By Christopher Sigurdson
“Bryce, may I? Father Bryce?” shouts the doorman of La Chouette, clad in a head-to-toe red suit. He carries a clipboard with a single sheet of paper which has “The List” scrawled in black marker on it. Lights twinkle around the table for 24 as servers rush out the first course, lemon-garlic asparagus.
Three days earlier, this was an empty, lightly wooded field just outside Kerry, MB owned by a man known only as “Owl.”
Hoot Owl Festival of Music and Art, formerly Shine On, is one of over 37 music festivals that rock Manitoba every year. With 500 people attending, it’s on the smaller end of the scale, but that allowed for a sense of community to emerge.
People filled the campground with art like a glowing, seven-foot tall mushroom, a carousel, a neon-lit late-night stage shaped like a ship, “Big Games” — a Manitoba staple — and “La Chouette” by Bel-Air, a pop-up restaurant with a “Boozy Trading Post” inside, where people could trade beers for upscale cocktails.
“We’re just extra… We brought this kind of food for ourselves last year, and people said you should [cook] for everyone next year. We laughed and now here we are,” said Samantha McEwan, 24.
McEwan is a red-seal chef, and alongside her partner Breandan Flynn, 27, she created a pop-up restaurant and sold tickets to friends. They captured the feeling of fine dining in a campground, but kept it grounded with little touches like Smirnoff Ice hidden under the napkins, or the doorman hassling patrons, asking if they’re “on the list” filled with joke names and dead celebrities.
“It can’t be too classy,” said Flynn, drinking a pisco sour out of a copper mug while he mixed a slurry to thicken the white wine cream sauce.
Flynn, McEwan, and the countless others who make up Bel-Air are just one of the many campsites bringing art with them to the festival. Dan Dorge created Muisiriún Illuminé, a glowing mushroom, for the Winnipeg Folk Festival last year. Since then, it’s travelled with him Nuit Blanche Winnipeg and other summer festivals. At night, people gathering around it to sing, or simply used it as a waypoint to navigate the pitch-black site.
come for the music, but a campground like this just gives you so much energy,”
said Cody Goertzen, 27.
Goertzen is the frontman for Odder than the Otters, a four-piece folk-rock band which played on Friday night. He finds it difficult to get away from work and gigs to come to some of Manitoba’s festivals unless he’s playing.
“It’s great though. I haven’t been here since it was Shine On [four years ago]. You can only go to so many f—ing things, you know?”
After Otters’ set, the festival followed drumbeats to an empty field to see Prairie Sol – Fire Dance Productions and a firework show. Brayden Cousineau, 25, and Melissa Chambers, 26, have seen performances like this over their four visits to Shine On and Hoot Owl, but they still grin ear-to-ear and hold each other in their flamboyant, glittery festival get-up as fireworks explode overhead, sharing sips from a cup shaped like a daisy.
“This was our first festival together. The smaller festivals just have more community. And more dogs!” said Chambers.
After the fireworks, Mobina Galore, a two-piece punk outfit brought Jenna Priestner’s intense riffs and growly lead vocals and Marcia Hanson’s tight, energetic drumming and lighter harmonies. People dance and shout along in the crowd, solo cups in hand, channeling their 2000s pop-punk angst and thrashing their hair.
As Attica Riots took the stage for the last set of the night, most of the 500 people there pressed as close to the tiny wooden stage as possible and danced harder than they had all night. Bobby Desjarlais, singer and guitarist, had a host of increasingly-drunk back-up singers belting out the choruses with him.
“The atmosphere is 80 per cent of everything, and the crowd was there,” said Desjarlais.
At 2:00 a.m., Big Heist Brass Band rocked a ship-cum-stage in the middle of the campground until nearly four, blasting covers of pop songs like “Bad Guy” until campers slowly peeled-off to fall asleep, talk loudly, or play guitar by their tents and the various lit-up installations until the sun rose.