Northern Manitoba’s largest music festival is gearing up for another weekend of tunes, loons and warm afternoons. The 2023 edition of the Blueberry Jam Music Gathering is back this weekend, starting Friday afternoon at the Flinty Campground.
August 11-13 will see dozens of musicians and bands hit two stages at the campground - the main stage and the smaller Rotary Wheel stage site - and a series of vendors open up shop between the two. Most of the entertainment is either local or has ties to the Flin Flon area - all shows and events are free.
In total, more than 44 hours of entertainment is scheduled for the weekend between the two stages.
Tim Babcock attended the Jam for the first time last year as a fan - this year, he’ll be making his main stage debut August 12 with local band Flinty’s Hammer, making their first appearance at the Jam. Babcock had missed prior events due to time conflicts, but the seed that became his current band was started at last year’s festival. After friend Katarina Njegovan played a solo set, her and Babcock got to talking about playing music, with those talks later forming the basis for a new band. That band will close the main stage out on Saturday night, according to the most recent event schedule, starting at 11:15 p.m.
“I haven't played much of anything organized since high school, so I've spent the last eight months or so practicing every other day. As a band, it can be hard to get together for rehearsals when people are working different shifts, so we've made the most of our time together when we can,” he said.
Brett Jones is part of another local band, Rockkut, that closed out the festival on the main stage last summer. They will make their return to the main stage at 8:30 p.m. Friday.
Since their showing at the festival, RockKut has been part of several community events and has released recordings of their music on Spotify and streaming services.
“I usually have a solid 20-minute anxiety attack before I get on stage, but after we’re up there and play that first song, the adrenaline takes over and it just feels amazing - having people smile and cheer for us. The fact we did mostly original music last year, it meant all the more,” said Jones.
One of the Jam’s most dedicated fans is Keith Reed, who has attended the Jam each year since it first began in 2018. Reed attended both of the pre-pandemic Blueberry Jams, along with most of a series of smaller, socially-distanced concerts held at the main stage site instead of the Jam in 2020 and the abbreviated one-day Jam event in fall 2021. Now entering the second edition of the festival with full attendance and zero audience restrictions, Reid compares the event favourably to shows with bigger artists in more prominent locales.
“I don't mean to brag, but I have experienced many concerts from the Eagles to Sharon Jones in Central Park. Blueberry Jam, in some ways, is the absolute best musical experience. I could debate that with anyone because anyone who argues simply does not fully realize what Flin Flon is lucky enough to have in our own backyard. That is not hyperbole,” he said.
“If you love music, you need to experience it. Like everything in life, it may not be everyone's cuppa, but I think if you are open minded and open hearted, it will renew your spirit.”
The events will begin with a festival blessing and performance by the Silver Evening Star Singers at the Flin Flon Station Museum at 4:15 p.m. From there, the events will move to the main stage area and to the Rotary Wheel, which will host what organizers are calling the “Blueberry Wine Bar.”
Rotary Wheel entertainment will run from 5 p.m.-9 p.m. on Friday, with main stage entertainment going on from 4:45 p.m.-12 a.m., capped off by a set from Cranberry Jam at 11 p.m.
Day two will kick off at 12 p.m. with youth performances on the main stage and other acts on the stage until after midnight, capped off by Flinty’s Hammer. At the Rotary Wheel, musicians will perform from 2 p.m.-8 p.m.
The final day of the Jam will open at 11 a.m. with hymns by Faith Krahn and include music from 1 p.m.-6 p.m. at the Rotary Wheel and main stage entertainment from 11 a.m.-8:30 p.m. Schedules and performer slots are subject to change.
A final push for volunteers will take place heading into this weekend, with several local organizations and service groups already stepping up to fill some jobs but others still needed throughout the festival’s three days.
Other changes include the removal of the dancefloor in front of the main stage area, with that space now available for seating throughout the event. Organizers are planning to hold a small market for businesses and artisans along both sides of the access road in the Flinty Campground near the stage. The beer garden will also be moved further back from its previous site to accommodate the market. Arts officials have even ordered jars of blueberry jam to be sold at the event.
Organizers have reached a partnership with Calm Air which will mean deep discounts on flights to Flin Flon before the Jam. Until August 17, the airline will provide up to a 65 per cent discount on plane tickets to Flin Flon. Fees and surcharges for those flights will still apply.
The event itself has not only provided musicians with a marquee event in their own hometown - it’s provided a reason for people like Babcock to dust off their own instruments and take on new projects.
“Most of what we play is loud and fast, but it's also a lot of fun. We play faster versions of some popular songs from every genre.The thing about punk music is that you don't have to be the best musician, you just have to have the guts to get up there and do it. We have some great musicians in our group and I'm thankful that they are patient with me and have allowed me the chance to grow this past year,” he said.
The feeling of local support and fun at the festival site is one people swear by each year.
“It’s seriously just a bunch of fun. Can’t go wrong with good food, good people and hours of amazing entertainment from local and out-of-town performers,” Jones said.
“It sounds like I'm from the '60s, but for me, it's the ‘vibe’. Every person who comes is happy. You cannot help feeling good. Just take a look at all the pictures everyone takes, so many candids. They capture joy,” said Reed.
“The thing I enjoy most about the festival is that it offers something for everyone. If the band on stage isn't your thing, you can check out the vendors, grab a bite to eat, or make your way to another stage,” Babcock said.