(from l) Desert Daze Festival volunteers Ilanna Fortin, Wanda Dickenson, and Arnie Oram were part of a painting party working on the beer garden area of the Improvement District building in October 2021. (Photo credit: Desert Daze Festival)

(from l) Desert Daze Festival volunteers Ilanna Fortin, Wanda Dickenson, and Arnie Oram were part of a painting party working on the beer garden area of the Improvement District building in October 2021. (Photo credit: Desert Daze Festival)

Desert Daze volunteers hard at work organzing this year’s festival

Celebration of live music is ‘a time to put things behind us for a couple of days and have a party’

Jan Schmitz and his team on the Desert Daze Festival committee say that they’re planning for the show to go on in Spences Bridge this year, for the first live festival since 2019.

“We can’t 100 per cent guarantee it, but barring a catastrophe we’re carrying on,” says Schmitz. “There’s always the possibility of wildfires, and while we’re done with COVID, we’re not sure COVID is done with us.”

Schmitz took over from Mavourneen Varcoe-Ryan as the festival organizer after the August 2019 festival, only to see the 2020 event threatened by the pandemic. The committee decided on a virtual concert, filming different musical acts at iconic locations in and around Spences Bridge. They were all set for a live concert in 2021, and had everything booked, only to have to cancel two weeks before the festival due to new COVID regulations and the brutal 2021 wildfire season, which brought fire, smoke, highway closures, and evacuations to the area.

“It’s astounding how much work goes into planning for a two-day event,” says Schmitz. “Some of the organizing team have been affected by the flooding along the Nicola River and the destruction of Highway 8, but we’ve been carrying on and looking for things to get easier.”

Although the festival is traditionally held on the second weekend in August, last year’s event was to have taken place a month later, and Schmitz says the committee has decided to stay with the second weekend in September. It’s partly to beat the heat — August temperatures in the Bridge can hit 40° C — but Schmitz explains that the move will take the festival back to being a celebration of the harvest/bounty theme that was originally part of the impetus for the event.

“The harvest is more bountiful in September than in August. The crops are off the fields, so we’ll be working with local farms to bring in produce and kiosks and displays to take advantage of that time of year to develop that theme. This is a rural area and a farming community, so that’s very important here.”

Desert Daze is known for its great music, and has always supported the region’s many talented musicians. Schmitz says that because they had to cancel at such short notice last year, all those acts have been invited back for 2022, and most said yes.

“We like to support local musicians all we can. We have quite a few who are favourites, like Bobby Garcia from Merritt and Paisley Groove from Kamloops, and this year we’ll have Lytton’s favourite sons, Richie and the Fendermen.

“It’s not a blues or roots or rock festival, it’s a ‘kitchen sink’ festival with a little of everything. We’re excited about the music line-up.”

The “support local” philosophy extends to vendors and merchants as well. “We’re looking for people who have unique products for sale,” says Schmitz. “Handcrafted items, clothing, unique handmade products: we’re open to just about everything.” This includes food vendors, and Schmitz says they’re looking for a diverse array of food: “Come one, come all.”

Volunteers are also needed for a wide variety of jobs, including first aid attendants, people to work the gate or the beer garden, set up or tear down, and more. The volunteer application page gives full details of what the organizers are looking for, and Schmitz says people can fill out the form with what they can do and for how many hours. “Volunteer as much or as little as you want, but if you volunteer for four hours or more you get a free weekend pass.”

Volunteer work doesn’t just take place during the festival. In addition to the hundreds of hours of planning, the Desert Daze Festival committee members have been busy helping out with some much-needed maintenance at the Improvement District building (the former school), where the festival takes place.

“Over the last couple of years the grounds and building have needed some TLC,” explains Schmitz. “The Spences Bridge Volunteer Society has a contract with the Improvement District, which owns the building and grounds, to maintain the grounds and repair/upgrade what it can. There’s a partial new sprinkler system in the area where the festival is held, to green it up, and we’ve been repairing the beer garden area. We’re looking to have the grounds beautified and the building repainted and have it all nice and shiny for the festival.”

Schmitz acknowledges that there is still a lot of work to do, but says the committee is looking forward to it and is optimistic that nothing will happen this year to shut things down again. “So far, so good. We’re planning to do it and carrying on.”

He adds that the return of a live Desert Daze Festival to Spences Bridge means more than just a great weekend of music.

“It’s a return to the normalcy we’re all craving, a signal that the worst times are behind us. We have the festival; the lights will be on and the crowds will be there with music playing. People can share their stories with each other, encourage each other, say how much they’ve missed people.

“It’s a party time, a time to put things behind us for a couple of days and have a party and listen to some great music. It will give a sense that the best days are ahead, and everybody can draw a big sigh of relief and celebrate that we made it this far.”

This year’s Desert Daze Festival is in Spences Bridge on Sept. 9 and 10. For more information about the festival, including how to be a vendor or volunteer, visit the Desert Daze Music Festival Facebook page or go to the website at https://desertdaze.ca.


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