day-parking – was pretty full on Saturday,” he said.

Holt without hesitation said when asked if the Foothills Bluegrass Music Society was already considering plans for next year, “Oh yeah.”

Following a debrief of this year’s event, organizers will discuss what worked out well, what didn’t, and where there might be room for improvement.

“Lessons learned from last year that were applied this year made a big difference,” he said.

Rains last year prompted a late change in plans to relocate the outdoor stage to the grassy field from the rodeo arena, which at the time had become too muddy for the show – an unexpected turn of events that proved to be a blessing in disguise.

“And lessons from this year will also make next year better,” he said.

This year, organizers coordinated with an individual dedicated to seeking out and securing sponsors, which in the end yielded about half a dozen local sponsors, he said.

Among other changes this year was relocating the beer gardens out into the field from the rodeo grounds’ Wild Horse Saloon, he said.

“You could sit in the beer garden and watch the act,” he said.

Having now successfully wrapped up their third event in Sundre, Holt said the bluegrass music festival seems to be growing in terms of increased local turnout.

“We are getting more local support and local recognition as time goes by,” he said. “We’re getting more audience from the town as well – people are coming out and they see what the music’s like.”

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