34th annual Coombs Bluegrass Festival featuring Dr. Banjo and Long Road Home, Old Time Fiddlers, Clover Point Drifters, the Breakmen and more
When: Today through Sunday
Where: Coombs Rodeo Grounds, 2595 Alberni Hwy., Coombs
Tickets: $85-$110 (four-day pass); $70-$90 (three-day pass), $30-$40 (one-day pass); $15-$35 (evening pass)
Note: Children 12 and under free
Linda Thorburn, who was attuned to bluegrass accented acts like the Brothers Four while her schoolmates were listening to the Beatles and other British Invasion groups, was bitten by the bluegrass bug early.
That decision would prove be to integral to her development, both musically and professionally. Thorburn, the director of this weekend's annual Coombs Bluegrass Festival, remains one of Vancouver Island's biggest bluegrass boosters and pickers.
"Today, it's still as much of a passion as when I took t up," said Thorburn, who lays five-string banjo in he group Back Porch Banjo.
She isn't scheduled to appear on stage this week end, but Thorburn says anything can happen during the ourse of the Coombs Blue-rass Festival, which is by ar the oldest of its kind in .C. She attributes that to the supportive festival audience that descends each year on the Coombs rodeo grounds for sets by some of the best and brightest bluegrass acts on the West Coast.
Throw in some "slowpitch" workshops (for bluegrass beginners) to go along with banjo, fiddle, bass, mandolin, banjo and guitar lessons, and you've got nearly four full days of entertainment, Thorburn said. In addition to appearances by Vancouver Island acts Old Time Fiddlers and Clover Point Drifters, among others, groups from as far away as Colorado (Dr. Banjo and Long Road Home) and Oregon (Great Northern Planes) will take the stage - in the middle of a rodeo ring, no less - before one of the most receptive audiences on Vancouver Island.
"People get right up close and listen to the bands," Thorburn said. "They can actually see how to play bluegrass."
The festival begins at 7 tonight, a day earlier than last year ("I hired too many bands so I had to add an extra evening show," Thorburn joked). Things wind down about 11 p.m. on Sunday, with a crowd-participation version of Will the Circle Be Unbroken, but that doesn't mean patrons will immediately leave the site.
In fact, Thorburn expects a sizable contingent of on-site campers, who have been arriving at the site since Monday, to last a day or two past closing time.
"The campsite is already filling up, and it's only Wednesday morning. They don't leave until Tuesday, some of them."
Thorburn expects more than 3,000 fans on site at any point during the weekend, an impressive amount for such an out-of-the-way event.
There are other bluegrass events to contend with each year, including the Chemainus Bluegrass Festival and Qualicum Bay's Lighthouse Festival, but the Coombs event is the granddaddy of Vancouver Island bluegrass bashes.
That speaks to the sense of ownership felt by those who attend annually.
"It's all about the friends you've met over the years.
I still see people I met in Year 3."
Thorburn, who has been to all but three of the festival's 34 editions, says everyone involved, from the fans to the volunteers to the paid musicians, is like an extended family.
"I've made a lot of friendships over the years, all from bluegrass. I had no idea it would lead me down such an adventure."