Mukwah — you won’t find any scouts at this jamboree

By Andy Williams

Five years ago, the Mukwah Jamboree was just a birthday party in the woods, but thanks to word of mouth, things have snowballed. Festival coordinator Danny Vescarelli says conservative estimates for this year’s turn out are about 300 people — up from 40 in its first year — but they expect the final tally to exceed that amount.

In terms of numbers it’s no Folk Fest which had approximately 50,000 attendees over its four day run this year. But the Mukwah Jamboree has managed to cut a niche for itself in Calgary. Festival alumni include Calgary heavyweights like Braids, Azeda Booth, Beija Flor and Neighborhood Council, and some of these acts have actively sought out their place on the Mukwah roster.

“It kinds of just grew in ways that sometimes felt beyond our control. Artists asking to play — that we were like, ‘How do you even know about this?’ ” explains Vescarelli. “I might have sought out Azeda Booth and Beija Flor originally, but they’ve actually played it twice. They become drawn to the format of the festival. I wouldn’t say every artist is exactly drawn to it for the same reason and sometimes I have to convince them, but they come and have a great time.”

One of this year’s most recognized bands, Dojo Workhorse, sought out their place on the roster.

“Dan [Vacon] was out there and saw what it was about and was excited about playing,” says Vescarelli.

Though music is important to any jamboree, Vescarelli believes that the event isn’t just about the music.

“I believe we have some very cool bands that play, but the festival itself is not really too concerned about being on top of it as far what’s cool in music,” says Vescarelli. “It’s about the vibe and the people that come out. I still believe it’s valuable in that you can discover bands, and it’s good music . . . but it’s still at the level where the attendance and the patrons themselves play a huge role.”

The role of the attendees has made the festival’s organizers cautious about growth. As previously mentioned, word about Mukwah has spread and attendance increased. Vescarelli is conscious of the fact that festival could become a victim of its own success.

“If it got too big out there, or too legit out there, it just might not work,” says Vescarelli. “Not that it’s not legitimate, but it’s kind of underground.”

“I’m not calling the Calgary Sun and saying, ‘Hey, you should cover this Mukwah festival because it’s a wild unhinged party in the woods.’ It’s small and it’s intimate and its got a cool vibe.”

This is likely going to be a problem in the festival’s future. Vescarelli concedes that it will be pretty packed with 300 patrons, so they’ve added a second stage and more camping space for this year’s event. However, he doesn’t know what the future will bring, be sure to get it while it’s good.

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