Flurry of live music blows into town - Blizzard Fest in the words of the organizer
Keeping with the spirit of a town that punches above its weight in terms of massive volunteer efforts, Rossland’s home-grown Blizzard Fest is back and bigger than ever. This week the Telegraph caught up with one of the co-founders and organizes of the music festival, Jonathan Provencal of The Touques.
How did the festival get started? What was the motivation to bring a mid-winter festival to Rossland?
Well, I play for a band called The Toques. We were on the road a lot in the past ten years and about five years ago we were thinking, ‘man, wouldn’t it be fun to have our own music festival’. On the road you end up meeting a lot of bands and making a lot of friendships with other musicians. It’s like going to summer camp. We knew enough bands and had made enough friends that if we wanted to, we could put together a music festival people would trust. If we called the bands that were good they’d probably come out. So we invited some bands, and we figured why not have a winter festival? We’re called the Touques, we all ski and snowboard, Rossland is a big ski town so it seemed like a natural fit. We just pulled it together and did it and called it the Blizzard Fest.
The first year, most of the bands were featured in local venues and we had some events at the ski hill and at the Miners’ Hall so it’s really businesses in town that came together and put up the venues and the sound systems and the hotel rooms for the bands to come play. Then what we do at the Miners’ Hall is we invite the bands we want to come play, we get the hotel rooms and charge a ticket price at the door. We manage to pay for the whole thing. It doesn’t make a single dime; all of the money gets reinvested into the festival. We’re doing it just to throw a big party and have some fun.
It should be a great weekend in town with the Blizzard Fest lined up on the same weekend as the Winter Carnival. Was that a purposeful choice of dates?
Yeah, that’s really good. We thought, ‘when should we have the event?’ and we figured, ‘Why not during Winter Carnival? There is already a huge party going on why not make it bigger?’ It made total sense. Now it makes more sense than ever because we’re really partnered up with the Winter Carnival. We attend each other’s meetings and cross promote one another on websites and radio campaigns and schedules. We put our resources together to get a new stage this year so the fact that we’re on the same weekend is great. We didn’t rush into it at all. We’re slowly getting bigger and finding partners like the Carnival to grow the whole thing. We’re getting long term partners because we want this to grow at a slow and steady rate. If we can build relationships with working partners like sponsors and beer companies, venues and accommodators then we’re really building this solid foundation so the festival can keep on growing.
Tell me about the new stage.
It’s a modular stage. Pieces of 4’ x 8’ that all fit together and it’s galvanized aluminum so it’s weatherproof. We just got together with the Carnival and used our resources and purchased it. Rossland was in dire need of an outdoor stage because there are quite a few events here like Golden City Days, Rossfest, and now Blizzard and Winter Carnival. There is going to be some events at the mountain so we figured it was time for Rossland to put itself on the map and get its own stage. In the long run it’s more feasible to have more events with less money as it’ll pay for itself pretty quickly. If people are putting on a private event or function too we can rent it out, and that will help pay for it as well. It’s all pretty good really.
So you’re adding an outdoor component to the festival with the new stage this year, I see?
We’ve been trying to have an outdoor stage for so long, I’m really looking forward to that. The stage is covered and heated and we have a good sound system so even if it rains or something it’s going to happen. We’ve prepared all of the bands mentally for it (laughs). We were like ‘Hey guys you know if it’s like horizontal rain or is minus forty you guys are still playing?’ and they were like, ‘Yup that’s all good’. This year it’s a bit experimental, but we’re hoping it’ll be really successful with lots of people attending. If it proves to be feasible to have music outside in Rossland in the winter than we are really going to build on that for next year.
Tell me a bit about some of the talent you’ve got lined up for the festival this year.
Friday night it kicks off on the outdoor stage with the singer for the White Crowes, Sparky Steves. He’s going to play solo on the guitar. We’re keeping it pretty tame as far as the acts on the outdoor stage. You’re not going to see like a six piece band with a drum kit and organs and stuff, right? We didn’t have a huge budget to spend on performers because we spent all of our money basically on the stage. So Sparky Steve and Camilla Martel from Saskatchewan on Friday night. She’s playing in town with the band the Ne’erdowells so she’s going to come up and do an acoustic set Friday. Also a band called Pocket Rocket out of Fernie will be playing a set. I’m really looking forward to that.
Wasabi Collective’s going to be really good. Myself and the band have been doing a lot of music festivals, and we caught this vibe that people seemed to be really into the live electronic, DJ style lately, so we made that a bit of the theme for the whole Blizzard Fest. All of the bands kind of have that electronic flavour over them with big bass lines, DJs that spin records or throw in some hip hop lyrics with the band. Wasabi Collective fit well in there; Digitalis fit well in there; the band we have coming from the states in Bellingham, The Acorn Project, fits that genre. They are a really progressive funk, hip hop with jazz flavour type group and have a DJ in their set up. Closing it off, we’ll have a really popular DJ that comes to Shambhala every year: Matt The Alien.
What’s been the biggest challenge in organizing the festival?
The biggest challenge is finding bands that are going to be on tour that are going to be able to come to perform in Rossland within our price range. We want to get good bands and bands that are already on tour. It’s not like we can fly in a band from Montreal or far away in the States. It’s hard to time it to get the bands to come through town while the event is on and pay them what they ask. I’ve been doing some serious negotiating and really convincing bands to come and play here because it’s a great town and a great party. Booking the bands can be pretty tough.
Doing all of the marketing and making things run smooth takes a lot of time but it’s a really good festival we’ve been building. We’ve got an operations manager, a volunteer coordinator and a decoration crew now and all sorts of people helping out. It’s also pretty difficult to manage the whole thing but we’re getting more and more help each year. Well not that difficult exactly–it’s just a lot of work keeping it all organized.
Where do you see taking the festival in the future?
Well, there is lots of room to grow in Rossland as the town accommodates more skiers and tourists. This year we’re doing an outdoor stage, but I’d love to do even more of that like the Whistler Ski and Snowboard Festival that is two weeks long with lots of outdoor stages and free shows. We need to slowly make the infrastructure bigger and grow the attendance each year. Maybe someday we could close a whole street or have a bigger band in and make it a bigger outdoor show somewhere. As we get more corporate sponsors and grow it we can do more of that kind of thing.
Growing the outdoor shows is definitely something we’d like to do you know. Have more shows at the base of the ski hill, maybe in a park and just grow that side of it. We have some of that now with the stage at the bottom of the rail jam area. It’s pretty nice and wintery in that spot but growing that side of it is definitely where we’d like to take it.