Gateway Festival has positive community impact for nearly a decade

By: Michelle Brownridge November, 2013

For almost ten years, the Gateway Music Festival held in Bengough, SK has been entertaining audiences and providing a unique opportunity for Saskatchewan musicians to play alongside internationally acclaimed artists.

Michael Dawson, artistic director, Gateway Festival, says, "From a programming standpoint, it is a magic moment for me when I can put dozens of Saskatchewan artists on the same stage as our head liners and watch them ‘blow away’ a few thousand people.”

Carol Cairns, the founding artistic director, explains how the festival got its start. "It was becoming apparent that there was a need to develop an artistic community in Bengough. The Reeve of the rural municipality and the mayor of Bengough were talking about how to bring arts and culture into the community and I had purchased a building with the intent of creating a community arts centre and gallery," she says. "We all got together and formed the Bengough Municipal Arts Council. One of the first events we held was a one-day outdoor concert."

The first outdoor event, held in 2004, was a huge success. "At the time, there were a lot of young musicians and bands around the community and they were having these huge, out-of-control parties where 200 people would show up," she says. "The one-day event, formatted as a 'Battle of the Bands', allowed the youth to showcase their talent to the community in a more positive and organized way." The event wrapped with a performance by popular country artist Corb Lund. "Ending the event with a performance by a well established artist brought it all together, showing the young artists what is possible and providing a great concert for audience members," adds Cairns.

The festival continued to grow from that point on, progressing to a full three-day event with over 60 performers in just three years.

Fast-forward to 2013, a hugely successful year for the Gateway Festival. With over 6,500 people in attendance throughout the weekend and big name head-liners such as Steve Earle and Corb Lund sharing the stage with local Saskatchewan talent, such as Rah Rah, Zachary Lucky, Indigo Joseph, Jeans Boots and many more, it was a landmark year for the festival.

Dawson says, "I think there were a number of factors that contributed to the growth of the festival in 2013. First and foremost, the generous support of our funders and sponsors played a role in allowing us to extend both our programming and marketing." He adds, "It was my first year as artistic director and I focused on new branding that celebrates the incredible Big Muddy and Castle Butte region where the festival takes place.”

"I am also well aware that former artistic director, Carol Cairns, had created a 'sleeping giant', so to speak, that was incredibly successful at attracting audiences from all over the surrounding area. It was only a matter of time before word spread," he says.

The Gateway Festival has had a tremendous impact on the community of Bengough and the surrounding area. Not only does it bring together people from all of the neighbouring communities, but it creates an avenue for people from all across the prairies and beyond to visit Bengough and the Big Muddy region. "Last year brought many first-time attendees, including people who drove from BC just for the festival," says Dawson. "Beyond showcasing how fantastic the area is, it also creates a positive financial impact. For many locally owned businesses, the festival weekend is their busiest time of year.

“2014 marks the tenth anniversary of the festival, so we plan to celebrate in a major way,” says Dawson. “Expect lots of announcements early in the new year!”

The Gateway Festival is supported by the SaskFestivals Grant Program delivered by the Saskatchewan Arts Board, with funding from the Saskatchewan Lotteries Trust Fund for Sport, Culture and Recreation.

For more information about the Gateway Festival, visit or find them on Twitter at @GatewayFestival.