News
A letter from our Nimblefingers Bursary Winner

Tai McGillivray was the winner of the 2019 VBA Bursary to the Nimblefingers Workshop in August. He recently sent us a summary of the experience.

... We got the NimbleFingers/Sorrento around 6pm and parked the rig. We walked around and found all our old friends at the instructors get-together. We all ended up sitting down to a pizza dinner and caught up with one another of all the things that happened since we last saw each other the previous year. Then the jamming started to happen. I found a killer jam in the back and ended up playing until 2am. This would become a routine.

On the first day of classes, I woke up at 7:45am walked over to breakfast. The food was pretty good again this year and we had scrambled eggs, bacon, sausage and salad. Coffee would become more important later in the week as I suffered more from lack of sleep. After breakfast I walked back to my Cabana and got some practice in before the class started at 9:30am.

I had never met David Benedict (Advanced Mandolin), but was very excited to meet him. I had known of him via his weekly Mandolin Mondays posts where he features a different mandolin player each week. David Benedict is a really nice guy and a great teacher - very organized!

... Living in a Cabana for a week was so much fun. A couple of my roommates were the same from last year and it was great catching up and hanging out with them. One of my roommates were in my class, so we got to see a lot of each other. All my roommates were friendly people and great to pick with. It was so nice to come back to the dry Cabana at 4am and not have to sleep in a cold wet tent.

During the afternoons, there were workshops that you could attend. My favourite one was with John Reischman and David Benedict. They played some tunes and talked about how they learned, how they practiced, songs they wrote, improvising, and so much more. John talked about how he got his Gibson Loar mandolin and where he gets it worked on when it needs attention. David also talked about his Apitius mandolin. They both talked about their upbringings and the bluegrass scene. That alone would have been a great week, but my favourite part was the jamming at night.

In the evening there was usually a concert and dance that were well attended. After that it was jamming time! Most nights I got back to my Cabana between 3-4 in the morning. It was so much fun playing with different people and in different jams. After the festival concert on Saturday August 24th, there were some great jams. At 12am, it was my birthday and I turned 17. They made up a birthday song for me and made me play a split break tune. That meant that I had to play half of everyone's break. It sounds kind of nerdy, but it was so much fun!

... I would like to thank everyone at the Victoria Bluegrass Association for making this opportunity possible. If you haven't been to NimbleFingers before, I highly recommend it! It's not too many places where you can stand across from your bluegrass heroes and jam with them. It's a lot of fun and you learn so much in a relaxed atmosphere. I think one of the biggest highlights of the week for me was playing a set with Jenny Lester and friends to kick off the Saturday festival. Great musicians and even better people!

See the full letter here.

posted 2019.09.14
Tai McGillivray - Nimblefingers Bursary Winner

Tai McGillivray is the winner of the 2019 VBA Bursary to the Nimblefingers Workshop in August.

Denman Island's Tai McGillivray is 16 years old and has been playing music and performing seriously since he was 7. Although mandolin is his main instrument, he also plays guitar, fiddle and bass. He has grown up playing at open mics, jams & bluegrass festivals.

Tai also plays bass in his school's R&B and Jazz bands as well as the senior concert band. In grade 9 he was awarded Music Student of the Year. At the young age of 12, Tai released his first CD entitled Wood Strings and a Pluck and he is planning a CD of original material.

posted 2019.03.06
Sooke River Bluegrass Festival is now . . .

After 16 successful festivals, in 2019 the Sooke River Bluegrass Festival will be moved and renamed.

The inaugural Cowichan Valley Bluegrass Festival will take place at Laketown Ranch on Father's Day weekend Friday June 14 to Sunday June 16, 2019. This is the same venue home for Sunfest Country Music Festival, Laketown Rock, and Laketown Shakedown.

The Sooke festival had outgrown the former site in Sooke with campsites selling out months in advance. Laketown Ranch provides the festival more camping capacity, better day parking and improved accessibility for those with mobility challenges.

Confirmed performers include Claire Lynch, The Slocan Ramblers, The Lonely Heartstring Band, The Sweet Lowdown, Clover Point Drifters, Country Squall, and Nomad Jones.

posted 2018.12.26
VBA Donates to Charities in 2018

We raised $1,425 at our 2018 annual XMAS Jam and Auction, which we donated to The Mustard Seed.

And as a result of the concert by John Reischman and the Jaybirds, with Cordova Bay United Church, Sooke River Bluegrass Association, and the musicians involved, we donated $1,405 to Our Place Society.

Thanks everyone who helped with these donations - it's a significant part of the VBA's annual commitment to local charities.

posted 2018.12.18
A letter from our Nimblefingers Bursary Winner

Gaby Baasch was the winner of the 2018 VBA Bursary to the Nimblefingers Workshop in August. She recently sent us a summary of her experience.

"As I drove up to Sorrento Centre for the first weekend of Nimblefingers the forest fire smoke was as thick as my nervous anticipation. I had been pining after the opportunity to attend this festival for years and thanks to a bursary from the Victoria Bluegrass Association, I was finally afforded the chance. I knew that I was in for a week jam packed full of bluegrass, but otherwise I had no idea what to expect.

