Mavourneen Varcoe-Ryan and Jim Ryan play a set at Desert Daze.

Desert Daze returns to Spences Bridge for seventh great year

The community and a dedicated group of volunteers are getting ready to host the little festival that could.

The seventh annual Desert Daze festival is coming to Spences Bridge from August 12 to 13, and co-ordinator Mavourneen Varcoe-Ryan says the event—which started small in 2010—is getting bigger every year. “Lots of festivals don’t make it to seven years,” she says.

The event started when Spences Bridge resident Steve Rice thought it would be a good idea to have a music festival that also celebrated agriculture in the area. He and Varcoe-Ryan organized the first event, then formed a committee to share the duties, such as looking for the musicians who are such a key feature of the yearly festival.

“The first year we invited musicians to attend, since no one knew about it,’ says Varcoe-Ryan. “Now we have lots of people coming to us wanting to take part. We had more than 100 musicians apply this year. Unfortunately, we can’t hire them all.”

Musicians find out about the festival through word of mouth, and also through the Desert Daze committee’s marketing efforts. Interested musicians send links to videos or tracks, and the committee takes a look and a listen to see who they think would be a good fit. They try to make sure there is a good balance of musical styles, from country to folk to rock.

“We also try to have First Nations artists every year,” says Varcoe-Ryan, noting that the event traditionally kicks off on Friday afternoon with the Siska Drummers performing traditional welcoming songs. This year sees Métis singer Rae Dawn, a folk singer, as part of the line-up, which also includes master guitarist Sean Ashby, classic rockers Paisley Groove from Kamloops, the Magic Rooster Blues Band, and many more.

The event is also a showcase for several talented local performers, such as John Kidder and Nadine Davenport. In addition to listening to music, attendees can take part in a drumming workshop (so bring your own hand drums, rattles, and shakers), or a guitar workshop with Sean Ashby. “He used to play with Sarah McLachlan, so this is a great opportunity for local guitarists,” says Varcoe-Ryan. There will also be a yoga workshop run by Maya Chang.

Desert Daze attracts a wide range of local vendors selling regional produce and unique crafts. Photo by Muriel Cairns.

While Desert Daze is predominantly about music, the area’s agricultural bounty plays a big part. The pickling and canning workshops will be back, as will the always-popular watermelon- seed-spitting and apple-bobbing contests, and vendors will be there selling local produce. Children are also welcome at Desert Daze, with Bridging to Literacy providing hands-on experiments, and Kiki the Eco Elf performing on Saturday afternoon.

While the event largely draws attendees from the local region, Varcoe-Ryan says they get people coming down off the highway to see what’s going on; one reason there is a special $5 afternoon-only admission fee. A one-day pass is $10, while a two-day pass costs $20.

The rates have come down a good deal since the festival started, but Varcoe-Ryan says the committee would like to be able to have free admission.

“The Spences Bridge Community Club sponsors the event, and it’s a non-profit society, so the goal is to break even or go a little into the black.” She adds that the committee receives funding each year, and that it would not take much more in grants to enable them to waive admission charges altogether.

Desert Daze kicks off at 1:30 p.m. on Friday, August 12 and at 10 a.m. on Saturday, August 13 (although members of the Spences Bridge Volunteer Fire Department will be serving up a pancake breakfast starting at 9 a.m. on Saturday). A beer garden will run throughout the event, and food vendors will also be on hand. The venue is the former school site just off the highway, and tickets are available at the gate (cash only). For more information, including a schedule, go to www.desertdaze.ca or call (250) 458-2282.