If festivals were down home cooking, then the Kamloops Cowboy Festival is a satisfying, spicy, lip-smacking gumbo. And like a good gumbo cook, Festival Chairman Mark McMillan knows the recipe for putting on a stellar festival.
“We keep it cowboy. We choose dynamic emcees. We bring in new performers. We invite perennial favourites on alternating years. We showcase rising stars. We have two incredible venues on opposite sides of the street. And we’re organized,” says McMillan, one of the Festival’s original volunteers and who has helped put the program together for 15 years.
Experience shows. With over 30 featured performers, 16 Rising Star competitors, and numerous open mic entertainers, this year’s festival , March 7-10, promises to be not just good, but great.
Thousands of fans… adding up to 7,000 tickets sold… will converge in Kamloops for the largest event of its kind in Canada and one of the premier cowboy events in North America.
Fans will recognize Canadian poets Mag Mawhinney, Bryn Thiessen, Doris Daley, Mereline Griffith and Frank Gleeson, the man with the fastest delivery in the west.
From North Dakota, and new this year, comes Elko favourite Rodney Nelson, one of the original cowboys who brought cowboy poetry to the Johnny Carson Show 28 years ago. “I turned him down the first time,” says Rodney, “because I had a $200 banquet job in Minot. My wife made sure she answered the phone the second time.”
“This year we are thrilled to have one of Australia’s top Bush Poets, and that’s a first,” says Mark. “On the music side, we welcome renowned California cowboy singer Dave Stamey for the first time as well as international harmonica sensation Gary Allegretto.”
Eli Barsi, one of Canada’s most successful and versatile singer-songwriters, kicks off the Festival on Thursday night with a dance. Juno winner Gary Fjellgaard, yodeling queen Shirley Field, Canada’s troubadour Tim Hus (“with a voice sweeter than a Husqvarna chainsaw and a wit sharper than rusty barbed wire”), Spirit of the West host Hugh McLennan, brilliant guitar wiz Allen Christie, youngster Naomi Bristow and Alberta powerhouse Tiffany Dowhan are among this year’s incredible line-up of cowboy pickers and singers.
Collectively these entertainers have written for movies, performed at the Smithsonian Institute, headlined at every major cowboy festival in the west, taught international workshops, and won awards too numerous to count.
“Eleven years ago we came for a day,” says a fan from Vancouver Island. “We never made that mistake again. Now we get our tickets the day they go on sale, we come for all three days, and we still can’t see everything.”
Fans who make the trek from High River, Alta. each year add, “At Kamloops, we’re among kindred spirits. We share the values of the festival and of these entertainers. We too want to keep this type of music, poetry, and culture alive.”
Thanks to the magic of the Kamloops Festival, entertainers and fans alike are in for another feast of western culture. A great gumbo is so good you always want more, and that is the way of the Kamloops Cowboy Festival. Happy trails to Kamloops and Bon Appetit!