The Show's Thing

Justin Brake
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But there's more to the Exploits Valley Salmon Festival than a rock concert

Those who turned to the weather forecast when deciding whether or not to make the trip to Grand Falls-Windsor for the 23rd Annual Exploits Valley Salmon Festival last weekend have every reason to be disappointed.

Predictions that rain would dampen the the festival's main attraction proved wrong, snapping a streak of three or four years. Instead of leaving saturated, concert-goers left the event sporting sunburns.

Young entrepreneurs Ian Gillis and Raymond Flood sell refreshments at the Salmon Festival Saturday afternoon. Photo by Justin Brake/Special to The Telegram

Those who turned to the weather forecast when deciding whether or not to make the trip to Grand Falls-Windsor for the 23rd Annual Exploits Valley Salmon Festival last weekend have every reason to be disappointed.

Predictions that rain would dampen the the festival's main attraction proved wrong, snapping a streak of three or four years. Instead of leaving saturated, concert-goers left the event sporting sunburns.

As thousands of out-of-towners rolled into the Red Cliff Rocks campground Friday evening, 2,000 more, predominantly locals, geared up for the dance at Joe Byrne Memorial Stadium, a sold-out event that featured Eagles tribute band Hotel California and local band Landslide.

The night before that, the annual salmon dinner also sold out.

Family time

Town of Grand Falls-Windsor councillor and Salmon Festival committee chairman Jim Courtney finds me in an Internet cafe across from the Town Hall shortly after I arrive Friday afternoon, and offers me a tour of the town.

"The Salmon Festival's not just about the concert," he says, wanting to dispel the myth that the mid-July event is for young people only. "There's five days of events with something for everyone."

We head out to the Salmonid Interpretation Centre where we can see salmon climbing the falls. Courtney also shows me his favourite fishing spot on the Exploits River, and points to others fishing up the banks of the river.

"The hotels and motels and RV campgrounds are full because of the salmon fishing," he says. "It's certainly creating employment."

The town's summertime livelihood does in fact revolve around the Exploits and the salmon fishing, hence the decision to name their big annual celebration the "Salmon Festival."

And with the concert as the town's biggest investment of the festival, coupled with the expectation there will be a big headlining act, it's evident the organizing process is tedious and the anticipation of nature's contribution, stressful.

Last year the town lost $200,000, due in part to the weather but also to the absence of a headlining act that was able to attract younger and older people alike.

Concert time

This year, however, the sun was shining and the diversity of the lineup was attracting people of all ages. As the crowd patiently waits for first act, local band Papa String, Bruce Springsteen's "Glory Days" plays over the sound system, kids are running around with balloons, teenagers are walking around with their groups of friends, and the odd Red Cliff camper is dragging themselves around on little - or no - sleep.

The afternoon is clearly a time for the children and families.

Papa String plays for about 45 minutes, covering songs like U2's "Vertigo," The Sweets' "Ballroom Blitz," and AC/DC's "Highway to Hell".

Up-and-coming band Crash Parallel, which is garnering significant radio air time and has a healthy stage presence, boasts that homogenous post-Creed alternative rock sound that so many other bands share.

"Thank God last call here is 3 a.m.," says lead singer Tim Edwards, explaining the band rolled into town at 2:30 a.m. and found local bar Mingle's, where they drank and sang karaoke with the locals.

Grand Falls-Windsor native Chris Feener, a finalist in the 2008 Guitar Idol contest in London, England just two months ago, entertains the crowd with his original thrash composition "The Eccentric Hillbilly" and is immediately praised by other musicians when he walks off stage.

Members of Crash Parallel tell him he needs to get sponsored right away and get his name out there. The 20-year-old seems humbled by the comments.

Metric soon takes the stage and offers a unique blend of rock and synth-pop sounds that, after the first song or two, has turned a lot of heads.

Singer Emily Haines of Broken Social Scene fame is wearing a tight, shiny purple outfit and is dancing as much as she is singing.

"We've already been Screeched in," she tells the crowd, referring to the band's visit to St. John's last winter.

As the band closes with "Live it Out," they have plenty more hands together than at the beginning of the set.

As the stage crew prepares for Hedley, hosts the Trailer Park Boys make their first appearance of the day, and the show suddenly becomes less family oriented when Bubbles staggers on stage drunk and Ricky asks the crowd where he can find some weed or hash.

On the flip side, the Boys generate a huge rush to the stage, people hoping to catch an up-close glimpse of Ricky, Julian and Bubbles.

After about 10 minutes of what seems to be an improvised set, the Boys make way for Hedley who, judging by the crowd's reaction, could be headlining the show.

In fact, as Finger Eleven and Blue Rodeo are later introduced, neither receive quite the same welcome.

Lead singer and former Canadian Idol top three finalist Jacob Hoggard bounces around the stage like a rubber ball, standing on the monitors and then getting as much air as he can as he leaps off.

"Whenever we come here we see a lot of Newfoundland flags," Hoggard tells the crowd. "A lot of people say Newfoundland's its own country. If you were, we'd have to get visas so we could keep coming to the best country on Earth."

They perform songs from their self-titled debut album and from last year's "Famous Last Words," including the hit single "Never Too Late."

Headliners

The Trailer Park Boys make their way back after Hedley with Bubbles dressed as his alter-ego wrestling character "The Green Bastard." They pick three girls from the crowd who compete in a contest to see who can roll the fastest joint, drink a flask of rum and spit it into an empty bottle, and bob for "cat turds" as Bubbles says, referring to the Oh Henry! bars he places in makeshift cat litter boxes.

Finger Eleven, breaking from their U.S. tour with Seether to play the Salmon Festival, is tight when they rip into their first song and throughout the set bring out some of their older material to an appreciative audience.

But lead singer Scott Anderson is relatively subdued, evidently still limited by the neck injury he sustained a few months ago.

Mid-way through their set they play their first No. 1 hit, "One Thing," and later close with their second, "Paralyzer."

Blue Rodeo, who haven't performed at the festival since 2000, manage to keep most of the younger crowd until the end.

They perform a selection of hits that includes "Diamond Mine," "Rain Down On Me," "Five Days in May," and "Trust Yourself" as well as a handful of songs from their 2007 record "Small Miracles."

Just hours later on Sunday morning, a lineup of cars trickles out of Red Cliff through a police barricade and the majority of the town's visitors make their way home as the locals prepare for "Family Day" and later that night the festival's popular "Neptune and Nectar" event at the stadium.

On Monday, the town celebrates "Grand Falls-Windsor Day," saying goodbye to another Salmon Festival.

But the fish are still making their way up the Exploits, people are still fishing and those who came for the weekend are likely still talking about the experience.

Organizations: Trailer Park Boys, AC/DC, Canadian Idol The Green

Geographic location: Grand Falls-Windsor, Joe Byrne Memorial Stadium, Red Cliff Exploits River Grand Falls Newfoundland London England St. John's U.S.

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  • Darrell
    July 02, 2010 - 13:18

    You gotta give the folks in Grand Falls - Windsor a lot of credit here. Not every year is perfect but this festival is now 23 years old and as Mr. Courtney said, its a 5 day event. And something for everyone. Great job again Jim!!!

  • Darrell
    July 01, 2010 - 19:59

    You gotta give the folks in Grand Falls - Windsor a lot of credit here. Not every year is perfect but this festival is now 23 years old and as Mr. Courtney said, its a 5 day event. And something for everyone. Great job again Jim!!!