Big Valley Jamboree celebrates a quarter century
Big Valley Jamboree celebrated their 25th birthday with iconic performances, comebacks by artists and a party that rolled all weekend long.
After spending an entire 12-month calendar working on the festival, organizers have already started to work on year 26, which will see a complete redesign of the concert bowl and a high bar to meet.
There is no rest for the weary.
“(It is) amazing and surreal. So much planning from everyone involved happens for 361 days, and it is all over in four days,” said director of festival operations and marketing at Trixstar Productions Chris Melnychuk. “The Monday after is always bittersweet because the whole entire cycle starts again with planning for next year, but at the same time we know we have accomplished something amazing and everyone is on their way home safely.”
The weekend was not without complications. The weather caused two shut downs of the concert bowl and there was the standard array of alcohol-fueled legal incidents throughout the weekend, but it was nothing that was not expected when 25,000 people come together to party.
The weather threatened to high-jack the weekend altogether on Friday as torrential rain forced an early end to George Fox’s performance and cancelled Jess Moskaluke’s 5 p.m. show. Both persisted, however, and found stages indoors to play.
The big question was if living legend Willie Nelson — a man organizers had pursued since 1993 to come to Camrose — would be able to take the stage at 7:30 p.m. They finally caught a break as the storm broke up.
“As soon as Willie Nelson pulled into the backstage area the skies began to clear,” said Melnychuk, calling it his favourite moment of the weekend. “Actually, the storms completely disappeared, and we ended up with a great Friday night.”
The biggest issue was the much-discussed new alignment coming to the concert bowl next year. The renovation includes a 100-foot thrust up the middle of the bowl along with fan pits that will allow better interaction between musical acts and fans. It is a feature many artists now request, with some refusing to play BVJ without one.
Many long-time concert goers were not happy with the change, and had some saying they may walk away from their tickets, despite there being no raise in price.
According to the Edmonton Journal, this includes Odiel Vandenberghe, who has made the trek from his Red Deer Lake home for the past 19 years. He was told Sunday his corner seats have been moved back more than a dozen rows in a shift that means he also loses his aisle access.
“Let’s face it, us old seniors, we object to change,” he said. “We’re not that happy for sure. That’s it for us. If there is a particular entertainer I want to see, I might come back for one day.”
Festival producer Mike Anderson said he understands some people will be upset by the new seating arrangements, and he hopes the changes won’t be too dramatic for many of the veterans.
“These changes are for the betterment of the festival and the experience for everyone,” he said.
“There are some people who are frustrated and we understand that people don’t like change, so we’ve listened to their frustrations and from those frustrations we could also learn a few things,” he said.
“We also are explaining to them why we are making the changes and give them an opportunity to see their seat.
“(But) we are not holding a gun to their head … We’d love to have them back and we hope they all renew. We love our customers.”
Organizers made it a priority to bring back as many artists as they could from the first festival 25 years ago. While they struck out on Clint Black, they did coax four of them to return, including Fox, Tanya Tucker and comedic duo Williams and Ree on the mainstage, and Patricia Conroy in the Production World Songwriter’s Workshop.
They also welcomed back Edmonton’s Adam Gregory who had taken a couple years off after the birth of his first child. BVJ was one of his first shows back.
The headliners — Little Big Town, Keith Urban and Jason Aldean — all backed up their status and were the cream of the 18-concert crop on the mainstage.
BVJ capped the weekend in style with a raucous surprise concert by Dallas Smith in the Coors Banquet Saloon.
It is a high standard to meet as organizers push on forward for another 25 years.
“We would like to thank everyone that came out this weekend, and hope that they all had a great country music festival experience,” said Melnychuk. “We’ll be making even more improvements in 2018 and hopefully be able to make some artist line up announcements in the very near future.”