Hay Days a hit

With 20 acts on four stages over two days, this year’s Hay Days music festival kept spectators and performers busy.

“The bands have been stellar,” said organizer Ken Latour. “We have more volunteers this year and everyone is doing amazing work. We have a great team.”

The festival kicked off Friday night at three separate venues – the Back Eddy, the Doghouse Sports Bar and the Hay River Heritage Centre – all of which Latour said were packed at one point in the evening.

“We had a solid kick-off night,” he said, adding that the addition of the museum as a venue for people who wanted to experience the music but avoid the bars was successful.

“There was great music everywhere.”

Strong winds on Saturday morning, however, delayed the start that day and made things difficult for the few artist vendors who set up tables, as well as the group in charge of children’s activities. There had been plans for three bouncy castles, but disagreeable weather put the kibosh on that idea.

“It was quite similar to last year. There aren’t many people here during the day,” said Latour. “We may want to look at that and re-evaluate what we do for next year.”

Sparse crowds in the afternoon didn’t stop the bands from playing full force, however. Members of Sun K, a band which came up all the way from Toronto for the festival, said some of their best experiences as musicians have been playing in small towns. Stuart Retallack, Kristian Montano, Kevin Butler, Scott Tiller and JuHang Sin battled forest fires and long days on the road, but made it to Hay River just in time.

“A lot of venues we play, it’s a stiffer atmosphere,” said Kristian Montano on Saturday afternoon after having played at the BacK Eddy the night before. “It’s great to have that venue where people are just there for the music.”

Bandmate Kevin Butler said he hadn’t expected the crowd to get so involved, explaining that he had thought of potentially moving tables to make a bit of a dance floor and decided against it.

“When (the crowd) moved the tables themselves to dance, that’s when I knew it was going great,” he told The Hub.

Sun K signed with MapleMusic Recordings about a year ago and have been touring a lot recently. Montano said they enjoy playing concerts in smaller venues but strive to keep their music the same wherever they go.

“We don’t really change our approach to the music,” he said. “We want to do an honest version of it no matter where we are.”

Latour said he hopes Hay Days will evolve into a festival that can attract more bands, like Sun K, that are riding the cusp between being discovered and becoming well-established. But there is also work to be done to attract more spectators to the event.

“We want to keep trying to build that network of artists and start promoting the festival outside of town, making it more of a tourist destination,” he said. “It’s a great event for the town.”

Latour suggested the possibility of moving Hay Days back to the second weekend in July to hopefully ensure nicer weather and to not conflict with the arts festival in Fort Simpson. He also suggested the board might host a more public meeting than usual and try to include as many artists, musicians and craftspeople as possible.

“We want to hear from them what they want to see done here,” he said.

Cody McKay performs with Villains of the 1990s at the main stage at Hay Days last weekend.

Cody McKay performs with Villains of the 1990s at the main stage at Hay Days last weekend.