HISTORY AND MEMORIES OF SHADY GROVE BLUEGRASS FESTIVAL
The Shady Grove Festival was founded in Nanton, Alberta in 1989 by Rosemarie Wishart and her first husband, Ken. Because Rosemary and Ken were members of the Foothills Bluegrass Music Society, they would ask bluegrass bands to come and play in their tea house.
According to Wishart, “the very first festival was in 1990, and it and two more were held on our property in Nanton known as "Wishart Hollow". From these modest beginnings, the bluegrass festival grew - moving, in 1993, to its current location at Bill Gelden’s Broadway Farm, where it enjoyed many years of success.
According to bluegrass aficionado and long-time Shady Grove volunteer Laurie Mills, the death of Rosemary's first husband Ken in December 1996 came close to ending the festival. However, enough volunteers stepped forward to convince Rosemary to keep Shady Grove going - and thankfully she did!
In 2006 the president of the Shady Grove Society, Fay Mascher, and treasurer, Chuck Shifflett, decided to step down from the board and, as no one was willing to replace them, the Society was dissolved. However, in 2007 and 2008 Rosemary and her second husband, Arnold McAulay, arranged and carried out a "Bluegrass Jam at Broadway Farm" on the dates the festival would normally have been held. According to Rosemary, “we would like to think that having these 'Bluegrass Jams' was instrumental in inspiring the Foothills Bluegrass Society to revive the dates as a proper festival again.”
And indeed, since 2009 the Shady Grove Bluegrass Festival, organized by the Foothills Bluegrass Music Society (FBMS), has seen a resurgence in popularity. In Laurie's words, "the Festival for 2012 will be the third one with 'new management' and each year will get bigger and better from here. Attend at Broadway Farm on August 17-18-19 and we’ll prove it to you!!!!"
"I remember sitting around our kitchen table in 1990 with my late husband, Ken, and a couple of Nanton people talking about starting a festival, then deciding to jump right in. Research began by visiting other festivals and phoning people involved. My notebooks were something to behold! It was amazing to see it all come together after months of preparation on a shoestring budget! This was due in large part to fabulous volunteers who were dedicated, generous, patient and loyal, as were my family, the bands and the sound crew. Al Williams and his friendly crew were there from the beginning to help us along. Many of the bands became like family.
The first festival was a one day event at “Wisharts’ Hollow” as it became known, (the band “Cabin Fever” from Lethbridge even wrote a song about it). Early volunteers will remember cleaning three cases of lettuce the night before the festival to sell as salad at the concession. We did everything we could think of to keep the costs down. Ken and I had five outhouses built along the front of our property and they sat there for the three years the festival was inside the Nanton town limits. Nobody ever said anything!
The second and third festivals were three day events and, because sound equipment was left on the outdoor stage overnight, my son, Scott, and his dog were the security guards and slept under the stage.
It was always a thrill to meet the performers and visitors at the festival and to witness the magic that happened, both on stage and off. The late- night jamming was always special. I particularly remember hearing Steve Fisher and Bill Doucette singing Reno and Smiley’s song, “Wall Around Your Heart”, while sitting around the camp fire under a canopy of trees.
At other festivals, we had seen the “green room” and performer hospitality area, so we decided to feed the band members and volunteers. My daughter, Virginia Wishart, was in charge of this and her meals are well remembered!
When the festival moved to Bill and Mary Gelden’s Broadway Farm east of Nanton, the audience and bands were snug and warm in the Blue Sky Pavilion. The whole Gelden family welcomed our group and made us feel at home, which is the feeling we had always promoted. The audience could sit inside in comfort in close proximity to the bands and still view circling hawks or stars in the sky when the roof was pulled back. It felt good to be a part of the spellbound crowd. At the farm, we had more room for workshops which were very popular. Because we promoted the festival as a family event, we had many activities for children. Thanks to teachers like Marilyn and Herb Giesbrecht, Fay Mascher and others, the children learned to participate and were able to go on stage to show off their new skills. Parents never had to worry about their families. At first there was even a friendly goat wandering around to pet.
We promoted the festival everywhere we travelled and even went in local parades, decorating a float of some sort and dressing up as Bill Monroe or Minnie Pearl or in crazy hillbilly costumes. Volunteers made up two outrageous mannequins called Bob and Jenny who always sat on the floats and on the stage.
Ken and I kept all of the letters of appreciation received over the years and many photo albums. These are usually displayed at the festival. I am very happy that the Shady Grove Bluegrass Festival has continued to promote bluegrass music in southern Alberta and that people still enjoy the atmosphere at Broadway Farm.
Shady Grove is a very special event in a very special place."
Ken Wishart and sound tech Al Williams (1995)
Rosemary with Hospitality Coordinator Virginia Wishart (1997)
Rosemary Wishart and Arnold MacAulay (2012)