There isn’t a very big crowd gathered Friday night for the 14th annual Bluegrass Jamboree. Many of those sitting in the benches and lawn chairs in front of the Regional Exhibition Society Bandstand at the Pass-Creek fairgrounds are there to play, while only a few have come just to listen.
The jamboree’s organizers recognize that the crowds have dwindled over the years—there are even fewer people coming to play—and it’s mostly because the bluegrass fans are aging, and becoming less mobile or passing away.
What the jamboree needs is some young blood, not just on stage and in the stands, but behind the scenes as well.
“We’re all getting older of course,” says Harvey Muller, one of the jamboree’s organizers, “and there’s no young ones to take over for us.”
Muller is one of the original members of Kootenay Connection, a bluegrass band that got its start over 20 years ago. It was members of Kootenay Connection who first organized a bluegrass festival in Castlegar.
“When we were 20 years younger, we had no place to play our bluegrass,” says Eva Mohn, another original member of the band. “We went to Summerland, we went to all of these places in the Okanagan, and it cost a pile of money. We thought perhaps we would have [a jamboree] at home.”
The jamboree has been held at the Pass-Creek fairgrounds since the beginning, and Kootenay Connection even helped build the bandstand there.
On the back wall of the dressing room are posters with photos of the original Kootenay Connection members. In the faded photos they’re all young, smiling, and holding their bluegrass instruments.
Though many of the original members of the band have passed on, including Muller’s wife, the show goes on. Muller, Mohn, and others still play as Kootenay Connection and they still put on the jamboree. And though they may be getting on in years, they still know how to have a good time.
After the open mic ends on Friday, musicians jam in the Hills Pavilion or around their campers. They share drinks, and stories about the gigs they’ve played and the people they’ve played with.
The next morning they’re up early for the band scramble. Any musician who’s interested puts their name in, and then names are randomly drawn to make up new bands. There end up being three scramble bands for the morning, and each has an hour to prepare four songs, one of which must include the word “heart” in the lyrics.
Saturday night sees a larger turnout, and another open mic, with eleven bands performing. Kootenay Connection eventually takes the stage singing Tennessee 1949.
“Oh, oh, oh, it would be so fine, if I could just go back to 1949.”