From frosty streets to festival beats

Blizzard Music Festival 2024 strikes a chord in Rossland

by submitted by Writer’s Block Solutions
Hailing from the punk strongholds of Toronto, PKEW PKEW PKEW packed their high-octane skate-punk sound
into The Flying Steamshovel.

Hailing from the punk strongholds of Toronto, PKEW PKEW PKEW packed their high-octane skate-punk sound into The Flying Steamshovel. — Valhalla Images photo

The pulses of locals and tourists alike beat in sync recently in Rossland, BC, as a diverse range of Canadian and international music reverberated through the mountain town. More than 30 musical acts swept through the city from Jan 25–28, entertaining crowds at the nearly sold-out Blizzard Music Festival, which provides opportunities for West Kootenay musicians and touring icons to share the stage.

"The whole community felt really tight and interwoven; everybody was in such a good mood, so kind and warm and receptive,” says Alt-country singer Mariel Buckley, who opened the festival with an intimate sit-down performance at the historical Miners’ Hall. “In Canada, we don't really get a lot of opportunities to work in the winter, so it's always cool when I see towns that capitalize on winter sports and winter living, creating an exciting atmosphere during a time when most people are hibernating indoors. It's pretty neat to be a part of that energy.”

Vancouver’s Lazy Syrup Orchestra’s live horn section and DJ swept the crowd off their feet with their avant-garde jazz/hip-hop/funk music. - Valhalla Images photo

The eclectic festival was celebrating its 13th year, presenting artists from a mix of genres, including folk/Americana, punk, electronic, hip-hop, and funk. Six different venues, most within walking distance of downtown, hosted shows, including the Olaus Ice Palace. Guarded by 10-foot tall artistic sculptures, the outdoor venue set the scene for a weekend of high-calibre music in a quintessential winter wonderland. Trumpet player Cole Graham of Lazy Syrup Orchestra fell in love with the nostalgic atmosphere at the Miners’ Hall, where his grandfather, originally from the neighbouring town of Trail, BC, entertained locals long ago. Graham took centre stage, playing the trumpet he inherited from his grandfather and bringing depth to the band’s electronic sound, mixing hip-hop, house, breakbeats, bass music, and Latin influences flawlessly. The crowd was captivated as the band navigated tempos, storytelling through lyrical genius, musical fusion, and high-energy stage performance.

“We’re thrilled to be here,” says Graham. “Blizzard Fest lets us really be a part of the festival experience; it's cool because in club shows we might not get to see the openers, whereas here we can immerse ourselves in the arts around us, and enjoy the music.”

Bandmate Soren Thomas Hodne, MC and percussionist, felt a pull to play at the festival after years of performing at Shambhala, an annual summer festival held in Salmo, BC. The winter weekend festival gave the band an opportunity to road trip, bond, play and take in some new music, and forge connections in the music scene.

“The space is already speaking to me, and with Cole's history here, it feels special,” he said during sound check, when the pre-festival excitement was palpable. “We have a following in the Kootenays, and the show sold out quickly. We're honoured and happy to bring both new flavours and older favourites to the audience.”

Country/alt-folk singer-songwriter Mariel Buckley travelled from Edmonton to open the festival with her unique acoustic appeal. - Valhalla Images photo

Visitors joined local fans in enjoying the experience, positively impacting Rossland’s tourism industry and other stakeholders.

“Blizzard is our highest-grossing weekend of any single year. It's exceptionally busy. We either sell out our accommodations or come very close,” says András Lukács, executive director of Tourism Rossland.

Hospitality and retail sectors also see a substantial boost, with some businesses reporting their revenues doubling from the previous year. According to Lukács, the predictability of the busy weekend makes it successful, as the community welcomes the influx of tourists and ensures everyone has a positive, comfortable, and fun experience.

“Blizzard Music Festival attracts a different demographic,” he adds. “It's not just your typical skiers going to Red Mountain; it caters to winter enthusiasts and broadens our appeal. People come for the Rossland Winter Carnival, which is held the same weekend, and all the other winter community events. This diversification is excellent, especially during less-than-ideal skiing conditions.”

Community support makes magic happen

Powered by volunteers and dependent on a sponsorship budget, the non-profit festival wouldn’t be possible without support from the City of Rossland, Tourism Rossland, Trail & District Arts Council, Tailout Brewing, Phillips Brewing and Malting Co., The Flying Steamshovel, and the Rossland Winter Carnival. But local contribution isn’t enough to sustain the festival and continue to secure high-calibre artists, says co-ordinator Daniel D'Amour.

“We've grown from a two to six-venue event, attracting internationally renowned artists and elevating the Kootenays as a destination to experience music year-round,” says D’Amour. “But it's a bit of a catch-22; we’re selling more tickets than ever before, so granting agencies might assume we don't need support. However, as a not-for-profit society, covering fixed costs remains a challenge. Our hope is to continue to grow with help from provincial grants and of course our wonderful community sponsors and volunteers — we couldn’t do it without them.”

The ever-enigmatic Stubbs & The spontaneously blend theatre into their five-piece musical masterpiece at the Olaus Ice Palace. - Valhalla Images photo

This year's lineup featured over 30 artists playing haunting folk, vibrant synth-driven pop, high-energy punk, and more from a mix of international and local talent, including Grammy Award winning Cuban-Canadian songwriter Alex Cuba, skate punk stewards PKEW PKEW PKEW, dance party specialists Lazy Syrup Orchestra, and poignant alt-folk performer Mariel Buckley.

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