Dooryard Arts Fest Kicks Off With Alan Jeffries and More

In the increasingly-crowded music festival scene, it's getting difficult to stand out. There are two, sometimes three festivals around or near the province each weekend in the summer, and each one is trying to get folks to come out to theirs. It's for your own community, sure, but each one also relies on getting lots of people from outside to drive to their town for the weekend. Of course, that's a big deal for the local merchants, adding lots of tourist dollars for hotels, campgrounds, restaurants, ice cream parlours, you name it.

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In order to stand out, you need two things; great music of course, that has to be there. Everyone is going for that though. The other method is to be different, to add on elements to your festival that no one else has. It's important to look around your town, see what it has to offer, and work with that.

One of the communities that does that very well is Woodstock. It's the home of the Dooryard Arts Festival, which starts today. Hear that? Today, a Wednesday, smart move right there, stretch it out, make it a several day event that doesn't burn everybody out in a couple of over-packed days. The Dooryard Fest makes the shows last by being an arts festival. There are all sorts of different elements throughout the days, from theatre and movies to crafts and culinary. It's hands-on too, with lots of workshops to take in. Mask-making, ballroom dancing, comedy and improv, marionettes, t-shirt painting, some for adults, some for kids, or both. And while all this is going on, there are several stages throughout the downtown, with pretty much constant music.

The reason it's so diverse is because the Dooryard Festival is put on by the River Valley Arts Alliance, so it's a sort of festival of festivals. Tonight they hand out the "wOscars", the awards for the Short Film festival portion, which will be shown early in the evening. There's a brand-new play created for the festival, by local group the Next Folding Theatre Company, there's a story-telling stage, and display areas for artists. For many, the highlight comes Saturday, when they have a huge market from nine am to three p.m. You have a ton of vendors of course, all the great stuff about a traditional New Brunswick farmer's market, plus lots of breakfast and lunch items, and it gets incorporated with the festival itself, so there's music the entire time.

That's quite a line-up, and you may have noticed I haven't mentioned the names of the music acts yet. It's a festival that can sell itself on the activities, not just the stars. But they are there as well, heavy on the local favourites. From Halifax, but originally a Woodstock area kid, comes Andrew Hunter and the Gatherers. There's folk singer Norma MacDonald, and rising fiddling star Kathleen Gorey-McSorley. I love all the New Brunswick names being showcased, including Brent Mason, Jessy Ashfield, Woodstock's own Tracy and the Hurtin' Hearts, Kendra Gale, and Shaun LeBlanc. I'm the MC for the Mainstage shows Friday night, and that includes the excellent Nova Scotia singer and writer Erin Costello. Owen Steel and Jens Jeppeson and Joel LeBlanc are on that bill as well. And the next day, we all get up and go to the market.

It's all about to start, 6 PM tonight, with a fine music lineup this evening. Moncton's Les Hay Babies are on stage, as well as my favourite bluegrass guy, Alan Jeffries and 50 Shades of Blue.

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About Bob Mersereau

Rockin' BobBob Mersereau has been covering music, and the East Coast Music Scene since 1985 for CBC. He's a veteran scene-maker at the ECMA's, knows where the best shows and right parties are happening, and more importantly, has survived to tell the tales. His weekly East Coast music column is heard on Shift on Radio 1 in New Brunswick each Wednesday at 4'45. He's also the author of two national best-selling books, The Top 100 Canadian Albums (2007) and The Top 100 Canadian Singles (2010).

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