From the moment I stepped out of my van it became apparent that this was going to be an amazing week. Sorrento Centre is a beautiful venue overlooking a lake; a sprawling green field littered with camp sites nestled snuggly between trees, rustic lodging and various stages. The gentle plucking of various instruments could be heard from all directions.

Upon check in I was given the program for the week. I would be lying if I said I was not surprised when I read through it for the first time. Aside from our scheduled classes there were a plethora of optional workshops, beginner jam circles, square dancing lessons, instructor concerts, student concerts, and the list goes on! Everyday there were activities from 9:30 in the morning till 10:30 at night, and the music did not stop there. Around 10:30 we were fed snacks and coffee to help energize us for the rest of the night spent jamming.

My experience playing banjo prior to the festival was fairly limited. I had attended several slow-pitch jams and had been taking lessons for a few months. Though I had been to a few bluegrass festivals in the past, I had never had the confidence to join in on a jam. Nimblefingers, however, is very beginner friendly. We were taught jam etiquette and encouraged to join in as much as possible, and I can happily say that I left with much more confidence in playing with other people.

In addition to learning the prerequisite skills to jam with people, I left the week feeling more inspired to play my instrument than ever before. Every single instructor completely blew me out of the water; I have never before been surrounded by so much musical talent. I took Patrick Sauber's bluegrass banjo workshop, and I'm so grateful to have had the chance to learn from him. He is a bluegrass purist who insisted that we never touch a piece of sheet music but instead insisted we learn by listening to and imitating the classics. In his words, listening to Earl Scruggs would 'make his hair light on fire'. I have taken his lessons to heart and haven't looked at sheet music since.

On whole, Nimblefingers was a journey, both in music and in self exploration. From nervous anticipation, to exhaustion, frustration and blistered fingers, to the anxiety and adrenaline that is the student concert. This night was the highlight of the week for me. There is nothing more enjoyable than watching the people you have grown close to perform their new found skills - to see them trembling nervously as they walk on the stage, and to leave smiling with humble pride.

I can say without a doubt that the week exceed my expectations on all accounts. I feel that I left having made real musical progress and genuine friends. I am truly grateful to my teacher Cluny McPherson, who informed me of the bursary provided by the VBA, and to the VBA itself. Happy Picking!"

posted 2018.12.01
Al Ritchie plays his final tune

Al Ritchie passed away on the evening of June 7th, 2018, surrounded by family. Al was an active participant at the weekly Victoria Bluegrass Jams for many years until he found attending too difficult after becoming wheelchair bound. Even so, he continued to play his guitar regularly up until his final days as playing brought him so much joy throughout his life.

Al's enthusiasm for playing music was infectious. He was always keen to take his turn to lead a song as he had a big repertoire. Always friendly, he was a great story teller. He will be missed by his many friends and family.

A celebration of life is being held on Saturday, June 16 from 1 to 3 pm at the Colwood Community Hall at 2219 Sooke Road, Victoria BC (near the Dairy Queen). There will be an opportunity to play some music in Al's memory - please bring your instrument to participate.

posted 2018.06.01
Ron Jenkins joins the Circle

Ron Jenkins, local country musician and friend of bluegrass, has died at the age of 82. He was a fixture in our country music scene, and will be missed by his many friends and family. A celebration of life will be held March 25, 2018 from 1-5pm at Langford Legion, 761 Station Ave.

His obituary is here.

posted 2018.03.20
Marlene Bertrand - RIP

The VBA has been remiss in posting this, and we deeply apologize. Marlene was such an important part of our community that everyone will understand how much we miss her, and they will appreciate how difficult it has been to say goodbye. She was always keen to volunteer, to greet new players, to encourage players to get on open stage and to play music almost anytime, anywhere.

Marlene began learning to play mandolin at the tender age of 60. Her determination and enthusiasm for learning the instrument and repertoire, together with her outgoing personality and boundless energy, got her into many musical events on and off stage. She was a tireless volunteer, generously working hard to ensure the success of the VBA in every way she knew how. And how she loved sharing her music by performing regularly on open stage nights, at our Tuesday night jams, at festivals, in retirement homes, and at many jam gatherings held at her home or at the homes of her many, many friends and family. And when she wasn't playing, Marlene could be found sitting in an audience with her Art, enjoying and supporting performances of all levels.

Marlene passed away August 1, 2017, spending her last waking day playing music with friends. No doubt she's playing and singing with the angels now. We wonder if she's taught them how to play Salt Spring yet.

Her obituary: Lovingly remembered by her husband Arthur Bertrand, daughter Celine (Brian) Berry and grandchildren Robert, Erin and David of Victoria, son Darin (Elizabeth) Bertrand and grandchildren Ryan and Matthew of Ottawa, and her many brothers, sisters, nieces, nephews and friends. Many thanks to the wonderful staff at the Victoria General Hospital for their care and devotion. A memorial mass was held at St. Patrick's Parish in Victoria on August 11, followed by a reception at the Berry residence. In lieu of flowers, donations to the Heart and Stroke Foundation in her memory would be greatly appreciated.

posted 2017.12.01