REPORT: North Country Fair an Eden of good vibes

Shuyler Jansen of Old Reliable

Shuyler Jansen of Old Reliable

North Country Fair has offered some pretty zany experiences in the past four years I’ve attended. This time was no different. More on that in a moment.

There is always great music and this year’s edition that ran June 19-21 had a bevy of it, but what keeps people coming back is the wholesale communal outdoor experience: Thousands of people in tents, RVs, teepees, modified trucks, bivvy sacks and various other forms of transient living come together in the majestic Driftpile Valley near Lesser Slave Lake to enjoy music and dance and generally get silly. It’s place to let go and throw off the harness of everyday society. There is wonderful music, great people and the place has a time-warping effect to it.

It is a place to get lost in. Rain or shine.

Sadly, I did not get to see all of the performers I wanted to. No one could. With different stages operating simultaneously, it was like picking favourites among your children.

Old Reliable stands out with their raucous and insightful hooks. It’s always a pleasure to see obvious craftsmen play their music with such originality and class. Also, there was a very late booze-filled set by Joey Only and The Outlaw Band. The newly formed Stark Martin followed them with their Brit-rock sensibilities that complimented Only with a contrasting sound that nonetheless thrilled the audience. Not bad for Stark Martin’s second show ever.

The workshops also included gems, specifically one beautiful banjo ballad played by Scott Cook (whom I would dub the King of North Country Fair) of which I can’t remember the name and feel stupid for. I even asked him was it was called, he told me and then I forgot. I’m a very unique type of stupid.

Joey Only

Joey Only

The band that really tickled my fancy was NQ Arbuckle. They played two sets, one during a rainstorm (which did not cool their energy nor the crowd’s) and another, around 3 am on the final night, where they all crammed together on a small little stage and rocked a heavenly hole in everyone’s heads. While people donated beers to the band, the Toronto group gave a top notch performance that will stick with me for a while, for both its authenticity and gracious straightforwardness.

There is something magical about listening to live music outdoors. It seems to symbiotically attach itself to your soul and needs to be fed on a frequent basis.

With that said, the one experience – the zany one mentioned earlier – was the one that will always embody the Fair for me.

It was around two in the afternoon on Thursday, June 18, a day before the Fair started. People are allowed to come early to the valley to get set and enjoy some pre-fair camping. I was chatting with a site neighbour when a young lady, seemingly from out of nowhere, walked right up to me, stared directly into my eyes, then opened the door to my car and sat down inside. I’d never met the young lady before, neither had my neighbour. She was underdressed for the baking sun and didn’t say a word to us. After shaking my head and catching my neighbor’s confused shrug, I opened the door to my car and asked the young lady if she was OK. She gave me an assuring, “Oh, yeah.” So I closed the door.

I let a bit of time pass and offered her some water which she gladly took. While handing her the bottle I realized she wasn’t wearing any shoes and her sock feet were pretty beat up.

“You’re not wearing any shoes,” I said.

“Yep”, she said.

“Alrighty,” I said and closed the door.

I kept checking in intermittently and all the while my neighbour and I exchanged weird glances.

I got some crackers and was about to offer them to my car sitter when I found the young lady thoroughly enthralled in my 10-month-old son’s book, That’s Not My Monster. The idea of her owning a monster was clearly engrossing on both a metaphorical and spiritual level to her. The title of the book suggested that she did own a monster and she was damn sure going to find it in this book. So, I just put the crackers down beside her and closed the door.

There were other quirky things I noticed as well during subsequent check ins, mostly comparable to someone attempting to calculate and correct the Feng Shui of my car clutter.

About two hours passed when a couple of her friends happened upon our site looking for her. As it turns out, the young lady was in a state of self-medicated euphoria and was riding out a bad psychedelic episode when she wandered into the bush. Her friends thanked me and led the young lady back to their camp. They returned several times after that to thank me again, to re-read That’s Not My Monster and eat oranges.

Why am I telling you this? Because in many ways this incident embodies the North Country Fair. I’m not saying that everyone there is perfect and that it is an Eden-esque area devoid of evil, but for the most part it is. If that young lady would have wandered off somewhere else in another festival in another place and found her way to someone else’s car in her mental state, who knows what could have happened? I’d rather not think about it.

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