OUT THERE: Starbelly Jam

By Contributor
July 23rd, 2009

In this week’s “Out There” coloumn, Kallee Lins ventures to the east side of Kootenay Lake to take in the spectacle that is Starbelly Jam.

Residents of Crawford Bay welcomed 18 accomplished musical acts this past weekend, bringing with them a few thousand festival goers from the Kootenays and elsewhere in celebrating the 10th annual Starbelly Jam music festival.

This year’s lineup featured an eclectic blend of music from around the globe as well as local talent. Alongside Nelson-born Pauline Lame were the powerful percussive rhythms of Kinobe and Soul Beat Africa, a group originating from Uganda who sees their music as a way of, “Spreading love and unity and multi-culturalism – a way of uniting the world through music because that is what we’ve got,” describes Kinobe.

Among the more established artists were Harry Manx, Holy F***, Hey Ocean!, and Lyrics Born, one of today’s leading cross-over hip-hop artists who is gaining ground professionally with his use of funk and other styles. His influences proved just as diverse as the Starbelly Jam festival lineup – a fact that couldn’t be missed after each member of the band paid their own musical tribute to Michael Jackson that blended effortlessly into one of Lyrics Born’s funk-inspired songs.

Every performance had the audiences raving. Ken, who has attended the festival for the last seven years, says of Karsh Kale, “Their last three shows were New York, Chicago, and Starbelly Jam. That’s pretty impressive”. Meanwhile, Anne, a festival go-er at Starbelly since its inception 10 years ago, nearly missed the Saturday events after being scheduled to work that day, but she recalls, “I saw Harry Manx was playing and I begged to have it off”. She is refering to the “Mysticissippi blues man” who has made waves across the globe by merging tradition blues music with classical Indian ragas.

Whatever (or whoever) the reason for attending, performers and audiences alike all seem to be drawn to the unique style of Starbelly itself. John Smith, the creator of the festival, says, “We try to make it more of a festival atmosphere rather than just an outdoor concert.” When asked about the selection of performers, Smith explains, “It’s an eclectic mix and it always has been. We’ve never tried to stick to a particular genre.”

Corrine, of Blackberry Wood (a band that has been described as “rag-time/ gypsy ska with a circus twist”), is thrilled to be at Starbelly Jam for the first time. Coming from Vancouver, she admits, “It’s a long way to drive, but it’s worth it.” Corrine recounts the last festival that Blackberry Wood attended – it was comprised of multiple tent villages accommodating 170 000 in a town called Glastonbury. She feels Starbelly, even on such a small scale, is reminiscent of this event.

Prior to the existence of the festival, Nelson across the ferry was the nearest concert venue for residents of Crawford Bay. The Starbelly Jam was started, “Because the East Shore was a bit isolated from major entertainment,” explains John Smith. He admits that in the first year of the festival, he and a small group of organizers “Didn’t know what we were doing really”, but after noticing that the Nelson and District Credit Union in Crawford Bay had been financially aiding Nelson’s Street Fest, they asked the credit union, “Why not support this community?” Hence, the Starbelly was born.

Today the festival operates on a budget that has grown to at least eight times that of its original amount, but still could not exist without over 100 eager volunteers who work alongside a core group of seven who handle the organization of the event. These seven volunteers begin planning in December for the next year’s event. By April, all of the artists’ contracts have been hammered out – of course, this is never as easy as it seems. The festival dates have to correspond with an artist’s tour dates, which is further complicated by other festivals. This year, the Vancouver Folk Festival was held on the same weekend.

Although ticket sales comprise the largest slice of funding, the festival still relies on grants, such as from the BC Arts Council and Heritage Fund, in order to bring in artists that might otherwise be out of reach. Some grants given to Starbelly are exclusively for the festival’s child-oriented entertainment. “A lot of money is spent on entertainment for children, yet children are free up to 13,” states Smith in highlighting how important it is that the festival be family friendly.

It is easily seen to what extent children are catered to at Starbelly. Bright colours adorn the entire park and free crafts are presented by the Waldorf School all weekend long. One cannot forget the interactive theatre workshops, puppet shows and other entertainment for children that all culminates in a Giant Parade around the festival grounds where kids can show off their crafts and costumes amongst giant colorful puppets drifting overhead.

After a decade of great music and family fun, it is my expectation that the Starbelly Jam will continue long into the future. Next year however, one may notice a bit of a vision shift as John Smith retires from his organizational position and another music lover heads to the forefront. Though regardless of changes, the spirit of eclectic tastes coming together for some family fun in the Kootenays seems to be the very definition of “Starbelly”, and will likely never change.

Categories: Arts and Culture

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