Finger-Pickin' Good

Blueberry Bluegrass Festival serves up heaping helping of good times

This appeared in the St. Albert Gazette - July 27, 2011

This year, the 26th annual Blueberry Bluegrass & Country Music Festival, the largest bluegrass festival in western Canada, showcases some of the top finger-pickin’ talent in North America at its stage in Stony Plain.

This year’s three-day family event, to be held July 29 to 31, 2011 at Heritage Park, includes a mix of jam bands, traditional bluegrass artists, some progressive bluegrass and a bit of country thrown in for colour.

This year’s big draw is singer/songwriter Marty Stuart, a road warrior with over four decades experience playing mandolin, guitar and banjo. The four-time Grammy® winner and platinum record seller, who is now based in Nashville, has developed a signature style that meshes rockabilly, honky-tonk and traditional country.

“He’s a god in the country-bluegrass world. He’s been at it for so many years. He takes the stage and suddenly an hour has gone by. He’s so engrossing,” says festival entertainment director Pat Guider.

Also performing several separate sets is Stuart’s wife Connie Smith, a gospel/country singer/songwriter with a string of hits such as "Once A Day." The voice of The Sundowners, she is regarded as one of the last remaining authentic country vocalists in existence.

“She has such a long country legacy and we’re proud to have her,” Guider says.

The festival usually attracts anywhere from 3,000 to 5,000 fans annually. But what sets bluegrass festivals apart from rock and country fests is “the parking lot of tailgate picking” at the closing of each day.

After the last act performs, both stars and fans pull out their lawn chairs, park them around the motorhomes and start pickin’ together until the sun comes up.

“It’s a bluegrass thing,” Guider says. “It helps you develop as a musician and it helps you become more proficient. You learn another way to play chords and can show off playing solo.”

But as Malmberg points out, the festival’s success lies as much in the friendships made as the broad-based lineup organizers program. “A lot of the crowd plays music, and a lot of people go to the concert to meet up with people they met the year before for some parking lot pickin’. It’s one of the best festivals we’ve played at.”

By Anna Borowiecki

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