The RabbleBerries —
2nd RabbleBerries Mini-Tour of the Interior (2013)
Having missed the Princeton festival last year due to other commitments, it was with eager anticipation that the RabbleBerries began to practice for August 16–18, 2013, The Sixth Annual (our fifth) Princeton Traditional Music Festival. And for two house concerts: a return engagement on the patio of Summerland artists Ron and Marci, with twenty-or-so in attendance on a Tuesday; still-okay was an event held by Leo, another of Karen’s art contacts, in a Vernon carport for 4, later 5 (when one more “audient” joined us from upstairs). As Ron and Marci remarked earlier, the term “house concert” hasn’t quite gained entry into the Okanagan Lake lexicon. Surviving initial awkwardness, people relaxed and had a good time. The last musical stop was a party thrown for the dance band Rig-A-Jig, for whom Karen also plays flutes, mandolin, bodhran and other things. So the rest of our band was likewise invited to Argenta by hosts Richard and Ann, lifelong friends of Dick, Rig-A-Jig’s fiddler. We sold CDs at every show.
Came the day and we attached a pod to the top of the Gillmores’ Ford Focus station-wagon for camping gear. We afterward resolved to find another pod if we do a tour in ’14; we couldn’t get it clamped down far enough forward so it wouldn’t interfere with the hatch lid. Karen was the only one small enough to stand under the lid and pass things or have them passed to her, but she’s the official packer anyway; anyone else who tried to fetch things from the rear whacked his head until increasingly-bad language ensued. We made the 6 o’clock ferry to Vancouver and were able to enjoy conversation with friends Heidi and Andy till we turned in for an early start Friday morning. Too early for me, because I slept through most of the trip to Princeton. We stopped for a protein breakfast in Hope, where the mighty Fraser River crashes out of its canyon and widely veers to the West, exiting the Cascade Mountains. Here we left the Trans-Canada Highway and motored up and up into Manning Park on Route 3. Within a mile of the summit are the headwaters of the Skagit River, bound south and west into Washington’s Puget Sound; and those of the eastbound Similkameen, the course of which the highway follows most of the way to the Okanagan Valley, with the U.S. border often not much more than a stone’s throw away. There are no settlements between Hope and Princeton, just trees and rocks down to the water’s edge; if you’ve seen it before and aren’t in the driver’s seat, you’re likely to snooze through it all, especially when sardined ’twixt car door and luggage.
We arrived in mid-afternoon and unloaded at River’s Edge Campground (the Festival reserves the entire facility for performers, two nights paid-for), then went back into town to sign in, shake hands with organizer Jon Bartlett, and grab a late lunch using Festival food vouchers. Besides these perks and some help with the gas, nobody gets paid, so it’s basically a chance to meet up with other musicians. Since the RabbleBerries weren’t playing until Saturday, we watched a few performances before returning to the campground for a short practice session and a nap for the Gillmores, while Sharon and I returned the instruments to the lockup and had supper. We met up later for the big jam at Jon and Rika’s Victorian home and spacious shady yards, but it had been a long day and we didn’t want to be late for the pancake breakfast, so we packed it in at a wussy 9:30 p.m.
Although nobody else mentioned it, our 2 p.m. half-hour set at one of the two smaller stages was rather tepid, but on the big stage we made up for it with “Scattin’ Your Tune” (big applause) and a tighter set overall. “The Goodnight Loving Trail” was also well-received as usual; it may be our best piece, with the women’s well-seasoned harmonies and the sound of the autoharp. Our name did circulate well along Vermillion Avenue, but at the Festival instrument lockup the RabbleBerries were more infamous, it turned out to our amusement, for sending the volunteers ticketing and unticketing our numerous stringee-thingees several times a day and requiring an extra table just for our act’s luggage! From Saturday to Sunday’s 6 o’clock singout under the lovely gazebo the city had made for the Festival, we had little to do but catch other acts, sing along or doze under the trees when not trekking 6 blocks to the Museum Stage and back, bearing messages. What the heck, the weather was fine, not too hot.
The weather held. Karen managed to squeeze more bags into the pod and out of our laps and we took off Monday morning for Summerland by Route 3A. Not far out of town a stop was made and a tiny green lake was discovered having a half-rotten, almost-square dock and teeming populations of bizarre vegetables tended by electric-blue dragonflies with invisible wings. The Similkameen River is the road’s companion, and flush with the added gallons of the Tulameen, where the men used to bring copper ore out of the ground. At Keremeos we took the shortcut to Penticton and up the western shore, finding Ron and Marci right away but by accident, thanks to a fleeting reliance on Google maps. We had a lot of time to kill while in Summerland. I’d brought along a few magazines to drop when finished and Ron and Marci’s art was engaging, but coffee-time was always warmly anticipated. Sharon and I walked downtown to check email on the library’s computer and to pick up coffee cream and a local map the day after the patio concert. Departure was chronicled by pictures taken of Karen’s job of packing. We made rendezvous for lunch in Kelowna with Sharon’s friend and union affiliate Linda, whose husband Glen had provided such great sound for us on his backyard stage a few years ago. I hope they host us again next time we’re through.
