Desert Daze Festival Virtual Concert Features Old and New Faces

by Barbara Roden

[The text of this article appeared in the July 22nd edition of the Ashcroft Cache Creek Journal and is reprinted here with permission]

Ten acts were filmed at 10 Spences Bridge locations to celebrate 10 years of the festival.

This year’s Desert Daze Festival in Spences Bridge is in the can, but music lovers looking forward to the 10th anniversary concert need not fear: you haven’t missed out.

The festival traditionally takes place on the second weekend in August, but earlier this year the organizers made the difficult decision to postpone the live event due to the COVID-19 pandemic. However, under the principle of “the show must go on”, they came up with a way of celebrating some of the area’s many amazing musicians, and shine a spotlight on Spences Bridge at the same time.

The Packing House Restaurant was just one of a number of iconic locations featured during the filming of the festival.

“What we wanted to do was twofold: support local musicians during these difficult times and promote the community of Spences Bridge,” says organizing committee director Jan Schmitz. “So we went to 10 different locations with 10 different artists. The musicians who we chose are all local, from Spences Bridge, Ashcroft, Cache Creek, and Big Bar.”

Each performer was matched with a location in the Bridge, and the HUB Online Network and Paul Cuthbert of PC Mobile PA and Lights filmed and recorded all of the live music performances. The resulting footage is now being edited to produce a concert lasting about five-and-a-half hours, and Schmitz says that there will be a further 30 minutes’-worth of footage with voiceover describing the history of the locations that were chosen, as well as interviews with some of the owners/proprietors.

Local songstress and business woman Nadine Davenport graced the Lookout overlooking the beautiful Thompson River.

One planned location that didn’t make the final cut was Murray Creek Falls. The original plan was to film one of the artists — singer-guitarist Joshua Bergen — there, but too much ambient sound at the falls, along with an enthusiastic crowd of mosquitoes, necessitated a change of venue.

“We couldn’t have a musician playing and slapping away mosquitoes at the same time,” says Schmitz.

The finished concert will kick off with the Siska Drummers and then Dwayne Rourke, who was filmed at the former home of anthropologist James Teit, where Rourke now lives. Schmitz describes Rourke as a multi-instrumentalist whose work is inspired by Indigenous music from around the world and who writes a lot of his own music, and notes that the Siska Drummers and Rourke traditionally open the Desert Daze Festival.

Rourke is one of five acts is returning to the (virtual) Desert Daze stage. The other four are:

Billanannee (filmed on the patio of The Inn at Spences Bridge): a family foursome who perform covers of classic ballads, as well as their own jazz ballads;

Nadine Davenport (the Lookout): a solo guitarist and vocalist who performs covers of ballads and some original music;

Jenny and the Gents (the Log Cabin Pub): a five-piece rock cover band from Ashcroft who perform classic rock and classic country with a powerhouse female vocalist; and

Flat Busted (Vulture’s Garage): a true sister act duo who bring their great vocal harmonies to covers of vintage rock songs from the 1950s and 1960s.

Five new acts are making their Desert Daze debut in a way they could never have anticipated. They are:

The Melawmen Collective (the Arbour at the Cook’s Ferry Band): a five-piece band based out of Ashcroft who perform s unique Indigenous-inspired funk/hip hop/rap style of music;

The Melawmen Collective will be making their Desert Daze Festival debut in this year’s virtual concert. They performed at The Arbor – a unique outdoor venue at Cook’s Ferry. (Photo credit: Billie Jean Gabriel Photography)

Ron Ingram and Cowboy Swing (the patio of the Packing House restaurant): a trio with fiddle, banjo, and guitar who do covers of bluegrass and country classics;

Better With Juice (the grounds of the decommissioned Spences Bridge Elementary School, which is the usual Desert Daze venue): a six-piece band covering current music that is based primarily out of Ashcroft and made up of teenagers, three of whom graduated from Desert Sands Community School this year;

“Better With Juice” are a group of Ashcroft-based teenagers who made their Desert Daze Festival debut this year and performed at the actual Desert Daze festival grounds.

Joshua Bergen (the interior of the Packing House, which has fewer mosquitoes than Murray Creek Falls): a singer-songwriter from Ashcroft who plays acoustic guitar and sings a lot of his own original ballads; 

Joshua Bergen with his guitar coach. Joshua performed in the iconic Willow Smith Packing House Restaurant.

and The Dire Heart (the campground at Hilltop Gardens): an impressive power duo from Ashcroft who cover 1970s and 1980s rock, as well as some original songs.

“We went for a mix of old and new artists,” says Schmitz. “When we decided to do the video we decided on supporting local artists, so right off the bat we picked five who had played at Desert Daze before, then five other artists that some, but not all, of us had seen.

The Dire Heart is a powerhouse duo from Ashcroft who specialize in covering 70’s and 80’s classic rock and metal, as well as presenting their own original music.

“I’d seen Dire Heart, but the rest of the committee hadn’t, so they took me at my word that they were really good. I personally promoted the other four because I’d seen them before, at jam sessions at UniTea and other places. We knew going in that there were lots of good artists and musicians in our area who hadn’t performed at Desert Daze before, and we wanted to give them a chance to strut their stuff.”

Schmitz says that a small, COVID-19-restricted audience was at some of the performances, and that they were really impressed by the results. The variety of venues also made for some interesting backdrops.

“Vulture’s Garage is at the old Esso station on the highway, and they specialize in restoring vintage and classic automobiles. They have a parking lot full of vehicles in different stages of restoration, and they set up a horseshoe of classic cars that surrounded the musicians. They went to a lot of trouble, and it looked really cool. It was a nice surprise.”

Film and sound crew setting up at the wonderful Vultures Garage preparing for the performance of “Flat Busted”.

The Arbour at Cook’s Ferry was an intriguing setting for the Siska Drummers and the Melawmen Collective because it was not only designed for Indigenous meetings and celebrations, it was also the site of a famous signing marking new relations between Interior First Nations and the government of Canada more than a century ago.

“The interior of the Log Cabin Pub was good,” continues Schmitz. “The owners are motorcycle enthusiasts, and there’s a lot of memorabilia in there. And the Inn at Spences Bridge is one of the oldest operating hotels in Canada. It’s been beautifully restored, and it was neat to be there.”

Ashcroft’s popular “Jenny and the Gents” rocked the Log Cabin Pub.

With the finished concert experience clocking in at six hours, Schmitz says he doesn’t expect people to watch it all at once.

“We’ll initially do three hours each over two nights on Aug. 7 and 8, and people can also watch it at their leisure at a later date,” he explains. “We’re encouraging people to have watch parties, and we’re hoping to have an actual launch party where we can invite all the people who were involved to come to Clemes Hall in Spences Bridge and have a bit of a party to celebrate that we’ve done this.”

More information about the process of creating the concert video, as well as the persons and places involved, can be found on the Desert Daze website at www.desertdaze.ca and on the Desert Daze Music Festival Facebook page, which will also contain updates and more information as the launch date gets closer.

Schmitz and longtime Desert Daze organizer Mavourneen Varcoe-Ryan will also be on the HUB Online Network’s live show at 3 p.m. on Friday, July 24 to talk about the festival and the very different look of this year’s 10th anniversary celebration; go to the HUB Online Network Facebook page to watch.

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