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Salmon Arm ROOTSandBLUES’ Kevin Tobin talks festivals, music and all that jazz

New artistic director’s sights set on next year’s 30th anniversary event
Salmon Arm ROOTSandBLUES artistic director Kevin Tobin will be spending the coming year preparing for the festival’s 30th anniversary. (Contributed)

Salmon Arm ROOTSandBLUES artistic director Kevin Tobin says he may be looking for input from the community to help organize the festival’s 30th anniversary event.

Tobin recently took over the reins as artistic director for the festival, bringing with him 20 years of experience, and numerous accolades, from his time with the Saskatchewan Jazz Festival (SJF). For about 15 of those 20 years,Tobin served as artistic director for the SJF, curating local and visiting talent and producing anywhere from 125 to 174 shows over the course of a 10-day period that, prior to COVID-19 restrictions, would draw up to 80,000 concertgoers. This was done with a team of about three-and-a-half paid staff and an army of invaluable volunteers and a lot of community support.

“Lots of volunteers, lots of people that invested a lot of time and energy into the event,” said Tobin.

When he took over as artistic director for the SJF, Tobin said he sought to bring in bigger headliners, which ultimately provided more resources to program the rest of the event. At the same time, he endeavoured to incorporate local talent.

“I believe in supporting the local community, the local artistic community, and showcasing local musicians,” said Tobin, “Community engagement is extremely important to me.”

Part of that community engagement included concerts in care homes, educational programs, yoga and film events.

The formula worked well for SJF fans and the festival itself, which Tobin said had the honour of being Saskatoon’s best festival for 12 or 13 years running.

“Being a well-rounded nonprofit arts organization is not just about putting on events in a festival, but being a community partner with other like-minded organizations,” said Tobin.

While he never attended the Salmon Arm ROOTSandBLUES Festival, being in the festival world Tobin knew of the event and its reputation for punching above its weight.

“I mean, it’s going to be celebrating its 30th anniversary in 2022, and that’s, that’s a pretty amazing accomplishment… in a place that doesn’t have a large population, but runs a really great festival,” said Tobin.

Having recently relocated to Salmon Arm, Tobin is impressed with the community and everything he’s stepped into as ROOTSandBLUES’ new artistic director, from the festival site itself to its staff and the volunteer force that steps up to support the event.

Read more: New artistic director announced for Salmon Arm ROOTSandBLUES Festival

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”I’m really looking forward to taking advantage of all the great things the organization has in place and hopefully being able to put a little bit of my spin on it and continue the strong history that the event has of producing a world-class festival for the people of Salmon Arm and surrounding areas,” said Tobin.

As for the 2022 event, with cautious optimism (due to the ongoing pandemic), Tobin’s desire is to see a live music festival that will properly mark its 30th anniversary. He said there’s an opportunity for community engagement and feedback to figure out how best to do that.

Tobin added he also wants to tap into his own experiences to “maybe elevate some of our headliners,” stressing the festival has an amazing history of artists and he hopes to build on that.

In addition to talking ROOTSandBLUES, Tobin also took a few personal music-related questions. Asked if he has any musical talents, Tobin referred to himself as a “closet strummer.”

“Nobody would pay to hear me play,” he laughed.

Asked for his most memorable concert outside of the SJF, Tobin said it was seeing Radiohead, on tour for the album OK Computer, perform at Maple Leaf Gardens, with Spiritualized as the opener. That question, however, prompted numerous memories Tobin has made throughout his career, from seeing saxophonist Sonny Rollins perform, to listening to Ronnie Hawkins tell stories about Elvis Presley.

“I’ve seen so many, so many really great shows,” said Tobin.
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