Hailing it as the Wood Mountain Woodstock, the coordinator of the Wood Mountain Folk Festival heaved a huge sigh of relief when headliners “The Deep Dark Woods” launched into their first song on the evening of Saturday, August 27, 2011.
For Judy Mergel, a life-long music lover with a preference for folk music and the blues, it was the realization of a dream. “A folk festival combines two of life’s greatest joys - live music and the great outdoors. Our first annual festival, that was held right here, in a hayfield at the Mergel Ranch in the Wood Mountain Hills, delivered what it promised - a feast for the ears, a feast for the eyes.” said Mergel with pride.
It was a year ago that Mergel gathered together some local music-lovers to form a committee, with the goal of organizing a one-day folk festival. During discussions regarding a festival site, local singer Kacy Anderson made the comment that it should be somewhere right in the hills, to give people a real “Wood Mountain” experience. Mergel talked about her thoughts at the time. “I remembered a special spot I’d found while fixing fence. At the time, I thought it would make a great new campsite.” said Mergel.
Since the “mad cow crisis”, Mergel has diversified her ranch by injecting tourism, with a campgrounds and hiking trails venture, along with an annual farmer’s market. “A course I took in holistic management was worth its weight in gold. I was able to step back and recognize the ranch’s possibilities with its stunning scenery, history and abundant wildlife.” commented Mergel.
The site chosen for the festival is located on the banks of a creek where the remnants of long-ago wintering sites can be found. Further along this creek is the site of Jean Louis Legare’s trading post, a place visited often by James Walsh of the NWMP and by Sitting Bull.
More than 20 species of wildlife call the Mergel Ranch home, including “the odd cougar, bobcat and wolf” reported Mergel. “This was a fact that I felt necessary to include in the festival’s program that was handed out to festival-goers.” she added.
The off-the-grid site was powered by electric generators that ran a freezer, cooler and food services, as well as the stage’s sound and lights. “When a generator powering a microphone and amp for the pie action during the farmer’s market failed, auctioneer Nicole Fister used her excellent lungs to carry on selling pies and raising money for the Wood Mountain Community Hall.” said Mergel.
Two storms blew through the festival site over the weekend. “Although every musical performance at the festival was memorable, the two storms that stalled music will not be easily forgotten!” said Mergel.
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The Friday evening wind and rain event shut down the lively “hootenany” in progress and brought down part of the stage’s canopy. Halfway through the Saturday evening performances, a wild assault of wind, rain and hail sent people scrambling for cover. Anxiety spread when a funnel cloud was spotted near the site. “Seeing a funnel cloud so close to where hundreds of people were gathered in this hay field caused some anxious moments, to be sure.” recalled Mergel. The storm blew over and the festival continued, but not without some work.
The festival’s sound men were Mergel’s brothers, Wayne of “Wayne Chiupka Sound and Light” from Marathon, Ontario and Ray, a multi-talented performer and record producer from Rorketon, Manitoa. “They deserve a lot of credit for their expertise and determination in the face of advertisty.” said Mergel. “While many locals who were worried about the treacherous wet roads, jumped in their vehicles and dashed home, volunteers stepped up to dry off the wet stage and equipment.” said Mergel.
The Hard Ramblers, whose set was interrupted by the storm, continued on acoustically, performing on the wooden dance floor. “It was a magical moment as the crowd gathered close around them, swaying and dancing to the lively music.” said Mergel. In no time, Massey and the Fergusons hit the main stage, where quality sound and lights had been restored.
Realizing that just the edge of a nasty storm had clobbered the festival site, the mood of the crowd became festive, but never disorderly. All were captivated by local teen performers, 14 year-old Kacy Anderson and 16 year-old Clayton Linthicum.
“The moment most of us had been waiting for finally arrived when The Deep Dark Woods took the stage and delivered a sparkling set of their roots/rock music.
The Adrienne Gaudry Band had a hard act to follow, but were able to keep a small but appreciative group of festival-goers entertained and dancing until 3 a.m.
A hearty pancake breakfast was served to hundreds the next morning, and the festival drew to a close.
The 2nd Annual Wood Mountain Folk Festival will be held on August 25, 2012. “To get the full value for your ticket, plan to camp! encouraged Mergel.
—Submitted by Gail Mergen