Finding the Moments You Seek, Whatever That May Be

A blog post about the Moose n’ Fiddle Music Festival by Denise Lysak (SPARC Guest Blogger)

“This is my one small step, this is my walk on the moon,” are lyrics from Walk on the Moon by Great Big Sea and words that bring us back to earlier days – when the world had it sights on outer space and the wonders of planets, stars and solar systems far, far away. Discovery and exploration and the nature of science helped define a generation of thinkers, engineers, astronauts and so much more. People on planet Earth, in lounges and sitting rooms everywhere, huddled together as spaceships touched down on orbiting globes and for many, those first images of Neil Armstrong walking on the moon and uttering the words “one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind”, are moments in time forever etched in our individual and collective memories.

Image of crowd sitting on lawn chairs

I have been lucky enough to channel that same spirited energy, drive, and zeal for discovery while curating the Moose n’ Fiddle Music Festival for the past seven years. I do not do this alone and it all started with a bold resolution by Mayor & Council of the Township of Sioux Narrows-Nestor Falls. They have been our biggest fans and strongest advocates from day one. And, I would be remiss if I did not mention by name, a few key players: Wanda Kabel, Jeff Port, Mike Salvador, Jerry O’ Leary, Bill Thompson, Phil Hudson, Bill Stunden, Scott Cottam, Maureen Hanson, Bob Irvine, and Heather Gropp. They have all been instrumental in making the Moose n’ Fiddle Music Festival infinitely more possible. This cast of characters all pulls in the same direction and sets the stage for the return of the Moose n’ Fiddle Music Festival in Nestor Falls, Ontario, Canada on August 21st and August 22nd, 2020.

I also trust that this blog will highlight how the Festival is a microcosm that exists within an ecosystem that has a much larger context and higher purpose. The Moose n’ Fiddle is but one outdoor summer music festival – a small dot in rural and remote northwestern Ontario and if you google “moose and fiddle” you will find it amongst a sea of others. In that good company, we proudly rest.

Who puts this festival on its feet? Who ensures its financial health? The short answer is the Township of Sioux Narrows-Nestor Falls. But there are others. The list of stakeholders continues to grow, as does the reach and profile of this “cool little festival at the lake”. Our supporters, donors and sponsors return year after year. The Festival has a healthy ratio of earned revenues (>50%) to government grants (30%) to donors/ sponsors (20%) and this helps ensure its viability. Creative economies and cultural tourism contribute to the greater good and not just on the weekend of the Festival itself: The ripple effects can be felt days, weeks, months and even years later. Here is one shining illustration of that tenet: One of the very first musical acts that we booked at the Moose n’ Fiddle Music Festival was the Fu Fu Chi Chi Choir. In the very beginning, they did not have merchandise to sell to a now loyal and growing fanbase. In their third appearance at the Moose n’ Fiddle, they had some branded clothing, underwear to be exact, and we have endearing pictures of adoring fans wearing them as headbands and as outerwear. In their fourth appearance, the Fu Fu Chi Chi Choir had boxes of EPs with them. It was a testament to their capacity to grow, to market, to promote, to brand…alongside of their incredible and unwavering talent. And, now here in 2020, they are part of #CBCMusic Spotlight Search. The video that is attached to their spotlight search is “Chekov’s Dog” and it is a crowd pleaser at the Moose n’ Fiddle and I am sure it will fast become even more famous now that it is on CBC. The Festival is a driving force that helps artists like the 10 that comprise the Fu Fu Chi Choir exist on a different plane.

As we get set to hum, sing and dance along with eight genre crushing acts – we honour the sometimes lonely world of the traveling musician. And, as we come back from the atmospheric highs, way beyond the clouds and touch down on terra firma – we are once again surrounded by the natural beauty and the great outdoors that is the eastern shores of Lake of the Woods. The Moose n’ Fiddle Music Festival all happens under a canopy of towering white and red pines and along the water’s edge: a wilderness jewel where uniquely, Canadian crafters, wild life, loyal audiences, and spectacular musicians come together to stay and play awhile.

