Bluegrass still flourishing in River Valley


Julie Ann Bertram

Special to the Tribune

It’s been going strong for nearly four decades, and this year’s 39th annual Bluegrass Jamboree, held at the River Valley Bluegrass Park on the Civic long weekend, was just as popular as ever. The park was packed with people who have enjoyed this festival for years, while new visitors reveled in the sights, snacks, and sounds.

The late Tony de Boer founded the park in 1984 and knew it was to become the home of Bluegrass in Northern Ontario. Today, Doug, Cindy, and Patrick de Boer are taking pride in continuing their father’s vision along the shores of the Temagami and Sturgeon Rivers, to the delight of generations of Bluegrass fans and the local community. “So many people loved the music and loved to help out… all these people came in every weekend to help my father build this place. He would go away to work for the week and come back and there’d be a road built or a cabin was put up. They loved what he was doing for the community, for them. Gilbert Giroux, our neighbour, was the best person, he was always here helping Dad,” remembers Cindy.

The de Boer children grew up around this wonderful community and are happy to keep it all going.  “When I was 15 years old, Dad took me to my first Bluegrass festival in Ohio and then I started playing, and then he started getting into the promoting side of it and just consumed all of it, making it bigger and bigger. Why would anyone let this go?” says Doug, who talks enthusiastically about the new generation of players now performing at the festival. “Like The Dusty Drifters who played this weekend, their band was parked in behind us, and the bass player had his wife and 3 kids with him. I come out at 7:30 in the morning, he’s playing guitar, the two kids have a fiddle and a baby guitar, and they’re having a jam session! You know, 60% of the attendees are Bluegrass players themselves. And there’s a group of kids here in a band called Avery Drive, their grandfather and fathers were playing here from when it first started!”

After the main stage music, the park is dotted with campfires and jam sessions going on until the early morning hours, which is a highlight for Cindy de Boer. “I loved going through the park where trailers were parked awning to awning, the jams happening and the smiles on all the faces.” She also points to the top-tier entertainment on the schedule. This year featured two top-rated USA bands, the Kevin Prater Band and Russell Moore & Third Tyme Out, who opened the festival. Doug de Boer explains, “We like to bring in American bands to highlight the Wednesday and Thursday shows, and we run workshops on those days, guitar players, banjo players, they’ll sit and talk with you, you can ask questions, they will work with you for an hour or so.”

Lori MacEachern, a singer with the Newfie Chicks hailing from Newfoundland and Doug’s partner, was blown away by the number of new families attending this year and the excitement from the many kids following mascot Bucky Beaver around and participating in the Amazing Race. “Bucky Beaver runs the Amazing Race; he has a bunch of games, and the kids have to run around finding things in the park and they have to do all this different stuff with a team of 4 and a captain, and they can win $100.” Lori was also happy to see many new faces coming from down south, “having bands like The Barrel Boys come in from Toronto and seeing that they brought their people who now have discovered the magic of this place. All the musicians from everywhere meld together, it really is magical.”

Next year will be the 40th anniversary of this family music festival and everyone at the park is excited about it. Doug is already thinking about what bands he wants to play. “We’re hoping to get Larry Sparks here, one of the last going original Bluegrass people from the ones that really built what Bluegrass is; that sound that people learn from. And Country Jam, we’ll be trying to get that tribute band here too.” 

As his dream continues to flourish and grow, Tony DeBoer must be tapping his toes and smiling down on the River Valley Bluegrass Park.

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