The River Valley Bluegrass Park hosts eight live bands this weekend, and Doug de Boer, with the help of his sister Cindy de Boer and brother Pat de Boer who all co-own the park, is gearing up for an all-out jamboree this September.
Provincial health regulations regarding COVID-19 hampered the concert schedules this past year, but the park has become legendary for hosting festivals over each long weekend throughout the summer.
This legend began in 1984, when Doug’s father, Tony de Boer purchased the property, much of which is hedged by the Temagami River, a stone’s throw from the town of River Valley.
He bought the land in February and held his first festival that August. The shows became a tradition, one his son is proud to carry on today. “Tony’s dream, we call it,” de Boer said.
The park has been perfectly set up to accommodate festivals, as it is primarily a trailer park and campground. Many seasonal residents return year after year, and many more—pandemic pending—stop by for a night or two.
“There’s always music in the park,” de Boer emphasized, and this is what attracts so many of the regular patrons—the park is a haven for bluegrass.
For the uninitiated, bluegrass music came out of the rural American south post-WWII, with roots stemming back to the 1930s, when Bill Monroe left his old Kentucky home for stages throughout the States, landing at the Grand Ole Opry in 1939.
Country, hillbilly, mountain music—all terms used to describe bluegrass music. Whatever you want to call it, one standard remains: expect copious amounts of banjos, fiddles, and vocal harmonies.
“People come back year after year” to camp and to see the shows, de Boer said. Same goes for the bands, who come from all over to join the musical community.
“We always feature at least three American bands, because the festival usually runs from the Wednesday” to week’s end, de Boer said, and the more talent the better.
As for this weekend’s lineup, eight bands are slated to take the stage throughout the weekend. Hard Ryde, Nelson Family, Bonita Mercer Band, and Marie and Friends are firing up for the show.
River Valley Grass, McDonald Clan, and Go Ahead Back-Up are also taking the stage.
“We’re working hard to get September put together,” de Boer said, adding that this one “will be more of a festival setting.”
“It’s getting to be bigger now that things are opening up,” he said.
Prices vary for camping at the park, depending on length of stay and whether you have a trailer or tent. People are also welcome to stop by for the day to catch a show, and de Boer suggests bringing $10 to cover the cost.
Although the pandemic has shaken our sense of normal this past year, and live music has suffered so much, bluegrass remains a constant for de Boer through these mercurial months.
At its roots, “it’s the kind of music that always stays the same,” he said, and in that way, bluegrass’ familiarity serves as a comforting anchor in these turbulent times.