Bluegrass in the Country a great venue for music lovers

Ben Lentir, in photo second from left, and the band were just one of many musicians to take to the stage at the annual Bluegrass in the Country music festival held last weekend in Providence Bay.

PROVIDENCE BAY—Great music, great attendance and helping to raise funds for a great cause marked this past weekend’s annual Bluegrass in the Country music festival celebrations, and attendance for this year’s event held in Providence Bay increased significantly over past years.

“I haven’t got a final number on attendance, but it looks like around 600 paid patrons,” stated John Featherstone, main organizer of Bluegrass in the Country, on Monday. “We had an attendance of about 400 last year so our attendance increased considerably.”

“We are quite pleased with how the weekend went,” said Mr. Featherstone. “And there were some people that said the Next Generation Leahy performance on Saturday night was the best show they have seen on the bluegrass circuit. They were unbelievable and everyone was just mesmerized by their show. All our bands for the weekend brought their A games.”

Mr. Featherstone took to the stage on Friday evening to welcome everyone. “Thank you to everyone for coming out this weekend for our eighth annual Bluegrass in the Country celebrations.”

Among the guests on hand for the opening was Algoma-Manitoulin MPP Michael Mantha. “Everyone who is here is going to be treated to a wonderful event.” He had a group of Manitoulin Special Olympians (MSO) with him on stage when he said, “the people standing beside me is the big reason we are here and this event is taking place. They (MSO) give us a lot to be proud of.”

Carol Hughes, MP for Algoma-Manitoulin-Kapuskasing, said, “it’s always great to be here for this event. It not only provides great music but helps raise funds for our (MSO) athletes. John (Featherstone) and his volunteer crew do a fantastic job of organizing this event.”

“I want to wish everyone a fabulous weekend,” said Ms. Hughes.

And speaking of the music, the weekend was full of terrific musical performances. On Friday evening Winterline, Traditionally Wound, and the Canucky Bluegrass Boys entertained the large crowd.

On Saturday Nickel Wound, Ben Lentir, Rescue Junction, Traditionally Wound and Robbie Shawana took to the stage. Then, just before supper time the MSO athletes and coaches displayed their square dance skills.

The evening’s musical lineup included Winterline, The Next Generation Leahy and the Canucky Bluegrass Boys.

On Sunday, music was provided by Northern Cross and Rescue Junction.

Janet Anning, coordinator of MSO, took the opportunity late Saturday afternoon to introduce the Special Olympians, with the athletes being piped in. And during her speech she presented special awards to long time MSO volunteers.

Manitoulin Special Olympics volunteer Ellen Holroyd, centre in photo and surrounded by members of the MSO team, displays the 20 year volunteer service award she was presented with by Ontario Special Olympics.

The MSO program was re-established in 2006, “with the original intention to take some athletes and start them bowling as we had a new bowling alley on the island at  the time,” said Ms. Anning. “It grew quickly to far more than that. Never did we imagine the growth we would have in such a short time. We  soon discovered our athletes had great abilities as they started to qualify for the provincial and national and then world games.”

She provided a synopsis of the MSO athletes and their many accomplishments at all levels, from 2008 to 2016. “In 2017 we had two athletes, Matthew Bedard and Kelsey Mellan, go to Austria in the World Winter Games and we have eight athletes and two coaches going to the provincial summer games in Peel in July.” The latter includes coaches Janet Anning and Sandy Graham and athletes Kelsey Mellan, Matthew Bedard, Austin Featherstone, Andrew Splawanyck,  Yoshua Marsland, Yuri Clayton, Mark Dokum, Allan Francis competing in athletics and track and field.

“Our athletes, coaches and volunteers have all grown in dedication and abilities and hope to keep that growth going,” continued Ms. Anning. “We couldn’t do what we do without all the  help and support we get from the terrific people who come and support us here at the Bluegrass Festival,” she said.

“We also couldn’t do this without the dedication of our volunteers whom I would like to bring up and thank,” said Ms. Anning. “I would like to present some of these volunteers with some pins from Special Olympics Ontario.”

The MSO volunteers who received pins included Ellen Holroyd who received a 20 year volunteer service pin. Those receiving 10-year pins included Nancy Leeson, Katherine Tipper, Sean Tipper, Janet Anning, Randy Anning, Joanne Mellan, Robby Mellan, Judy Olacke, Bill Studzienny, Leslie Taylor and Roslyn Taylor. Pins were also presented for five years volunteer service, to Heather Strain, May Bowerman and Cecelia Sloan.

All proceeds from the bluegrass festival go directly to support Manitoulin Special Olympics. Mr. Featherstone noted that members of the Gold Wing Road Riders Association who were in attendance Saturday  all made a donation to MSO, and participants in the Blessing of the Bikes ceremony in Silver Water Saturday morning donated funds to MSO.

Mr. Featherstone noted that two-third of the bands for next year’s Bluegrass celebrations have already been booked, including a band from Missouri. He said, “we will have a great show again next year.”