Monday, 5 May 2014

HooDoo We Love? East Coulee Spring Festival!

Drumheller Valley HooDoos
Eric and I have just returned from this weekend's East Coulee Spring Fest and were, as always, humbled, not only by the calibre of talent but by the generosity of so many musicians, music lovers, music sponsors, and music patrons.  2014 marks the 20th anniversary of this wonderful event and over the years we've watched this grassroots volunteer fundraiser continue to grow and prosper.  We can't even begin to count the number of musicians we have been introduced to at the various venues, ranging in size from 25 - 250 seats but I can tell you, by the number of CDs we have collected, it's a lot!

Atlas Coal Mine
The East Coulee Spring Festival is a fundraiser supporting the local East Coulee School Museum and the Atlas Coal Mine.  Nestled along the bank of the Red Deer River just east of Drumheller, in the Canadian Badlands, East Coulee was once a prosperous community 3,800 strong.  In 1929, the community sprung up along the Canadian Pacific Railway to support the Atlas and Empire Coal mines.  In 1930 the school was constructed for grades 1 - 5 and, in 1934 it doubled in size.  Sadly, its fate is not unlike other communities in Alberta; when natural gas began replacing coal as the preferred choice of fuel in the 1950s, and mines began to close, so too did many of the businesses in East Coulee.  By the 1970's it was little more than a ghost town.   But in 1985, the East Coulee School Museum opened to commemorate the pioneers who lived, worked and contributed to the East Coulee community.  Now a designated National Historic Site, the neighbouring Atlas Coal Mine offers underground tours, a ride on a narrow gauge train, and other activities for the entire family, including a 'haunted coal mine' around Halloween.
The East Coulee Spring Festival was instigated by a local musician and geologist when the old community hall was replaced by a new one.  He saw the potential it had as a music venue.  We have been attending SpringFest for about 10 years and do our best to introduce others to it because we have yet to be disappointed. . . in the community, the venue, the talent, or the big hearts of those volunteers that work tirelessly to delivery a first class event.   Offering a full day of music in multiple venues means that even when the weather isn't great (like this year, as we watched giant snowflakes drift down from the sky) the show goes on within the comfort of the Community Hall, the School Museum and the East Coulee Hotel.  2014 saw no less than 44 different sets, from solo musicians to a 10-piece band, covering very genre, even bagpipes (and that's a first for us!).  Although traditionally running from noon to midnight on a given Saturday, the festival was extended to Sunday last year to make room for Harry  Manx; and Friday evening this year, for Valdy along with numerous other musicians.
We missed SpringFest's Friday night because there is another place we find great joy in and that is
Jasmine Whenham
the Last Chance Saloon, in the nearby hamlet of Wayne.  The Red Deer River Valley is a music-loving hub of activity and talent; not so many years ago, Wayne was the home to WayneFest.  From 2002 - 2007, a full roster of musicians played all weekend, for a nominal fee which included camping, a pitchfork supper and pancake breakfast.  Once again, all genres of music were presented.  But I was introduced to Wayne and the Last Chance long ago by a colleague who grew up in the Valley.  I was barely legal then; it was a flashback to the early 1900s then and it still is!  I think I enjoy it as much now as I did then! Every inch of wall space is adorned with relics from the past and a story to go along with it.  The Last Chance not only embodies a rich and vibrant past, it continues to have a future in the patronage of the locals as well as tourists.  It is, without a doubt, one of the friendliest little spots I know.  For the locals, it is truly the place where 'everybody knows your name' and while I do not fall into that category, I like being treated as if i were, even if it's just for a couple of hours on a single day of the year. 

Neil Gunhold
The Unforgettable Joe Nolan
Back to SpringFest.  Over the years, Eric and I have been introduced to some pretty fine musicians and every year our biggest challenge  is trying to decide who we are going to see.  It is somewhat of a consternation that there are 3 or 4 venues running simultaneously.  I never thought I would see the day that I was thankful for cell phones but I admit, our Blackberry Messenger gets well used at SpringFest. as we try to entice each other to watch one unforgettable musician or another.  When interests diverge, Eric is at one venue while I'm at another and there are years that we are literally two ships passing on the street for the better part of the day!  Each year we are thrilled to find a few returning favourites and pleasantly surprised when introduced to a new talent.  Some are seasoned performers while others are fresh to the festival scene and all seem not only happy to give of their time and boundless energy, in the hopes of cultivating new fans, but completely enjoy their day among friends, old and new.
Great Wooly Mammoth
Tyrell Museum

If you've never been, or it's been a few years since you visited the beautiful and diverse Badlands, I encourage you to do so.  The Tyrell Museum is, in itself, a world class facility that will leave you awestruck.  If you are close enough to make a daytrip, you might want to consider doing so before the tourist seasons gets into full swing as it becomes one very busy little place.  No visit is complete without stopping at the hoodoos or the Star Mine and each and every little hamlet along the road has something unique to offer.  If you are a music aficionado, plan your trip around SpringFest.  You won't regret it.

See you next year!