The second edition of the Wide Skies Music Festival will be bigger and better, July 30-Aug. 1 at Southminster United Church.
Mike Spencer’s new, expanded festival has grown to three days including two paid-ticket concerts bookending a fantastic outdoor festival outside of Southminster United Church.
Spencer caught several bigger acts who are also playing the Calgary Folk Festival and Kaslo Folk Festival.
The festival begins with with Shovels and Rope and Little Miss Higgins, performing at Southminster United Church Monday, July 30; a big free outdoor show with Brooklyn-born, Switzerland-raised, Canadian-based blues musician Shakura S’Aida, Vancouver blues duo Harpoonist and the Axe Murderer, The Weber Brothers and a south stage with side stage organizer Skinny Dyck and Friends plus Calgary songwriters Tom Phillips and Shaye Zadrevec; and another big, ticketed show at Southminster United Church, Wednesday, Aug. 1 with Frazey Ford and the Cave Singers.
“Getting Shovels and Rope and the Cave Singers was a real coup for us,” said Spencer.
He is expecting a good turnout for this year’s festival, which will feature an expanded beer garden for New west Theatre, artisans and food trucks plus Two Guys and Top Pizza.
“Last year, we had 1,100 people at the outdoor festival, this year we’re expecting 1,500,” he said.
“Our goal is to create an inclusive high impact, small footprint event that has really good music and shows off our local talent and artists and showcases our home town,” Spencer summarized, adding a Heart of the City grant helped partially fund the festival this year.
In addition to the music, local artists Eric Dyck and Carson Morton will be creating chalk art on the sidewalks during the festival.
“Wow, we’re going to have to work our butts off,” said Shawn Hall, the harmonica player and singer of Vancouver blues/soul duo Harpoonist and the Axe Murderer upon being told that they will be headlining the free outside show, which opens wth a two-piece Weber Brothers (Sam and Ryan Weber), then blues musician Shakura S’Aida.
“We used to cross paths with the Weber brothers all the time. We haven’t seen them for years. They have such an interesting history with ‘The Hawk,’ Ronnie Hawkins,“ Hall continued from his Nanaimo home. He is excited about the Wide Skies lineup.
“We’re coming in a day early so we can see Shovels and Rope,” said Hall, who will be joined by “Axe Murderer” Matthew Rogers and singer Dawn Pemberton.
“She’s the queen of B.C. soul. She’s got her a whole bunch of things — her choirs and she’s in a funk band,” said Hall. “We’ll be playing a lot from our new album ‘Apocalipstick’ and we’re reimagining songs from the older albums like ‘Roll With The Punches,’ which we did a video for years ago. And I’m experimenting things like a vocoder. I’m putting my voice through it as well as the harp. But there’s no laptops on stage,” he said.
The Weber Brothers are excited to play Wide Skies Music Festival as a duo, which they have been doing a lot this summer.
“We used to play as a duo all the time when we started 15 years ago,” observed Ryan Weber, noting the full band still plays together.
“The keyboards and the other guitar add a lot to the music, but playing as a duo is exciting. You can’t hide behind the band it’s more stripped down and intimate,” Sam Weber added.
“I’m playing more guitar in the duo,” he continued.
They are still touring in support of the new CD “Patches,” which was released last November.
“It’s a collection of three or four groups of older songs that didn’t fit in with the other albums. So it really is patches,” Ryan described.
“And we can play most of them as a duo,” Sam added.
He said “Patches” incorporates a lot of the different musical styles the band listens to.
“We soak up everything we listen to, so it comes out in our music,” he continued.
“It’s an honour to open for Shovels and Rope,” said Jolene Higgins of Little Miss Higgins, on her way back from a quick tour out west for the Vancouver Folk Festival. She will be performing as a trio with Patrick Alexandre Leclerc, her partner Eric Lemoine on banjo, guitar and steel guitar and Higgins playing guitar and baritone ukulele.
They are still touring in support of their most recent album “My Home, My Heart,” which features most of the Winnipeg 5, who usually play with her, plus special guests including Big Dave McLean on harmonica and producer Scott Nolan.
“It’s been received well. It’s been nominated for a Western Canadian Music Award,” she said. They released the CD last November.
“It’s still fresh so we’re not working on new music,” she continued.
“I used most of the Winnipeg 5 on the CD and we had two bass players on the album. We recorded it in four-and-a-half days in Scott Nolan’s Song Shop studios, pretty much live off the floor,” she said.
“It’s a mix of a lot of the Winnipeg music scene,” she added.
She was just in southern Alberta, playing Soul Fest at the Twin Butte Store.
“It was great. We love Twin Butte and the organizers and the Twin Butte store,” she said.
She is excited to return to Lethbridge for Wide Skies.
“Unfortunately, we’ll have to leave right away,” she said.
Frazey Ford, who used to be part of folk trio the Be Good Tanyas, will be bringing a five-piece band with her.
“We’re not playing a ton of gigs this summer. I’m leaving a bit of space to write new material,” said Ford, walking her dog in Vancouver.
She will be joined by her band the Quiet Revolution including bassist Darren Parris, drummer Leon Power, guitarist Craig McCaul and singer Caroline Ballhorn.
“I’ve been playing with Darren for eight years and with the other guys for at least four years since ‘Indian Ocean’ (her 2014 album)
Spencer became an instant fan of edgy Seattle indie folk trio the Cave Singers after seeing them perform in Victoria.
“Any of these acts would be great headliners,” he said.
To minimize the carbon footprint, Spencer encourages people to get to the festival on foot or by bike and bring refillable water containers as the City of Lethbridge is supplying water filling stations.
“I’m really proud to have Skinny Dyck and Friends. They play great music which you’d think would be played everywhere, but is just really popular in southern Alberta and certain little pockets of the Southern U.S.,” he said.
“It’s going to be fantastic,” Spencer said.
Festival passes are $105 which include admission to Shovel and Ropes and Little Miss Higgins on July 30 (tickets are $60 plus a $5 service charge for that concert otherwise) and Frazey Ford and the Cave Singers on Aug. 1 ($50 plus $5 service charge otherwise) as well as the July 31 afterparties at the Owl Acoustic Lounge featuring the Weber Brothers and at the Slice with Tom Phillips. Otherwise admission is $10 for each of those. Passes also include priority seating in the church if it rains during the free outdoor festival and a swag bag.