The combination of natural beauty and musical talent is a duo that the North Shore of Lake Superior knows well. The annual Kakabeka Bluegrass Festival outside of Thunder Bay showcases both talented artists and impressive scenery.
The festival, which is celebrating its eighth anniversary, began as a one-day event with all local bands. It now spans three days, hosts internationally-recognized performers and typically entertains around 600 people by the weekend’s end.
“It really is a nice little festival on beautiful grounds,” said Thunder Bay Bluegrass and Old Tyme Music Association first-year president Lou Hebert. “The musicians play in an all-board barn chapel. It’s quite a nice little place to play in.”
The three main acts this year include Dick Kimmel & Co. of southern Minnesota, Sloughgrass of Birchdale, Minnesota, and Due North from Duluth. An array of local musicians also take the stage throughout the weekend.
Dick Kimmel’s bands have performed throughout North American and Europe since the 1970’s. They play a traditional style of bluegrass interspersed with original songs. The band’s members include Dick Kimmel, Tony Rook, Graham Sones, and Terry Johnson.
“Kakabeka is a wonderful festival. People are excited. They have a pretty active Bluegrass Association up there and the falls are just beautiful. I have been up there two or three times to do workshops,” said Dick Kimmel.
The Sloughgrass band is comprised of family members, led by matriarch Grandma Audrey Nelson on the upright bass. Nelson’s daughters Christine Hultman and Judith Nelson join her on stage as well as son-in-laws, grandchildren, cousins and friends. The band has been performing around Minnesota and beyond since about 2003.
Louise Wiermaa and Deb Tominen make up the Due North duo. They typically play in Minnesota and Wisconsin and have been signing together for 25 years. They will be joined by Ted Williams at the Kakabeka Bluegrass Festival this year.
One of the draws to this festival is the opportunity to hear what Kimmel describes as “real bluegrass.” The genre has been made more popular in recent years by mainstream artists that have tweaked the basics a bit, but this weekend is authentic.
“Bluegrass crowds love to hear people play real bluegrass,” said Kimmel. “Generally bluegrass is a combination of six specific instruments. It’s hard-driving with high singing and really heartfelt. People generally like the fast-paced pieces.”
The festival will also include an open mic stage on Saturday afternoon, as well as workshops and concessions.
“This is the best kept secret around. It’s a very nice, family-friendly event that seems to make everyone feel great. It’s hard to describe,” said Hebert. “It’s not too big to be impersonal. Everyone knows a lot of the people and they have supported us through a lot of the years. It’s a good time and a great outlet for promoting bluegrass music.”
The festival will take place during the weekend of June 26-28 at the Kakabeka Falls Bible Camp, 1.25 miles east of Kakabeka Falls and 14 miles west of Thunder Bay, Ontario. Camping is available throughout the weekend. No advance tickets are available. Visit www.kakabekafallsbluegrassfestival.weebly.com for more info.
By Casey Fitchett