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Review: Cowichan Bluegrass Festival - A fiddling good time

Three days of toe-tapping and hands clapping was the perfect way to celebrate Father's Day weekend

Hey diddle diddle, cool cats and their fiddles got down with their bad selves as the Cowichan Bluegrass Festival celebrated its fifth year at Laketown Ranch from June 14 to 16. 

It was a fiddling good time this Father's Day weekend as an extremely talented lineup of bluegrass and old-time music bands from across North America graced the stage at Laketown Ranch. This annual festival is all about that stand-up bass, fiddles danced, and there were strums on the old banjos, as well as other stringed instruments such as the drobo. 

I attended the festival's final day on Sunday, which was also Father's Day, and there was no shortages of dads pulling up some lawn, or playing on it with their kids as the beautiful sounds of bluegrass filled the air. The festival started off the day on a good foot with Craig Marcuk and friends getting in step with a workshop on flatfooting. Marcuk, who is the founder of the Young Old-time Music and Dance Association (YOMADA), was actually the resident dance caller in the festival's early beginnings when they were still called the Sooke River Bluegrass Festival before coming to Lake Cowichan in 2019.

Some Sunday attendees went to church, or at least gathered outside the chapel stage at noon for a Songwriter's Roundup hosted by Elise Le Blanc. There was a lot of laughing, and toes tapping during this good time session. For those who chose to get off their own couch to come out to see the Toronto-based dynamic duo Porch Couch certainly were not disappointed as the pair made the sounds of the fiddle, the stand-up bass, and the banjo come alive all three days of the festival. The talented twosome had a fantastic stage presence, incredible harmonies, and audience members chuckling between each song, and eager for the next.

One of my personal favourites of all the amazing acts was fiddling phenom Michael Cleveland and his band Flamekeeper, the perfect name for this band as they kept the good times blazing like an inferno from the moment they stepped on stage to the moment they stepped off. They received a standing ovation, and were encouraged to come back out for an encore. 

Cleveland, who is considered the bluegrass fiddler of his generation, was born blind and partially deaf with one thing on his mind he said in a past interview: music. To watch him work that fiddle was a sight to be seen, and a sound to be heard, and his wit was as sharp as his fiddle skills as he had both his band and audience members in stitches between numbers. Cleveland has been recognized as the IBMA Fiddler of the Year a dozen times and in 2018 was inducted into the National Fiddler's Hall of Fame. He won a Grammy for his album Tall Fiddler in 2018 and has received nominations in both 2018 and in 2024 for his latest album The Lovin' of the Game. One thing is for certain, all in attendance were loving what he and his band-mates were throwing down.

Complimenting the sounds of bluegrass were tasty treats from an array of food trucks and the Silver Dollar cafe, as well as cool festival schwag and other vendors. While the sweet sounds of old-time music filled the air, Mike Dada, who goes under the name of the balloon dog, made incredible creations to wow kids of all ages. From creating Elmo to minions this world class clown proved he has skills that are one in a million.

Mother natures's moody weather had little effect on the crowd this festival brought out for Father's Day weekend. While the sky shed tears and while it was Northern Calfornia's Crying Uncle who closed the show, this magical musical style delivered nothing but good vibes, and smiles to all who attended.

About the Author: Chadd Cawson

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