Spences Bridge will be alive with the sound of music in September, when the Desert Daze Festival — the “Best Little Fest in the West” — returns with live music, workshops, vendors, concessions, and more.
Last year would have been the 11th Desert Daze Festival, and the 10th anniversary of the event, which started in 2010. Organizer Jan Schmitz says he doesn’t know if, or how, that 10th anniversary milestone will be celebrated this year, but adds that the committee was determined to have a live event in 2021 after going virtual in 2020.
“When the pandemic hit in March last year we thought we’d wait a month or so and wait it out until it was all clear, but that didn’t happen,” he explains. “We delayed the decision as long as we could, until it become apparent we wouldn’t be able to host a live event.
“We decided to create a digitized video festival instead. Larger festivals do sometimes incorporate digital presentations of artists, or hire a crew to film highlights of the event, but we had never done that, so we were making it up as we went along.”
The organizers arranged for 10 local musicians and groups to be filmed by the HUB Online Network in 10 iconic locations in and around Spences Bridge, with Paul Cuthbert doing the audio recording. The videos were released online, where they had a positive reception, but Schmitz admits that the result wasn’t entirely satisfactory.
“A festival is more than just the musicians playing. It’s the whole ambience, the social nature of it. The sounds, smells, merchants, food, beer garden: it’s all of that.
“Videos of musicians peforming does not a festival make.”
That led the committee to this year’s event, and a decision that come hell, high water, deviant virus variants, or anything else, they would be going ahead with a live festival. Several months ago — before the province’s Safe Restart plan, but with vaccines coming on board — they decided to move the date of the 2021 event from the traditional second weekend in August to the second weekend in September.
“That gave us another month for things to open up more. When the restart plan was released, it showed that by Sept. 7 things would have opened up completely or have limited COVID restrictions for large outdoor events, so our decision to postpone the festival to Sept. 10 makes us all look like geniuses.”
He adds that if the plan goes according to plan, the festival should be able to go ahead without any COVID restrictions or guidelines in place, but that if any are required they will definitely be followed. However, at the moment he anticipates that this year’s event will be a traditional Desert Daze experience. No artists have been confirmed, but organizers have a pretty good idea of who will be there.
“It’ll be local artists like Nadine Davenport, Billanannee, Jenny and the Gents, and the Dire Heart, and other popular bands such as Paisley Groove, Bobby Garcia, Tanya Lipscomb, and Sabrina Weekes.
“It’s been such a hard and difficult time for all artists and musicians over the last year-and-a-half. We’re inviting back a lot of musicians and performers who’ve supported us in the past: fan favourites who are local and semi-local. Other than the date being a month later it will be the same as in the past, and a bonus is that it probably won’t be as hot.”
In addition to musicians, there will be a variety of food concessions and local vendors, as well as workshops, which have in the past included lahal, canning, drumming, cedar bark basket weaving, and more. There are also plans to bring back the popular watermelon seed spitting contest, and introduce a new challenge: corn husk javelin.
“We were sitting back to see how big it could be,” says Schmitz. “Before the restart plan was published we had reached out to a bunch of musucians and said we were having a festival and hoping there would be a live audience, even if it was limited to just the organizers. Now that we anticipate a full audience we’re reaching out to volunteers and vendors.”
Schmitz says that when the committee discussed moving this year’s event to September, they realized that not only did it give more time for COVID restrictions to end, it also put the festival into harvest season.
“Desert Daze started as a celebration of small town, rural B.C. and great local produce, and we’re going to try to incorporate more of the farms in the area. September is a prime time for harvesting, so we want to work with local farms and to have more of a presence from them. It’s a season of bounty, and we’re approaching this year’s festival with a sense of gratitude for getting through COVID, and living in a rural community where everyone is your friend and neighbour.
“We’re grateful to be living in this part of the world, and this ties us all together locally and globally. We’re grateful that we’re able to hold a live festival, see our friends, and enjoy all the music we’ve enjoyed before, amid so much bounty where we live.”
This year’s Desert Daze Music Festival is scheduled for Sept. 10 and 11, 2021. Information will be posted on the Desert Daze Music Festival Facebook page and on the website at www.desertdaze.ca, where anyone interested in being a vendor or volunteer can find an application form.