Published on August 19th, 2016 | by Jade Palmer1
Dog Patch Music Festival Musings (and The Dead South)
Jade Palmer travels to the Dog Patch Music Festival, buried in a Northern Saskatchewan forest, to discover festival life and Regina band, The Dead South.
This is no ordinary insect.
In the depths of the boreal forest it waits to strike its next unassuming victim. It knows no age, no gender, only the sound of glowsticks being cracked and the scent of glitter infused sweat enticing it to strike. Many have been bit and none have recovered; the venom coursing through their veins dooms them to spending the rest of their summer nights bombarded with music and suffering hangovers in stuffy tents, only to begin the day with gin and juice once again. This detrimental bite drains wallets, gas tanks, and energy, fills cups, parking lots, and Facebook friends lists.
I was the insect’s next innocent target. I knew I had been bitten when I was holding back tears saying goodbye to newfound friends and dreading the first shower after the drive home from Ness Creek Music Festival 2016. I was damned to find myself craving the experience for the rest of my days. A couple weeks later, before I knew it, I had taken $150 from my account, packed my facepaint and sleeping bag in the backseat of my boyfriend Caley’s car, and was driving to Dog Patch Music Festival for another weekend of carefree fun. Being bit by the festival bug was the best thing that ever happened to me.
Dog Patch Music Festival started out as a pig roast in the early 80s. It was a way to get the folks of Whelan, Saskatchewan and the surrounding area together during the summer to celebrate as a community. Mark Butler, son of the couple that put on the pig roast, saw the need for a friendly gathering in the midst of our busy, social media soaked lives, and rebooted the pig roast as a music festival three years ago. I was wondering if that sense of belonging and openness that was once felt at this gathering could be replicated considering the small size and age of the toddler festival and how it would stack up next to Ness Creek, but I was excited to find out.
By 5 PM on Friday the camping spots were pretty picked over; the trees closest to the stage were jam packed with RVs, and some people had started popping up tents in the middle of the field which is the biggest camping no-no. We followed the row of cars against the treeline into the boonies and found a patch of heaven nestled in the trees. As we hacked away at the undergrowth with a machete another smart camper pulled up on the shady side of the field. With a chuckle he asked what we were doing, and informed us the trees behind the tent would block the sunrise. But in the morning we were the ones laughing when we heard others reveling at our clever thinking, already evacuated from their saunas while we were comfortably still half asleep in our tent.
From our campsite to the stage was a perfect tour of the festival. The vibe was more chill than Ness Creek, there weren’t ridiculous amounts of crazy vibrant costumes or glowsticks hanging from trees. It was mostly country folk in t-shirts and shorts around a campfire with a beer to offer as you passed by. The generosity, similar to Ness, was alive and well. Walking through the vendors had a more spiritual air to it. Essential oils and dream catchers adorned the walls of one tent, and the next was draped in tie-dyed sheets with a fortune teller nestled in the back.
But the stage was my destination. It was very intimate, narrow but deep, and it captured the acoustic sounds of the evening well. No matter how tame the festival-goers looked on the outside, a small group really let loose on the dance floor and I passed through many people’s linked arms with an ear to ear smile. The relaxed atmosphere of the festival settled on me again when the crowd started dwindling around 11:30. But if Caley and I hadn’t started walking back to the campsite then I might have missed the true beauty of the festival revealing itself.
As we drew farther from the lights of the stage and passed the RVs the stars took over the sky’s blank canvas. This was the benefit of having a festival on an unnamed Saskatchewan range road; the Milky Way was a nightly rainbow and the big dipper was right outside our tent. We laid down on our backs and let the dew soak into our clothes, too amazed to care. We slurred sweet nothings and I coughed up consequences of cigarette smoke while laughing too hard. Searching for a shooting star over the silk of northern lights I fell in love with Saskatchewan all over again.
