There was a lot more going on than the top 40 in the back 40 at this year's Rocking On The River in Blind River over the weekend.
A total of 18 solo performers and bands performed on the enormous backyard lawn of Guy Serre who lives on Royer Road north of Blind River, on Saturday and Sunday.
The performers covered much of the music genre, including heavy to light rock, rock 'n' roll, folk, country and blues.
While eight of the bands were from the within the region, others travelled quite a distance to perform for the small audience in Blind River.
The list of performers and bands included: the Jacques Brothers (Don and Dennis), TJ Kirby and Wisdom all of Blind River; Mike Trudell, Alec Letarte and Patrick Guite all of Elliot Lake; Mark Provencher of Algoma Mills; Paul Hache, from Massey; Sulfur City, the Stephangelah Band, Rob Roll, Set, Nothing Good and Chronic Meltdown from Sudbury; Days Left, Sound Republic, Whoa Nellie, all from Toronto; and For the Ages, from Aurora.
One band, Our Own Everest from Montreal, was expected to attend but they had to cancel because of a death in the family, he says.
The music was immensely enjoyable. I have to admit, that I suspected the music would be quite amateurish and low quality of play. But I was definitely surprised at the calibre of music.
When I arrived at the event early Sunday afternoon the group playing was Harvest, which included Marc Provencher and Paul Hache. They were playing a song by Dr. Hook, and they played it very well. Shortly after, they also played a number made popular by Supertramp, and they sounded like them.
During one of the other performer's sets, my wife Sylvie leaned over and said "You haven't lived until you go to a concert in someone's backyard."
Having it in a backyard definitely added to the atmosphere and informality, but it was certainly not amateurness. The one drawback was the limited parking.
They all had brought their own lawn chairs, some had coolers with a lunch and a few brews. The event was on private property and was BYOB; no alcohol was sold on the premise.
This was the fourth year Serre held such an event, but the third time it was open to the public. The first was a private affair with only invited guests. The second year, Serre opted to open it to the public for them to enjoy as well.
He says some people came from as far away as Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan; Elk Lake; Englehart; and the Newmarket area.
However, on a brighter note, he says they did have more overnight campers than they had last year.
He says he is not really disappointing with the number of people who attended the concert. And some people bought advanced tickets, but never showed up.
"So, they supported the event anyway."
He says the Rocking On The River concert is the best-kept secret in Blind River that he would like everyone to hear about.
"People don't know what they're missing. They don't know that this exists. That's why we don't have big crowds here."
The concert's location is breathtaking. Serre's property is on a gentle slope from Royer Road down to the flowing Blind River, and is surrounded by green forest. The venue could easily accommodate 1,000 or more people comfortably.
The bands play on the 16-foot by 32-foot cover stage that Serre constructed for the event. The music flows naturally up the gentle grade.
The concert runs for 12 hours each day, from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m.
And while the bands brought their own playing equipment, they hook into the professional sound system that Serre rented for the occasion, delivering a good quality sound.
He also provides the bands with lighting as well as vendor space if they have merchandise to sell.
Each band got one hour on stage, with the exception of the headliners. Days Left, which Serre describes as a progressive hard rock band, closed the show on Saturday and got two hours on stage.
On Saturday night, Sulfur City closed the event, which also got two hours on stage.
Selecting the bands
Serre says he takes care in selecting the bands that play at the Rocking On the River.
He says he scours the Internet looking for musicians and bands. Last year, he found about 150 bands on the Internet at sites such as You Tube and narrowed them down to the 11 that performed in 2011.
"It takes me eight months to put this together. I start looking for bands in January for this."
This year, bands have heard about his concert and many are now calling him asking to perform at Rocking On The River.
Then comes the screening. Before he accepts a band, he often travels to where they play, usually in bars across the province, to listen to them play live.
He says listening to a band on Youtube helps, but they might have needed six or more takes before they had one good enough to post to You Tube. But they have to be able to do it in one take to play at Rocking On The River.
"They have to have some raw talent, charisma, a stage presence and good musician ship."
The musicians and bands are not paid to play at the event, and they have to pay their own expenses. But they come.
Because of the fun and the exposure they get by playing to a different audience.
"They are on the bar circuit and they are trying to break that cusp."
The money that comes in from the admission fee, $20 per day, does not even cover Serre's expenses. He says it costs him thousands of dollars to put on the event. However, he is starting to get some help. He now has a few sponsors that assist.
But the cost of him travelling to screen the bands still comes out of his own pocket, he says.
Serre said he decided to start this about five years ago. The 43-year-old Serre is an addictions' counsellor who moved to the area from southern Ontario about 10 years ago where he had access to a lot of live entertainment.
"When I moved up here, I was starving for live entertainment."
With none available he recalls on a warm and sunny day in November, he and a cousin Steve Tomkins were sitting on his deck talking and they came up with the idea.
"I thought 'If we build it they will come,' and they have - 18 of them this year."
Blind River mayor comments
Blind River Mayor Sue Jensen attended the event for the first time on Saturday.
She says she thought the event was good.
"And the bands were quality bands, and I enjoyed it," says Jensen.
"It was pretty good, not bad at all. I was pleased; I thought it was great."
However, she was disappointed with the low turnout.
"I felt bad for him. He put a lot of work into it, and there were not many Blind River people there," says Jensen.
"I was very dismayed myself. I went there and see who is there. And I knew nobody there."
She says she hears from residents who say there is never anything to do in Blind River.
"That's not really true. Stuff goes on, but people don't show up."
She adds Serre went to a lot of expense. He had road signs made up, he had a number of rented outdoor washrooms on the site.
"That's a lot of work and a lot of money."
More to come
Serre says he thanks everyone who did attend the weekend event and their sponsors.
"When the customers walk away from here they say 'I'm coming back.' And they bring somebody with them."
He does plan to do it again next summer.
Please remember to bring can food donations for local food bank !
Help Support The Local Food Bank - CANNED food donations collected at the gate entrance!