Good tunes, few fans

The sun came out for the second day of the Central Music Festival — but not the crowds.

Britnie Cook

Britnie Cook

The sun came out for the second day of the Central Music Festival — but not the crowds.

Whether it was fear of rain or an expectation of cold, many people stayed away from the third annual outdoor festival, which was held Friday and Saturday on private property north of Red Deer. Attendance was only about half of last year’s 500 people a day.

But the couple-hundred music lovers who turned up to hear Mongolian throat singing, Mississippi Delta blues, and classic country on Saturday had a groovy time — especially when the clouds parted and sunshine turned the grassy natural amphitheatre a brighter shade of green.

Some audience members even dressed to commemorate the 40th anniversary of Woodstock — including headband-wearing Don McKinley, who had actually attended the original Woodstock festival in 1969.

McKinley was working for an underground newspaper in Kansas City, Missouri, when he applied for a press pass to Woodstock.

He recalled a lot of dancing in the mud.

“Everybody was getting stoned and drinking a lot of wine.” McKinley remembers not only big acts, like The Who, but smaller ones, including Country Joe and The Fish.

Like most people of that era, McKinley eventually rejoined the establishment, coming to Central Alberta to work in oil and gas.

“I’m not really sure I would want to do Woodstock again,” he said, with a smile.

The laid-back Central Music Festival was more his speed.

“It’s a lot smaller, but there’s great music,” said McKinley, who attended with his wife, Marti, who wore the original love beads the couple exchanged at their 1970 marriage ceremony.

Everyone interviewed at the local festival on Saturday agreed the entertainment provided by 26 local, national and international acts, including The Amos Garrett Trio and Dick Damron, was top-notch, but they lamented the poor turnout.

City resident Britnie Cook said she attended the Calgary and Winnipeg folk fests, and feels the Central Music Festival stands up just fine — she particularly liked didgeridoo player Shane Phillip.

Her mother, Claudette Cook, blamed coolish, wet weather for keeping people away. It’s a shame, she said. “How often do you get this kind of opportunity in Red Deer to see so many different kinds of music?”

Jeff Newton donned extra clothing to attend Friday night, when temperatures dipped near zero and most of the audience was dancing for warmth. It was worth it, he said, as the headliner, Ndidi Onukwulu, “put on a hell of a performance.”

When asked what it would take to bring more people to the festival, Newton responded, “an open mind . . . You don’t eat the same food every day, why listen to the same music?”

RDC music students Kallie Clayton and Logan White praised the “virtuosic” guitar playing of group De La Terra, and concluded Red Deer can be a tough venue to crack.

City administrator Colleen Jensen questioned why put up with long lineups and parking problems at larger festivals, when Red Deer’s event is more accessible? “People in Central Alberta absolutely need to support this.”

Organizers wish they would. The sparse crowd disappointed producer Mike Bradford, who had hoped to surpass the attendance of the 2008 festival, which had better weather.

“If I only knew the answer . . .” said Bradford, who distributed about 10,000 leaflets at Red Deer farmer’s market and received good media support. “I think there was an awareness,” added Bradford, who believes the organizing committee did many things right. The festival’s admission price was even lowered this year.

He would love to keep the Central Music Festival going, but said the organizing committee will have to review this year’s event.

“It’s a great site and the people who are here are having a good time. It’s a matter of getting people to show up.”