6th Annual Koots Roots Culture Festival

Ymir, British Columbia
August 25-27, 2006

First Appeared in The Music Box, September 2006, Volume 13, #9

Written by Douglas Heselgrave


It would be easy to think that one had made a wrong turn somewhere while trying to find the Koots Roots Culture Festival. Tucked deep inside the mountainous forests of the Kootenay region of southwestern British Columbia, Ymir seems like an unlikely place for live reggae and African music to be heard. An old logging town whose glory days have passed, Ymir is now home to many of the regionís finest growers of British Columbiaís most famous export (hint: itís not salmon or lumber), and the festival has blossomed from a local party marking the end of the growing season into one of the worldís best, if not largest and slickest, world music events. Judging from the parking lot, where license plates from Quebec to Colorado confirm that the festival has generated a buzz that reaches far beyond the immediate region, Koots Roots has become a favored destination for discerning world music lovers. The Kootenay region has a long history of supporting the performing arts, and in the last year, international acts such as Burning Spear, Spearhead, and Junior Reid have given powerful and moving concerts in gorgeous, outdoor venues in the area.


Opening night technical problems ó the sound system shut down for more than an hour on Friday ó that might have sunk another festival, were all met with good humor, and when the bands finally performed, listeners were treated to out-of-this-world performances that may not have been possible in a more structured and "professional" environment. Indeed, the natural beauty of the area combined with the relaxed atmosphere seemed to inspire artists to put everything that they had into their performances. Given the flexibility of the vibe as well as the loose time frames of the event as a whole, artists who were contracted to perform for 90 minutes often extended their sets by more than an hour. With no union technicians or corporate promoters demanding that everyone stick to contracted starting and finishing times, the music often lasted from the late afternoon into the early hours of the morning, and neither the performers nor the audience seemed to want the magic to end.

Saying this, itís almost impossible to pick a musical highlight for the weekend. Kocassale Dioubate, a drummer from Guinea, West Africa, not only got the festival started, but he also got the audience on its feet. It was a potent reminder of the effect that a single drum that is played with skill and passion can have over a crowd. Concerts by the amazing Wassabi Collective and Prezident Brown and the Solid Foundation Band were also memorable.

Any festival-goer knows that the music is only a part of the alchemy that makes an event a success or a failure. There is no shortage of festivals every summer where music fans can get their fix of live performances by their favorite bands. Yet, for some people, the scale of events like Bonnaroo or Gathering of the Vibes has made them seem less appealing than they once might have been. The success of the festivals has robbed them of what made them such great events in the first place. Koots Roots is still a small operation, and it has the feeling of an extended family party that reminiscent of the Grateful Deadís scene before its latter day popularity pulled the band into the purview of the mainstream. Koots Rootsí riverside camping is free, and the views and swimming are stellar. With teepees and a craft area, itís also a great place for kids. The food is wonderful, and vendors offer an assortment of delicious vegetarian and organic fare. Of course, thereís always the "Holy Smoke Culture Shop," which serves as the perfect locale for changing oneís perspective and melting into the natural vibe of this great event.

Koots Roots may be a festival at a transitional point. It still has the buzz of being a well-kept secret; and next year is the time to go, while the crowds are manageable and there are no pesky DEA officers trucking across the border to ruin the fun. Just donít tell anyone that I sent you.


Copyright © 2006 The Music Box