When Jan Schmitz took on the role of director of the Desert Daze organizing committee in the fall of 2019, he had no way of knowing that the Spences Bridge festival’s 10th anniversary celebration in 2020 would be very different to what was originally planned.
“When I got this job last fall after Desert Daze 2019, I was planning on organizing a live festival,” says Schmitz. “It’s just my luck to be trying to steer the ship through this mess [of the pandemic]. But it’s been good. It’s forced us all to think outside the box.”
The “Best Little Fest in the West” traditionally takes place on the second weekend of August, and as the pandemic began shutting down events in spring 2020 the committee waited to see if things would be eased by August.
“We realized on April 20 that the festival wasn’t going to happen this year,” says Schmitz. “Up to that point, like many other festivals we held off on cancelling, holding our breath, because the festival wasn’t until August and we hoped that by that time things would be back to normal enough to hold some kind of live festival.
“But when Dr. Bonnie Henry said that all public events would be cancelled until the fall of 2020, if not longer, we said so much for that, and asked ourselves if we wanted to take this summer off.”
However, Schmitz was talking with a friend of his — Gareth Smart of the HUB Online Network — who asked “Why don’t we take videos of some of the musicians?”
A light went on, and the result was the idea for a musical journey through the looking glass of spectacular Spences Bridge. After some discussion, it was decided that to celebrate 10 years of the festival, there would be 10 shows featuring 10 local artists, filmed at 10 iconic locations in and around Spences Bridge, which would be edited together into a concert showcasing the area’s rich musical talent and the beauty of Spences Bridge.
The concert is being described as a “virtual-digital video-festival”, and Schmitz says that it’s a model other live music festivals have subsequently embraced. “We’ve seen other festivals, like Roots and Blues, doing this sort of thing, so we were ahead of the curve.
“Desert Daze has always recognized that we have a lot of fine musical talent in Ashcroft, Cache Creek, Spences Bridge, and the entire region,” he continues. “Lots of musicians have been really hard hit by COVID-19, and we felt we had an ethical reason to help artists in the local community. We looked for musicians who have been with us before, and a few others who we thought would be a good fit for us.”
Schmitz adds that committee member Steve Rice is always promoting Spences Bridge. “Steve has seen how it’s been affected by the opening of the Coquihalla and the economic changes of the last few years. The festival quadruples the population of the community, and not many places can say that.”
The next question was deciding which locations would be used for filming. “We asked ourselves ‘What’s interesting here?’” The result was a list of 10 spots around town, including Murray Creek Falls, the arbour at Cook’s Ferry Band, Hilltop Gardens, the Lookout, the home of pioneering anthropologist James Teit, and the Packing House, where Widow Smith’s apples were packed up to be sent around the world.
“There’s been a bit of a formula matching artists with the sites,” says Schmitz. “We have to look at things like the availability of power at the site, the size of the site, and access. At Murray Creek Falls we have to use battery-operated equipment, so there’ll be one person with a guitar, but the arbour has power, so we can film a full band with lighting, like a concert.”
Each performance will be filmed separately, then edited and compiled by the HUB Online Network. “We’re looking at six hours of video at least,” says Schmitz of the event. “There’ll be little vignettes of all the locations we’re filming at, with a bit of history and information about each site, and then we’ll go into the music. The HUB Online Network will be doing a multi-camera shoot, with five or six cameras depending on the size of the group, and coordinating with Paul Cuthbert, our sound guy, so the sound will be optimized for digital recording.”
The concert will launch on the weekend of Aug. 7, when the festival should have been taking place. “More information will be coming, and we’ll be doing regular updates,” says Schmitz. “Right now we’re still working primarily on signing contracts, and pairing musicians with locations.” Check out the Desert Daze Music Festival Facebook page and website (https://desertdaze.ca/) for news and announcements.
The concert will showcase to the world just how special Spences Bridge, and the entire region, really is, says Schmitz.
“At first we were bummed by the idea of having to shut the festival, but this gave us the chance to think about presenting it in a unique format. It allows us not only to give respect to, and honour, the musicians who’ve helped us, but also show how wonderful a small village like Spences Bridge can be. It’s a challenge that got us thinking of new ways to present the culture that we can provide to our region and to the world.
“Desert Daze is a showcase of how wonderful a place rural B.C. is, and this gives us a chance to show that off.”