We got lost in Vernon and had to get instructions on the phone from Leo, whose sole means of transportation is his bicycle and therefore only knows the names of some streets and avenues, which are all numbered. Eventually ensconced and unpacked, we were invited to a downtown concert in the park, where we had a picnic on blankets and smiled when addressed, having no clue what was said because of the deafening volume, though the fiddling was good. The next day it was apparent that it had rained overnight and the prospect occasioned a change of venue to the carport, which needed to be emptied and cleaned. We all pitched in and had the job done with lots of time to spare. It then was clear that with the minuscule turnout expected we needn’t bother with microphones and amplifier, which had the effect of causing us to relax and think of the situation as a practice session with visitors.
On the road again, we had a late breakfast in Revelstoke on Route 1 (the Trans-Canada Highway) then got in line to cross the Columbia River (Upper Arrow Lake). A ferry twice the size would have still left cars behind — will we ever be rid of this misguided government? Then, a mile up “Google Way” on the other side we hit dirt, which explained why almost all the traffic had gone the other way toward Nakusp and the Slocan Valley. But our destination is famous for its seclusion, after all. Soon we were glad that it was Saturday and the logging trucks weren’t running, since the part that skirts Trout Lake far below is often single-lane and the helpful little orange cones indicating washouts were themselves sliding off into the steep forest. Ron drove calmly and yielded to overtaking rednecks. There was much laughter from the front seats, while Karen squeezed her eyes shut and whimpered. Eventually we descended from the clouds into the Lardeau Valley and habitation, signs, even pavement. No stores, though; communities like these 1950s Quaker settlements of Marblehead, Meadow Creek, and Cooper Creek generally have a co-op and barter a lot. A former steamer-landing at the end of the road on the other shore of Kootenay Lake, Johnson’s Landing was half-wiped out by a slide two years ago. Argenta is on the far side as well; the crossing road goes through the bottomland between Duncan and Kootenay Lakes. Asking someone led immediately to the discovery of Richard and Ann’s driveway. Music greeted our arrival.
Their house is beautifully situated above the Duncan River and the head of Kootenay Lake next to a fully-enclosed deer-proof garden; the corn was the best I’ve ever tasted. A tree taken down to build the house provided kitchen cabinets, wainscoting for its rooms and those of a couple of others in the area. With 5 bedrooms, nobody slept on the lovely floors. The kitchen has both modern and cast-iron stoves. Richard was his own architect, while Rig-A-Jig’s fiddler Dick had done much of the splendid carpentry. The mountains overlooking the house have sharp, bare peaks; Ann took us latecomers for a hike up the nearest hill for a better view of their majesty. From a couple hundred more feet in altitude, the serpentine flow of the river was evident and the brooding reaches of the lake stretched due south to the horizon. Back at the house, the Rabbs played some, but mostly we jammed with the others, since it was their party. The first night they’d played a dance at the community centre, yet there seemed to be no end to the music that kept breaking out all day Sunday.
Monday morning after breakfast we packed the car, said goodbye to our friends new and old and hit the road to Kaslo. It’s a charming town, very much like Nelson, to my mind a second choice to none but Victoria itself for one’s carefree dotage. The chief attraction is the Moyie, a Kootenay steamboat most lovingly-restored as a museum. From the lower deck with vintage vehicles, cargo, kitchen and crew stations appointed for the period up to the wheelhouse on top, the experience is to be there in 1912. Here is the royal suite made up with a bathtub for the visit of the Duke of Connaught and his family; here is the dining room, the cutlery, the original upholstery, and bits and pieces of history recovered from the detritus people stuff into window slots and vents rather than get up and find a wastebasket. We were transported. Then we had lunch and proceeded. We had an ice cream cone in Nelson and determined not to stop again until Grand Forks, where we sprung for motel rooms. The rest did us good, but desire for one’s own surroundings had eclipsed the wonderment of travel and so we only paused on Anarchist Mountain for the panorama of the southernmost Okanagan and sandy Osoyoos and did not dabble our feet this trip in Canada’s warmest waters.
All that broke our headlong plunge to the Pacific was a prearranged visit to Minter Gardens, since it will be closed for good later this year. I could have seen everything in half the time, but it was soothing to perambulate and we weren’t running for the ferry, having plenty of time to catch either of the last 2 sailings to Vancouver Island. So we just missed one and had to wait an hour for another of these great waterborne cities to wash in and disgorge a few hundred vehicles of all classes. Then we sailed home.
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