Good-bye COVID, hello Renfrew Bluegrass

·3 min read

Renfrew – Escaping the threat of a three-peat of cancelling the Renfrew Bluegrass Festival this past weekend was perhaps the most popular topic of conversation during the four-day festival at Ma-Te-Way Park.

More often than not people didn’t get around to discussing the actual bluegrass musicians until everyone voiced their pleasure of no COVID sanctions and the four days of perfect weather that welcomed the return of the popular event since it was last held in 2019.

In the end, it was the music of talented artists from all parts of Canada and some from Tennessee that brought close to 100 RVs in all shapes and sizes to one of Eastern Ontario’s fastest growing small festivals since it made its debut following the end of the former Bluegrass Festival held on Bob Johnston’s farm in 2017.

Arlene Jamieson, a member of Renfrew Town council and chair of the Bluegrass Committee, agreed it is the music that attracts the crowds and small town support definitely helps.

“We could not have asked for better conditions to relaunch this festival,” she said while taking a five-minute break this past Saturday night. “It is like a giant puzzle and all the pieces fell into place. We were able to host and plan the festival without COVID hanging over our heads and the weather was the best four day stretch we have had in months. Combined with our sponsors supporting us financially allowed Mike (Councillor Mike Coulas) to be able to go out and book the artists and pay them.”

Ms. Jamieson said the committee opted to keep about 35 Renfrew-based RVs in the Renfrew section since they have been coming back for decades when it was held at the Johnston farm. All RV sections were placed in areas named after Renfrew parks including Stewart, Haramis and O’Brien while areas reserved for musicians and guests were also named after parks such as Barnet.

“We want our guests to feel welcome and appreciated and our group of 25 volunteers did that and so much more,” Ms. Jamieson said. “Whether it was one of our drivers providing door-to door service for the concert goers or a volunteer helping someone carry their lawn chairs to the main stage, we want our guests to go home and tell people what a wonderful and friendly town we are and encourage others to make Renfrew a tourist destination.”

Unlike previous years when several town staff and elected were involved, the new committee has gotten away from relying on town workers and have recruited more volunteers outside the walls of town hall.

“We still get great support from the town rec staff and some front office support, but several out in the community want to be involved,” she said. “This year we switched to an electronic ticket system with advance tickets sold and it really cut down on the amount of time we spent on ticket sales. We have seen a big increase in advance sales over previous years and that helps limit our expenses and increases our ticket revenue.”

Ms. Jamieson explained it is still a town event and all committee members work hard to make sure expenses are kept in check so the town is not on the hook for a financial loss.

“We are not here to burden the ratepayers in Renfrew and if we break even that is great and if we make a profit that is even better as we will put that towards next year’s festival and it’s not a cost for our taxpayers.”

The committee was still adding up the numbers for a final report but they did say close to 1,000 people went through the gates during the four days

Bruce McIntyre, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Eganville Leader

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