South Country Fair celebrates 25 years this weekend


You might find hippies and music lovers, not to mention musicians a little scarce in the city this week. That’s because most of them will be in Jana MacKenzie enjoys the South Country Fair experience every year. Photo by Richard AmeryFort Macleod, July 15-17 for the 25th annual South Country Fair.
Two of the main live music venues in the city , The Owl Acoustic Lounge and the Slice, both close down for the fair, because most of their regulars will be there enjoying a variety of music from all over the world from as far away as Russia in the case of Namgar. Some of the highlights this year include bluesman Amos Garrett, Captain Tractor, Cousin Harley, Fred Eaglemsith, Elaine McIlwaine and lots more.

For Maureen Chambers, one of the South Country Fair’s founders, the line up is a bit of a homecoming as the fair welcomes back some of the most popular acts from over the past 25 years to the popular summer get away in the Fort Macleod Fish and Game Park.

“It’s like any other year. We do the same thing each year to make the festival work, but when I booked the line up I wanted it to feel like a homecoming,” Chambers said.
“There are some new acts, but most of them are acts that have been here before and that audiences responded well to,” she said.

Fred Eaglesmith will be a highlight on Sunday. Photo by Richard Amery
“Amos Garrett (who plays Sunday afternoon with Fred Eaglesmith and others) was the only paid artist in year two. He was the headliner, the others were just playing for the love of music,” she said adding the fair took place at the John Zoeteman Park (now the Willow Creek Park).
“Willie P Bennett brought us Fred Eaglesmith. Willie used to show up early to help us set up. One year he said ‘you’ve got to book this guy (Eaglesmith)’ so we did. And Fred has a great following.”

She is looking forward to some of the new acts this year, particularly Namgar, a new group from Russia including members from Mongolia, China and Russia.
“ I think it’s going to be pretty special,” she said. She is also looking forward to the poets performing on the spoken word stage.

 They have come a long way since three folk clubs, the Lethbridge Folk Club, the Willow Creek Folk Club and Livingstone Folk clubs decided to get together for a summer weekend full of music and fun in the sun.
“Our first hospitality tent consisted of a tipi, a pot of chili and a keg of beer. I think we’ve come a little way since then,” she said. The fair has enjoyed a consistent and slow build in popularity.

“About five years in, it became apparent the audience needed more. But we didn’t try to build it too fast. It evolved properly,” she said.
“I think we’re where we need to be now,” she said.
The fair draws approximately 2,500 visitors a year. Ticket sales are going as organizers as they expected them to.Tequila Mockingbird return to the South Country Fair this year. Photo by Richard Amery
A large number of people in the city make the South Country Fair part of their vacation, taking some time to enjoy summer in the sun with friends, swimming in the Oldman River and listening to a lot of great music.
 One of those is Jana MacKenzie, who has attended the past 17 fairs beginning when she was young.

“I've been going since I was 15. I usually go there on Sunday and stay there until the next Sunday,” she said. She  soon discovered  the joys of volunteering and has worked everything from set up and tear down to security.  Before this year, she was booking acts on the east stage for the previous three years.

“As soon as I went, I knew I wanted to be part of these people. I just liked the general atmosphere and compassion for each other and watching how they work together. I like going there just to refuel my mind and soul,” she said.

“There’s the instant community that’s created. You put your tent up and just watch the other tents pop up  and all of the sudden there’s people all around you,” she continued.
“It’s amazing to have that many people together and  there isn’t any trouble. It’s very peaceful.”

 And then there’s the music— music from all over the world as well as from in our own backyard play on the east and south stages throughout the day and into the night. Poets and performance artists have their own stage to strut their stuff, people of all ages and from all walks of life, then there are food vendors and all kinds of fun in the sun happening.

“I remember when I first went, I was partying with my principal and I thought that was pretty cool,” she continued.
“A lot of people just go and swim in the river. They pay $100 and just go to the river,” she chuckled admitting, she too, just went for the party in her early years.

 She is looking forward to several acts including Russia’s Namgar, plus Elaine McIlwaine and some stranger acts like the Ball Gag and Chain Gang.

They will also be screening the short film “Prairie Tales 12” at 10 p.m., Friday and Saturday on the east stage wall.
“The whole idea is to create  great family reunion atmosphere,” Chambers continued.
“The gathering is just as much about community and friendship as it is about the music,” she said.
“I look forward to  all of the people getting back together. That’s what I get excited about,” Chambers said.
Before July 9, tickets cost $80.00/$70.00 Student/Senior or at the Gate: $100/$90.

The Schedule

Friday South Stage ( MC’s -- Wayne Hales/Ry Moranz)
6:00 pm The Bunch Of Us
7:00   Back Porch Swing
8:10  The Recipe
9:15   Poet -- TBA
9:30  Tracey Newmann   
 (Songwriter Competition Winner)
9:45 Namgar
11:00  Tequila Mockingbird Orchestra
12:30  Agnostic-Phibes R&B Conspiracy

Friday Lotus Land
5:00 pm ( Dale and Blaine) Hosting a word salad
5:30 pm Ken Sears
6:00 David Rhoads
6:30 Andy Papadopolous
7:00   Gregory Betts
7:30   Gregory Betts/ Kathy Fisher
8:00   Kathy Fisher
SATURDAY AFTERNOON -- July 16 -- starting at 1:30 p.m

Saturday South Stage (MC -- Tom Coxworth)
1:30 pm Poet - TBA
1:45 Allison Russell of  Po’girl
2:55 Oh Susanna
4:05 Andy White
5:15 Annie Lou
Saturday South Stage (MC’s -- Andy Donnelly/Mark  
     Sadlier Brown)
7:30 pm Poet TBA
7:45  Ellen McIlwaine
8:55  Gabriel Yacoub
10:05  Michael Granzow  
  (Songwriter Competition Winner)
10:15 Russell deCarle
11:30  Cousin Harley
12:45  Captain Tractor

Saturday Lotus Land

12:00 pm (Dale and Blaine) Hosting a word salad
12:30  David Rhoads  
1:00  Kye Kocher
1:30  Tim Fleckney
2:00  Homage and Maya
2:30  Wakefield Brewster
3:00 Ali Riley
3:30  Andy Papadopolous
4:00  Gregory Betts
4:30  Melvina Germain
5:00  (Dale and Blaine) Word Salad
5:30  Ian Ferrier
6:00 Moe Clark
7:30 Kathy Fisher

SUNDAY -- July 17 -- starting at noon

Sunday South Stage ( MC -- Allison Brock)
11:50 am Poet TBA
12:10 pm Barracuda Orchestra
1:20  e.s.l.
2:30  Amos Garrett
3:40  Fred Eaglesmith
Sunday East Stage ( MC -- Gillian Moranz)
12:00 pm    Toques and Beards
1:00  T. Buckley    
2:00  Jessie D. and Jacquie B.
3:00  Heavy Shtetl
Sunday Lotus Land
12:00 pm Kye Kocher
12:30 Ken Sears
1:00  Ali Riley
1:30  Wakefield Brewster
2:00  Homage and Maya
2:30 (Dale and Blaine) Word Salad

A version of this story appears in the July 13, 2011 edition of the Lethbridge Sun Times

— By Richard Amery, L.A. Beat Editor

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Last Updated ( Wednesday, 13 July 2011 00:47 )