Performers pleased to see return of Spruce River Folk Festival

Michael Oleksyn/Daily Herald Wilma Groenen and the Fine Young Fossils performed at the Spruce River Folk Festival on Saturday just north of Prince Albert at Spruce River Farm.

The Spruce River Folk Festival north of Prince Albert returned after a three-year pause on Saturday.

Don Bendig, who is a co-chair and served as co-emcee of the festival with Funk, was happy to have the festival back in full swing.

Bendig and his Prince Albert-based band O’Kraut, made up of Mario Kaun and Rein Kreig, opened the festival on Saturday afternoon. The three piece band also included guest Wanda Scissons on bass for the Spruce River performance.

“I’ve always liked this festival,” Bendig said. “Ray is a longtime friend of mine. I love this festival with a beautiful venue, and generally a very appreciative audience given that we’ve been threatened with rain for three days.”

The cultural event aimed at awareness of Saskatchewan Treaty land issues took place about 20 km north of the city at Spruce River Farm. Ray Funk started hosting the annual event on his property back in 2009. He put a hold on the festival for three years because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

O’Kraut missed the first festival, but played for the next three after that.

“Then they took a different approach here. They didn’t bring back any of the acts that had been before they brought all new acts for a couple of years,” Bendig remembered.

Michael Oleksyn/Daily Herald Prince Albert’s O’Kraut opened the Spruce River Folk Festival on Saturday just north of Prince Albert at Spruce River Farm.

They also played the year before COVID-19. Saturday’s festival was O’Kraut’s first year back.

The band was happy to have the festival back and to see the great crowd for the day.

“We love playing and we love to have people come out and we do love to come out here,” he said.

The festival honours a 2006 memorandum of understanding (MOU) between the Young Chippewayan First Nation and Mennonite and Lutheran settlers in the Laird area, where Funk grew up.

The MOU was intended to repair the wrongs that occurred in 1897 – that’s when the Canadian government took the reserve land for settlement without consent or compensation.

The Mennonite and Lutheran settlers slowly started to realize these wrongdoings, and worked with the First Nation to move forward.

The story of the First Nation and settler communities working together is at the centre of the documentary Reserve 107: Reconciliation on the Prairies.

Wilma Groenen, who is from Saskatoon, usually plays the Regina Folk Festival in August, but instead came out with her band the Fine Young Fossils to perform on Saturday.

Groenen was invited to play the first festival, but couldn’t because of prior commitments. This was the first year that the schedule worked out.

“It is so beautifully casual and friendly and just seems like a big community spirit,” she said. “It’s lovely and well-organized. Casual but well-organized.”

Groenen said it was great to work with one of the best sound men in Saskatchewan Josh Palmer and have an excellent setup for the stage with a relaxed atmosphere where people are encouraged to take a walk around the property or pick some berries.

“It’s wonderful,” she added.

The Fine Young Fossils played to an enthusiastic crowd as the festival’s second performers.

“I have been playing with this band for a couple of years now. I’ve been playing with Doug Sparrow for ever,” Groenen said.

She has been playing with Glenn Enns the drummer for many years and Terry Collison and Enns went to grade school and have been playing together since they were 11-years-old. She said that the rhythm section is exceptional and keyboard player Ross Nykiforuk is the newest addition.

Groenen’s performance ended with a rain shower that briefly put a damper on the afternoon festivities. Despite the rain, she won’t hesitate to return.

“We had a blast,” Groenen said.

“Next time, we won’t bring rain until it’s well put to bed. We’ll come back in a flash. It’s fabulous,” she added.

Groenen explained that she now has new plans for this weekend in the future.

“It’s so nice to be able to do that because I’ve known Ray for a really long time and now that I’ve been here, I realized that I actually do want to be here more than I want to go to the Regina Folk Festival. Ray and the Spruce River Festival beat out the Regina Folk Festival so there you go,” she said.

Before the performances kicked off there was a flag raising by Marshall Williams and a prayer by Harry LaFonde.

This year’s other performers included Violet Naytowhow & Lilly Naytowhowcon, The Strong Sisters, Larry Krause and Chief Bart Tsannie & Gabriel.