The next morning we thanked our lucky stars (literally) for camping in the shade because it was dangerously hot. Temperatures pushing thirty degrees and no breeze to speak of, staying cool was a priority. Although there’s no water for swimming on the grounds like the creek at Ness, Fowler Lake is a short drive away. When Petra, a petite woman with white hair, asked if she could come I immediately said yes in the hospitable, open spirit of festivals. Sitting on the beach with beers she oh so generously brought we exchanged life stories. After some employment issues, Petra saw the opportunity in the summer sun and had spent the last few months touring music festivals.
She walked out into the water effortlessly and without hesitation, while I was literally dipping my toe in the freezing cold water. As I gradually waded through I watched her single trail of bubbles glide through the water, uninhibited, free, and tempting. I decided lake water taking the colour from my hair wasn’t as bad as missing out on the moment and I swam out to meet her. Our nipples showed through loose clothing and I realized how beautiful she was inside and out.
Someday I hope to be as inspiring as Petra. The contentment with oneself needed to journey across the country with no constant but your own heartbeat is admirable and at the very core of Petra’s being. Swimming out to her was the best decision I made all weekend.
Other than the festival bug’s venom coursing through my veins, the lineup really drew me into the on Saturday evening, it was time for the main attraction.
Underground Canadian country has taken a dark, brooding turn with the unorthodox yet perfectly placed cello and haunting vocals of The Dead South. Since coming up with the twisted traditional bluegrass sound in 2012 in Regina, Saskatchewan, the band has released two albums and toured Canada, the United States, and Europe with much success. After waking up from an afternoon nap that made me even more tired (the gamble one always takes when having a nap) I hoped The Dead South could pull me out of my funk.
The Dead South looked like they had come straight out of an Amish community, and sounded like it too; one could never imagine they’d be dancing to a song about incest but when cello built up to the ridiculously fucking catchy chorus of ‘Banjo Odyssey’ you couldn’t help but throw away your civilized morals.
Their new twist on country bluegrass was refreshing, for most of the set. After that it felt like the same song structure was being washed and dirtied with a different drinking story. Although it could be considered a trademark, the classic country three note bass lead in was exhausted as they used it to jump into a jangly banjo riff with a heartbeat drumline many times through.
The audience didn’t seem to mind though, as soon as the band erupted after that third note the audience followed suit, linking arms and stompin’ boots. The Dead South saw this enthusiasm and used it to their advantage, freezing mid song and mid step. They let the last choked guitar chord fade into the night air and teased the audience until they quite literally begged for more. The three-note lead in sent the steam engine barreling down the tracks and the audience rejoiced by kicking up dust and hollering the lyrics much more accurately than I expected. Their following is a dedicated group of hillbillies always itching for more.
One word to describe The Dead South’s live performance is clever. The mandolin and guitar were passed between the multi-instrumentalists many a time but there was never too much blank space between the songs to lose interest. The theatrics were definitely planned on the buggy ride over; Colton Crawford’s meticulous banjo playing shone in the spotlight when he unexpectedly hopped up on the lone kick drum while the band sulked to the back of the stage. After, they sank low to the floor so Nate Hills’ guitar solo stood out.
These small antics gave the crowd something to look at other than the unusual starched white shirts and orderly stage positioning, it gave dynamics to the soon-to-be characteristic line up on the ‘Good Company’ album cover and all of their promo shots.
The songs from The Dead South’s new album available in the fall were my favourites, and promising for more variety. The chorus for ‘Time For Crawlin’’ over some refreshing shots was a great way to start wrapping up the show: “I need some help/I need a friend/Someone come and let me in.” As long as their stage presence stays sharp and witty, I have a feeling The Dead South will always have friends at Dog Patch.
Although Dog Patch was different from Ness Creek in size and atmosphere, I couldn’t have been more glad my experiences earlier in the summer brought me to a farmer’s field in Whelan. It’s obvious Mark Butler puts his heart and soul into the festival year round and his goal of reviving the friendly community gathering has been surpassed in such a short amount of time. Although camping near the trees is important for a good nights sleep and the music is a vital part of a festival, your own personal moments and the people you spend your time with are what stick with you after the tent is taken down and the last note has been sung.
The festival bug bit me hard, and I’m fine with never recovering. No matter where this sickness takes me, Dog Patch will always be a destination. Until next year, dog bless.