Before we hear the first notes sung by the opening act act, take a look around to see some familiar faces. The Moose n Fiddle brings and keeps the idea of crafters-of-all-sorts front and centre. The Black Oven Pizza Truck (Vermilion Bay, ON), Gropps’ Meats, and Iron & Clay from Sioux Narrows are back this year, bringing incredibly tasty wood-fired pizza, tempting street eats, and some of the best tea, coffee and sweet treats, on this side of the 49th parallel, to the back woods in Nestor Falls. And, our friends from Women’s Shelter Saakaate House (Kenora) return to share craft beer that is always, fresh, local and handcrafted from Lake of the Woods Brewing Company, with some ciders and coolers to keep everyone happy and refreshed. We will partner, once again, with Leaning Tree Arts Council as they assemble an incredible array of local and regional crafters – some new to the Festival and some old friends. With the food trucks, craft beer tent, and Artisans Village we wrap the Festival experience with the care and commitment that comes from artists who have spent years mastering their craft.

We curate the Festival with local and regional crafters of all sorts. From the potters to the felters to the pizza makers and the craft beer enthusiasts. In this way, the Festival matters to the region, to the landscape that is rural and remote northwestern Ontario. We have dedicated volunteers coming back year after year, we have artists asking to perform, we have sponsors who are willing to give back and make a difference, we have community organizations who share of their time and expertise and in return, they share in the profits and proceeds from the Moose n’ Fiddle Music Festival. Local shops, resorts, lodges, restaurants, and taprooms  stay open longer in the all too often too short tourist season and this in turn makes them more resilient, stronger, productive and profitable.

Keeping it all real are the musicians that have traveled from near and far to create this “cool little Festival” that is a little FOLK, a little INDIE, a little JAZZ, and a whole lot of fiddlin’ fun! Hello, to Sierra Noble, Little Miss Higgins, Black River Drifters, Siouxperboat, Belle Plaine, The Mad Trappers, Sarah Jane Scouten, Fred Penner, and The Slocan Ramblers.

Group of women holding letters that spell fufuchichi

Wait, there’s more! What makes the Moose n Fiddle really stand alone in the busy Festival scene? Here you can bring your Stand Up Paddleboard (SUP), your cooler and your camping trailer! You can fish off a dock in the morning, enjoy the Festival all afternoon, and as the sun sets know that at the summer’s end, you have been a part of something bigger – something that happens in this great country, from sea, to sea, to shining sea. The audiences have grown with the Moose n’ Fiddle Music Festival. From its very first year, the numbers have climbed upwards, in a true trajectory…from just shy of 300 in 2014 all the way to north of 1,100 in 2019. Each and every Festival-goer has their own story to tell. From the man who abandons his hunting party to sit a spell and enjoy the sights and sounds of the Moose n’ Fiddle to the family of three (four if you include Daisy, their golden retriever) who have come each and every year, never missing a beat. This same family of four now brings their whole block of friends (thirty something strong) from Winnipeg, Manitoba to camp for a week at beautiful Caliper Lake Provincial Park and take in the Moose n’ Fiddle Music Festival at the week’s end. Now, that is a nod to audience development.

Moose n' Fiddle Music Festival poster

Everything starts somewhere. And, the Moose n’ Fiddle Music Festival started out with three prodigious phone calls: the first went to Jessee Havey (at that time she was with the folk band, The Duhks), the second call went to Taras Manzie (President & CEO of Lake of the Woods Brewing Company who came on board as the first sponsor of the Festival and this little, biggish craft beer company is still with us today), and the third call went to Daniel Jordan with Red Moon Road. We have had the good luck to programme Red Moon Road (and some of their friends) for three of the seven festivals and they truly are supernovas.

Festivals are a curious thing. So many moving parts, from extraordinary stage managers and box office mavens (Kara, Brooke, Jess) to emcees (Patrick Kane and Woody Linton – are the two that move the Moose n’ Fiddle Music Festival from the opening act to the closing act), to supporters, sponsors, and funders, to volunteers – now numbering more than 40 strong. Not too long ago, we invited artists and audiences to come as strangers and now I am happy to say… they return and leave as friends. The Moose n’ Fiddle Music Festival in 2019, was reviewed by Roots Music Canada. It was a highlight of the Festival and the dispatches by Heather Kitching (Managing Editor) can be read here. On that note, I will sign off with a call to action – to come and see for yourself – what the Moose n’ Fiddle Music Festival is all about. There is so much to explore and experience, to inspire the moment you seek. Whatever that may be. To learn more, visit moosenfiddle.ca

Music line up banner

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