Bluegrass roots effort

TODD SAELHOF -- Calgary Sun

, Last Updated: 7:20 AM ET

Music for the masses has Spruce Meadows singing a tune other than show jumping this coming weekend.

For the first time in its 31-year history, the equestrian park will feature a festival for the ears rather than the eyes with a bluegrass concert spread over three days.

Laura Carlson, Spruce Meadows manager of entertainment, is hoping the Agrium Bluegrass Festival & Country Fair appeals to fans of equestrian and attracts others to the facility.

"In the past, we've always had a little bit of bluegrass music because of the country fair theme in the International Plaza, but this year we decided to put on a full-on bluegrass festival," said Carlson of the event that begins today at 3 p.m. and runs through Sunday at 6 p.m. on three stages in the International Plaza of Spruce Meadows.

"Bluegrass is about life in the country, and our Country Fair is promoting that agricultural lifestyle, so it makes for a perfect fit."

While soggy weather might dampen the spirits of some fans, Carlson figures the folks passionate about bluegrass will still fill the stands.

"Bluegrass fans are just like Spruce Meadows fans -- they're pretty hardy because they don't mind a little bit of rain," Carlson said.

"They'll sit out in cold, rain or wind."

That's especially true since the price is right, Carlson added.

The Agrium-sponsored concert is free with the general $5 admission charge to get into the Spruce Meadows grounds.

And the fest boasts some big names, with John Reischman of Vancouver and his American band, the Jaybirds, headlining the entertainment.

Also on the concert card is Romi Mayes of Winnipeg, plenty of Alberta acts and bluegrass bands from both sides of the border.

Even one of equestrian's biggest stars, American rider Beezie Madden, is keeping an ear on the festival schedule.

"I like the music, yeah -- the festival sounds like it's going to be interesting, but I don't know if I'll get to see any of it," said Madden.

"I thought the little sampling of bluegrass we heard earlier in the week here sounded excellent."

The concert runs in conjunction with the annual country fair, which is focused this year on getting back to the grassroots of rural life, said Spruce Meadows spokesman Ian Allison.

"The horses are always going to be the focus here," Allison said.

"But we've found that our customers really love the whole Spruce Meadows experience, whether it's the great international cuisine or watching the Parade of Nations or listening to music."


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