It’s Tradition : A Big Valley Jamboree BlogPosted by: Casadie Pederson
In just 8 days, Big Valley Jamboree will open its gates for the 20th anniversary. For some – like my family – it’s a tradition that has lasted just about as long. This year will be my family’s 19th BVJ, personally – my 10th!
A lot has happened over the last 10 years, in the music business and for the festival. We’ve seen every element of weather, crowds of all sizes, camping location changes, and most importantly the rise of Canada’s best musical talent. For the last 10 years, we’ve sat section C, row 15 – dead centre. I’m a lucky girl!
I remember arriving at BVJ in 2002, I was just a mere 11 years old. The first act I saw on the main stage – a virtually unknown Doc Walker, who at the time were just climbing the charts with ‘Rocket Girl’ and were the first act out on Friday afternoon. I can recall there were only about 300 or 400 of us in the crowd. Crazy to think, they were the opener for Miranda Lambert just 8 years later, to over 20,000 screaming fans.
I’ve also watched other careers grow over the years including Shane Yellowbird, who got his start at the ‘Road to BVJ Karaoke Contest’. Shane won the weekend’s prize and got the chance to sing Joe Nichols’ hit ‘The Impossible’ right before newcomer (at the time) Keith Urban and Martina McBride took to the stage in 2002. Yellowbird is famous for telling the story of how his nerves got the best of him before he took to main stage, saying that he actually vomited his nerves were so bad. Shane got the chance to perform on the main stage again in 2008, this time with his band and a great career on the go.
Johnny Reid, in 2005, jumped off the stage during his set to dance with a few selected people – I was one of them! He returned to BVJ in 2009 as the opening act for Josh Turner. It’s been a real treat to watch some of these great Canadian acts grow.
Speaking of 2009, it can’t go unsaid how much BVJ 2009 will forever leave a mark on my heart. We’ve seen every kind of weather at BVJ. From snow (yes, snow!) in 2002, it being dry and dusty, pouring rain, a mix of both , and powerful winds …. you name it, we’ve seen it. But on that very day of the stage collapse, I’ve never seen nor felt that much shock or fear. I can remember the hours prior, it was like any other day. It was beautiful, but with it being Alberta, some storm clouds in the distance – nothing looking like a threat. Jessie Farrell had just finished her set, and I knew a bunch of the players in her band. We stood around while Jessie signed autographs for fans, and soon after Billy Currington hit the stage. We watched Billy’s show and I decided to go watch the end of the set with my family from our seats, while Jessie’s guitarist Jesse Tucker and the rest of the band decided to go get their equipment from the back of the stage. The clouds began to creep up a little more and we decided it was best that we head back to camp right across the road from the stage. The wind was breezy, that was the only thing wrong with the weather, it was, like I said, a beautiful day. Minutes later, we reached the concert bowl gates, and like nothing I’ve ever felt, was picked up off the ground and shifted about 5 feet to my right. Children were screaming; adults were in panic. I remember seeing the mid-way get blown into a mess and the beer gardens banners were shredded as if they went through a paper shredder. We were hanging on to the 50/50 ticket shack, the only shelter we could find from the wind. We began to run back to camp, as I looked to my left in the concert bowl, I saw the mixing tower – yet no stage. Panic set in even more.
Back at camp, we began to see ambulances and emergency personnel heading towards the stage. I could see that the back of the stage was resting on two busses – which we later learned were Gary Allan‘s. It was a hard scene to take when a lot of people are walking around intoxicated and not knowing what’s going on and not worrying about what just happened. But for me I knew Billy Currington and his band were on stage, I had friends who were getting equipment, and for the music community as a whole -my heart was breaking that something like this could happen. Phone lines were down, but I found out hours later that luckily everyone I knew was safe. It was a wall of wind and with weather, anything can happen. It’s in Mother Nature’s hands. I do thank God though, that that wind never came into the campgrounds. This event could have been a lot more tragic. Our thoughts and prayers will always be with the one victim, Donna Moore and her family.
Leaving BVJ that weekend was something unimaginable, after a night of watching cranes and emergency crews search through the rubble.
We all returned to Rexall Place in Edmonton that September where Tim McGraw put on a make-up performance (he was to perform that Sunday after the stage collapse). Top to bottom, it was one of the best McGraw shows I’ve ever seen. There was a special vibe in the room that night we were all aware of the tragedy that occurred, yet it felt like a community of music lovers who were celebrating the fact that we were bouncing back from something so terrible.
Over the years, I’ve seen a lot of great performers at BVJ. They’ve brought in a lot of great acts. I have an appreciation for them all in many different ways. There were performers like Big & Rich, who’s show was full of energy. Its 100% entertainment. But then you have the vocalists like LeAnn Womack, who put on a whole other kind of show. One that captivates you with raw vocals and emotion. With a scale like this, it’s funny to hear the crowd around you react how they love one or the other more. It’s such a dynamic and diverse crowd.
Other favourites for me included Carrie Underwood (2007 – she came out fresh off an Idol win, and it was a cold night. She wore jeans and a hoodie. I appreciated her being real), Little Big Town (2008- most under-rated band in country music today. 4- part harmony, come on!), Sugarland (2008- Jennifer and Kristian are just mad talented all the way around), and Dierks Bentley (2007- who played for a full 90 minutes in the pouring rain and had just as much fun as we did.)
Not to mention, the Molson Saloon and the Axe Songwriters Tent are always two of the highlights for me.
There is something to be said for Big Valley Jamboree – its organizers, it’s staff, it’s supporters, and it’s fans. It’s so rare that a festival can bounce back from a tragedy like 2009 and come back better than ever. I’m so proud to be an Albertan with this type of festival in my province and more proud to have this as a tradition in my family. Both of my families. My music family and my actual family.
This year will be full of great performances from Rascal Flatts, Toby Keith, Blake Shelton, Kellie Pickler, Emerson Drive, and many more. Not to mention, more memories will be made. That’s a guarantee.
Their slogan – is Country for Everyone. It sure is. Hats off to Larry Werner, Chris Melnychuk, and everyone at the Big Valley Jamboree. Here’s to another 20.