“The last thing this community can afford to do is give up. The best parts of our community come from people who give a rat's ass, even if they don't need to. This isn't about need. It's about want. It's about fun, entertainment, something that makes Flin Flon worth living in.”
I wrote those words in a column just over two years ago now, July 2020. COVID-19 angst had hit the first or second of many fever pitches - it seemed like a return to “normal” would be weeks, not years, away.
At that time, I was hoping for some grand event to make people feel comfortable being out and about again, a giant block party, something happy, something entertaining, something Flin Flon could rally around - I think the exact word I had was a “rager”.
I damn sure feel like we got there last weekend.
Last weekend's Blueberry Jam was chicken soup for the soul. It was helpful, world-enriching, nourishing stuff. And now, as soon as it came, it's over for another summer.
Still basking in the afterglow, I want to use this space to, instead of the verbal diarrhea I usually slather here, bring attention to some thoughts about the Jam itself and the role it’s played.
The production quality was excellent. In Flin Flon, I feel that we're almost spoiled by how well our shows and concerts are produced year after year. We just seem to be able to put together beautiful things just like that.
The performances, of course, were top-notch once again. Most of the performers were local and ones who weren't local were from nearby areas or had ties to Flin Flon. This was a festival by northerners, for northerners, and that came through on almost every set.
The main area of the campground was a hub of activity all weekend long, with the exception of Friday evening when the weather was crappy. Going from seeing your breath in the air Friday night to borderline heatstroke 16 hours later was a trip, but also a quintessentially northern thing in some sick way.
The amount of volunteers - well over a hundred when it was all said and done - was staggering and those who took part did an excellent job. Community work like this is built on a bedrock of volunteer labour and everything crumbles without it - for the folks who put in work, my hat is off.
I got a kick out of seeing everyone just having fun because I'm sure, kids and adults alike, we've been looking for a reason to have fun. I'm told by organizers that the number of youth attendees was much higher than expected - that, combined with the several young performers, gives me hope that Flin Flon’s arts scene will be left in good hands someday.
Now, with all that said, I am, after all, a grumbly bastard at heart - the youngest grumpy old man you'll ever meet. Part of me always wants to complain. There ain’t no silver lining over here - just a big ol’ cloud.
I do have a couple of friendly observations on the event - take them, leave them, whatever you wish. It's all offered in good faith and not meant as any sort of personal attack or slight, and I also recognize that there may be reasons for the things I’ll whine about that I’m not privy to - I only know what I know, after all.
First off, the second stage. There has almost always been a second stage with the Jam and this year’s second stage was held up by the Flin Flon Station Museum. The second stage usually has a smaller crowd and is sometimes - not always - set for younger or less established acts. That can sometimes mean a smaller attendance.
When that second stage was at the Rotary Wheel, located not far from the festival stage, it was indoors at a confined space. Thirty people can pack the Rotary Wheel, but 30 people, when up at the museum stage, spread out over a large lawn… just looked empty.
I'm sure that was deflating, in some ways, to some of the performers. I remember coming to one of the final performances on Saturday evening before the second stage was shut down and seeing only five people in the crowd, myself included, and feeling bad for the performer. Everybody had moved down to watch the big stage.
The Rotary Wheel is perfect for that. Use it if you can.
The other thing is to stagger start times between the two stages. That was done Friday, but not Saturday, when the sets all started at the same time at both stages. Let the crowd go from one to the other and enjoy both shows, not have to choose one over the other.
Also, if possible, that second stage should be used on Day 3. This year, the second stage was empty on Sunday. If there are enough people to fill it, why not use it again for a third day?
On Saturday, the shows started at 2:30 p.m. I feel like that was missing an opportunity to bring even more people to the grounds, given that Saturday was already the busiest day of the event. Sunday’s activities start in the morning - why not at least schedule things for noon?
An official kick-off event, like what happened at Johnny’s Social Club back in 2019, would be an interesting thought - a smaller series of sets, similar in format to a Local Roots or Loaded Mic show, with a series of performers doing a couple songs each, maybe at the Community Hall? Might get more people excited to show up right at the start on Friday.
Lastly, let’s end with the finish. I was at the very end of the Jam Sunday night and was a tad discouraged to see visitors and vendors packing their stuff up and leaving early. I know time is money and people have deadlines and pressure to meet, but could organizers work out a deal to keep vendors around for another hour or so after the last band leaves the stage? It’d give people one last chance to buy a shirt or something to eat before everybody heads home and would avoid what had to have been a demoralizing moment for the last few performers, seeing people clamor to get out of there mid-set.
All in all, the Jam was excellent. It wasn’t perfect - nothing is - but it was perfect for what we needed it to be and I would recommend the experience to anyone in town. It’s the sweetest taste around.