The Prince Albert Winter Festival’s musical legacy was front and centre as the annual Tux and Toques Gala on Saturday as a full house packed the Wildlife Federation building to celebrate 2023 honourary chair Nancy Hagen.
Hagen received praise from friends and colleagues for her contributions to the Winter Festival during a short tribute video after the formal dinner. She said it was an exciting, but surreal experience.
“What was going through my head was, ‘oh my God, is this really happening to me and am I worthy of this,’” she said with a laugh. “It felt really great.”
Hagen, a well-known local singer and vocal coach, first performed at the festival’s Country North Show in 1982. Since then, she’s attended every Country North Show but four, working as a producer, co-producer, back-up singer, audition judge and MC. In some years, she even held multiple roles for the same show.
A few close friends inspired Hagen to begin her musical career, with one of the biggest being current Jim Pattison Children’s Hospital Foundation CEO Brynn Boback-Lane. Boback-Lane was among several people who recorded congratulations for Hagen as part of the tribute video.
Hagen said all the tributes meant a lot to her, but Boback-Lane’s was particularly special.
“When I did get into the Winter Festival and the Country North Show, it was a lot to do with her and another friend of mine, Duff Robison,” Hagen remembered. “We were in high school together (and) were performing in it, so yes, it was very exciting.”
Hagen said Prince Albert has always had a strong musical tradition, so it’s no surprise musical events have proved to be some of the most popular over the years.
“They always used to say, ‘there must be something in the water in Prince Albert,’ because so many singers, songwriters, musicians, come out of PA and have gone on to do really great things,” she said.
“There’s such a diverse group of people who are coming to the shows and performing in the shows. I think that’s what makes it unique.”
While Hagen is proud of her contributions to the Winter Festival, she’s even more proud of the many students who followed in her path. Roughly half-a-dozen of her former vocal students have appeared in the show, and that’s even more of a thrill than singing herself.
Winter festival sells out the house
After entertaining a full house at the Prince Albert Wildlife Federation event centre on Saturday, the only question for Winter Festival organizers is whether they’ll move next year’s Tux and Toques Gala to a bigger facility.
This year’s event drew a capacity crowd of 172 people, a slight increase over the 150 people who attended in 2022.
Winter Festival president Bev Erickson said the question has come up before, and likely will again after another successful year.
“I like intimacy as far as a venue choice,” Erickson said. “Personally, I don’t like a 500 seat thing. I like to be able to go from table to table and visit with everyone and know everybody that’s in the room. For me, I’m very comfortable with sticking at this number, or maybe one more table here and there if we can squeeze it in.
“We’ll probably have a conversation about going to a bigger venue, but my personal opinion is I’d like to stay right where we are.”
The 2023 gala was the festival’s eighth in total, with one year off due to COVID. Erickson said the festival has been rejuvenated since that lone cancellation, and Prince Albert residents and businesses remain keen to support it.
Proceeds from the event will go towards Family Days at the Prince Albert Winter Festival. Family Days are a multi-day event will run Feb. 21-23, and feature accessible and quality family entertainment for the cost of a Winter Festival button.
“We started a new family event days down at the Exhibition Centre, and we’re hoping that that’s going to explode and … be a place where people want to go,” Erickson said. “It is a child and guardian event. You can’t drop your kids off, but you’re welcome to come with them.”