Popular fiddle fest continues to grow

By: Damon Badger Heit April, 2012

The annual John Arcand Fiddle Fest has come a long way in 15 years. It has grown from offering a few fiddle work-shops to an eventful, four-day festival, held at Windy Acres in Saskatoon, featuring concerts, competitions, dances and performances, as well as the popular Professional Workshop Series for those seeking to enhance their skills in Métis music and dance.

“We started on a much smaller scale with only four fiddle workshops,” explains Vicki Arcand, organizer, John Arcand Fiddle Fest. “The next year, we added one jigging workshop and the next year we added a few more. Our organization does things in baby steps, growing things slowly. What we do is based on available funding and when audience and participants just keep saying they want more and more.” This past year, there were 1,040 participants in workshops, which nearly broke their record of 1,082 participants in 2008.
The Fiddle Fest has attracted talent and participants from neighboring Manitoba and from down south in the States since it began. Professional instructors in fiddle, piano, jigging and guitar provide training to registered participants from skill levels ranging from absolute beginner, to beginner, intermediate and advanced skill levels.

The John Arcand Fiddle Fest saw about 4,000-5,000 people come to its camp last summer. “It’s a family atmosphere here,” says Arcand. Children’s activities run throughout the weekend thanks to the assistance of Saskatoon’s CRU Wellness Centre. She adds, “for the last three years, some of the same youth keep coming back to work the festival. It’s engaging Aboriginal youth in programming, learning, experiencing and exposure to culture.”
One participant, Daniel Gervais, began as a novice fiddle player and came back every year. He eventually began entering into competitions at the festival and is now an instructor for the workshop series. “We take novices who are interested to come full circle and help them get there, he explains, “jigging and fiddling is going to disappear if we don’t disseminate them.”

Arcand and the instructors are all committed to keeping these traditions alive in Saskatchewan. “You can talk all you want, make advertisements or whatever,” says Gervais. He explains how important it is to get people out to the festival, so they can see the opportunity for themselves.
According to Arcand, there are a few changes planned for summer of 2012. “This year there is another switch up,” she says. “We’ve dropped the piano workshop. We had an offer from the Gabriel Dumont Institute to provide culture classes in Métis beading and finger weaving. Workshops are two hours long. There is a $10 fee for the leather and beading kit. Everything else is free once you pay entrance fees.”

The 15th Annual John Arcand Fiddle Fest and the Annual Professional Workshop Series are set to launch on August 9-12th, 2012. The Professional Workshop series received funding from the Metis Cultural Development Fund offered by SaskCulture/ Saskatchewan Lotteries, in partnership with Gabriel Dumont Institute. For more information on the John Arcand Fiddle Fest visit www.johnarcandfiddlefest.com