Over the weekend of Sept. 30 to Oct. 2, the first annual Gillbilly Festival will be hosted in Fernie. The festival will combine bluegrass music with fly fishing for a weekend of workshops, performances, and fishing.
Michael Hepher, a board member on the Old Type Music Society, says the idea came from noticing a trend: most musicians he met love to fish.
“We realized that over time, a lot of the musicians that we are contacting were happy to come to Fernie partly because of the Elk River. Chris Coule who is one of the performers, said he would come here to fish regardless,” he told The Free Press. “As we looked at it, we realized that a lot of the players fished as well. Well maybe there is something about fly-fishing and blue grass and old time music that appeals to a certain type of person, whether it is the authenticity or the earthy nature of it, or the non-rockus nature. But they both seem to go hand-in-hand.”
Hepher admits he is not a fisherman himself, and says the festival will include other activities, such as hiking and music workshops.
“Ultimately, there is not really a lot of similarity between those two things, but this is a good place to do both of them,” he said. “If people aren’t into fishing, they can just as easily bring a bike. We are going to organize some hikes, someone to take a group up around Island Lake, and someone to take some bikes on the local trails.”
The festival starts at 5 p.m. on Sept. 30 with a wine and cheese welcoming reception at the Arts Station, followed by a concert from Ben Winship and Eli West and a jam session. The Saturday will feature workshops on both music and fishing in the morning, with some free time in the afternoon for people to fish on the Elk River, among other activities. Chris Coole will be performing at the Arts Station that evening and to cap off the festival, there will be a Toast and Jam event Sunday morning, featuring breakfast and music at different cafés.
Event organizers are hoping to sell 30 tickets for the full festival. There will be the opportunity to purchase tickets for the concerts only as well.
“We are considering 60 full. If we get 30, that will be a good start. And then next year, hopefully either the word will get out or people will go home and say this is a really fun weekend,” said Hepher.
According to Hepher, the idea for the festival has been well received by the public thus far, fishing aficionados and otherwise.
“Everyone seems to think it is a really neat idea,” he said. “But really it is about the music. We are offering non-fishing and fishing related workships and giving people opportunities to do things that aren’t fishing. We are trying to structure it as a laid back weekend of music with opportunities.”