Cripple Creek celebrates 37 years

Jeremy Hamm and Jess Reimer of First Stop Heaven enjoy the festival experience at Cripple Creek 2018. (GREG VANDERMEULEN/Winkler Times)

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Cripple Creek Music Festival celebrated 37 years on July 22 at a location south of Morden and Winkler.
The annual bluegrass/country/gospel festival has a solid returning base of performers and audience members, and although it’s the music that originally brought them together, it’s just as much the friendships that now exist, that keep them coming back year after year.
Art Wiebe and Peter Klassen are the directors of the festival, but Wiebe said there are many others who make sure the festival continues.
“We wouldn’t be able to do any of this festival if it wasn’t for all the 50 to 75 family and friend volunteers that are supporting us,” he said.
Wiebe said it’s good to see continuity among the performers as well.
“Of the 13 different groups, three were not here last year,” he said.
Many have played the event for multiple years including veteran performer Stew Clayton from Manitou, who Wiebe said has been here every single festival since the beginning. “He’s a well known and seasoned performer,” Wiebe said.
Some bands are from the more immediate area such as Winkler’s Orlando & Grace, The Traveling Kind, and Homeland Harmony; Manitou’s Stew Clayton, and On The Edge; Miami’s Rosebank Road or La Riverie’s First Stop Heaven.
Others come from farther such as Dugald’s Virginia Ridge; Brandon’s Lazy Creek Express; Steinbach’s Byron Falk; Birds Hill’s Juanita Clayton; Stonewall’s CSI Bluegrass, or Winnipeg’s Agassiz Railroad.
Wiebe said getting the chance to meet with old friends and listen to high quality music makes the work worth it.
“It’s music that’s uplifting and encouraging, and it’s lively,” he said. “It’s definitely foot stomping, toe tapping, hand clapping music.”
“We always appreciate the fact that people come out and support local talent.”
One of those local groups was Orlando & Grace.
The Winkler couple has been at several Cripple Creek Festivals over the years.
“I think we were at the first one,” Grace Sukkau said. “We were very young. Other than that I think we’ve been here maybe three times since.”
“It’s just fun to be in this atmosphere here,” she added.
Orlando & Grace have a new album called Calm coming out in the weeks ahead, featuring mostly original material. Recorded in Winkler, artists such as Raymond Klassen (who plays with High Valley), Rosemary Siemens (violin) and Eli Bennett (saxophone) were part of the album creation.
First Stop Heaven is also a band with southern Manitoba roots. After spending a decade in La Riviere, Jess Reimer and Jeremy Hamm have moved back to Winnipeg. Reimer is from Winkler originally.
While their group normally includes T.J. Blair and Tim Osmond, at this event Hamm and Reimer were on stage alone.
“We play a lot of shows as a duo,” Reimer said. “It’s totally comfortable.”
She said they enjoy playing this festival because of the casual nature of the event, and the beautiful setting.
“There’s good quality music here and it’s changing every 25 minutes,” she said.
She also gave kudos to the organizers. “It’s like a real family effort,” she said.
CSI Bluegrass was at the event for their third year. Band member John Sawatzky is originally from the Altona area but lives near Stonewall now. He said they enjoy the quality of the experience.
“The sound is always good,” he said. “They have good equipment and they have good people running it.”