The Blueberry Jam Music Gathering is set to return, in full, for the first time since the pandemic began.
Flin Flon’s biggest free music event starts this week, running from Friday afternoon to Sunday night, featuring a slate of local and regional musicians and a combined 38 hours of music.
It will be the fourth edition of the event, which began in 2018. The Jam was cancelled in 2020 due to pandemic-related concerns and was held but shortened to a one-day event in 2021 - this year's event will be the first Jam to be held in full since 2019.
The backbone of the festival is a long and varied cast of musicians and artists, most of whom are either based in Flin Flon or who have local ties. A full schedule for the weekend’s performances can be found on the back page of this issue of The Reminder.
Often, people in one act will join others. Some specialized players, like drummers or keyboardists, play in several acts. Harry Shnider, a Calgary-based saxophone player who grew up in Flin Flon, is one of those session folk - he will play five separate sets.
“I’m helping out four other acts. There’s the four others, my own jazz set and helping out with four different rock and roll bands,” he said.
“I think everyone's just looking forward to doing it in a way that they haven't done it in a couple of years. I think everyone's just really, really happy that we get to have a go and we're all going to do our best.”
Doug McGregor has been teaching kids’ music classes in Flin Flon for decades and will hit the stage with some of his best students this weekend.
“We've got some good tunes picked. It feels like we're going to have a ball,” he said.
McGregor started semi-officially teaching music in the late 1980s. Throughout the Jam, McGregor will also get a chance to see other, older students of his take the stage with their own bands.
“That's always a reward, getting to play with students, seeing people you've played with and who they're playing with. It kind of gets a little mind-boggling - like, ‘Holy cow.’”
“I was at the first or second festival and I was standing backstage or something with Mark Kolt - he was talking to a guy and he mentioned something. If you talk to every rock band in Flin Flon that's playing today, every one of them has at least one person in the band that has played with me before.”
CC Trubiak has been a part of every Blueberry Jam festival event so far and will be part of three sets - a set with the band The Mix, a smaller set with CC Trubiak and the Gamblers and the Sunday morning gospel set. The range of music that makes up the Jam is one of the things that appeals to Trubiak - no two sets are alike.
“I've been able to play at every Blueberry Jam since it started and I think the biggest experience I get from it is getting to commune with all the different local artists at one time, also seeing so many diverse, local people in the audience,” he said.
“Playing at the Hooter is one thing, playing at Johnny's is a completely other thing, but playing at Blueberry Jam is special because it does feel like a sort of… like a musical community. It's just a bit bigger and warmer.”
Two stages will host performers at this year’s Jam. The main festival stage at the Flinty Campground (called the Campground stage by organizers) will host most of the entertainment, along with a new stage at the Flin Flon Station Museum (the Museum stage) that will be used for the first time. As of press time, the Museum stage - which will be temporary and located in front of the museum itself - had not yet been erected, but organizers say that will happen later this week.
The nearby Rotary Wheel, which hosted shows during both of the original two Blueberry Jams, will not host performances this year - neither will Johnny's Social Club, which hosted the kickoff event for the 2019 event and several shows throughout that weekend.
The show will get on the road at the Museum stage with the Silver Evening Star Singers at 4:30 p.m. August 5, with entertainment starting at the Campground stage with Katarina Njegovan performing. The shows will end for the night at 10 p.m. on the Museum stage and 12 a.m. on the Campground stage. Both will restart at 2:30 p.m. August 6.
Sunday events, which will only take place at the Campground stage, will start with a gospel and hymn service at 11 a.m. before swinging into a full day of programming, ending at 8:30 p.m. after the final band, Rockkut, plays the last set of the event.
Main parking for the event will be mostly based out of the former Extra Foods parking lot at Flintoba Shopping Centre, say organizers, with a shuttle service available to take visitors who are elderly or who have mobility issues to and from the festival area.
Organizers are still looking for people to help out with gate duties at the main entrance, as well as people to man 50/50 sales and donation bucket duties. The Flin Flon Rotary Club, which is handling a concession stand and the beer garden at the event, are still looking for volunteers to work shifts.
Possible volunteers are asked to contact the Flin Flon Arts Council at (204) 687-5974 or Dean Grove from the Flin Flon Rotary Club at (204) 923-0315 or email@example.com to get involved.
The festival provides a new and bigger environment for the musicians tasked with making it all work.
“To me, it's just fun. You're doing something that you love and you’re grouped up with people,” said Shnider.
“For me, it's different because I'm not playing with these bands week in, week out, but you just get an opportunity to do stuff like that with people that really feel the same way about playing music. Everyone's there for enjoyment. They're there to put their best foot forward for the public and for the music itself.”
A reliance on local talent and organizing also has given the festival an intimate, personal feeling for some players that feels different from other events, both large and small.
“You don't have to rely on bringing people from way out of town to put on a festival. You've got enough locals that are interested that will make it work,” McGregor said.
“It’s well attended, well supported and actually well organized - they tweak as they go along and it all comes together like that, which really helps.”