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Festival still strong after 25 years


Life in Grand Falls-Windsor has been a real roller coaster this past year, and not of the little kiddie variety at some midways. In the past year, living in this town, or even the Exploits in general, has been a metaphorical roller coaster, but not of the Six Flags, Canada's Wonderland or Disney theme parks types, with ups, downs, corkscrews or other twists and turns.

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Life in Grand Falls-Windsor has been a real roller coaster this past year, and not of the little kiddie variety at some midways.

In the past year, living in this town, or even the Exploits in general, has been a metaphorical roller coaster, but not of the Six Flags, Canada's Wonderland or Disney theme parks types, with ups, downs, corkscrews or other twists and turns.

Unfortunately, thanks to AbitibiBowater's decision to close the paper mill, life in the Exploits Valley has become an example of the Chinese aphorism "may you live in interesting times."

It's times like these that people can truly appreciate the Exploits Valley Salmon Festival. It's a great party with a mix of acts at reasonable ticket prices, compared to other concerts at Mile One and in other parts of the world. Think about it: you can pay $130 or more to see Madonna or Christina Aguilera (but her mother is a Newfoundlander, so she's worth it) gyrate, with 50,000 other screaming fans. But chances are you'd only get to see the squirming pelvises on a Jumbotron because you couldn't get close enough to the stage.

And if you could transport to an alternate universe where Michael Jackson was still alive and still black (instead of being dead and looking like an extra from Romero's Night of the Living Dead), you would have had to probably pay even more exorbitant ticket prices and watch the guy moonwalk with 75,000 screaming fans on a Super Jumbotron screen.

However, at this festival and at past events, people could pony up their money and still did, at affordable ticket prices, to see top acts and even get fairly close to them. One festival featured Jon Bon Jovi, who has no shortage of fans on a bad day; in the past there were musicians like the Beach Boys, Blue Rodeo, Great Big Sea, Waylon Jennings, Bryan Adams, and Nelly Furtado, just to name a few. And this year, festivalgoers were treated to Our Lady Peace, Akon and Johnny Reid as the big highlights.

That's one positive about this festival and past ones: good acts at affordable prices and accessible venues.

There's another positive as well, and that that's the local performers, from here and other parts of the province. This year, one of this town's top groups, Papa String, got to open the event, followed by the Navigators; audiences were also treated to rising Newfoundland alternative darlings, Hey Rosetta! and rising star Tara Oram, a new country-music sensation from Hare Bay, a favourite on CMT and already with a CD under her belt.

And again, all visible at affordable prices.

But that's only the festival itself.

There are other pluses to celebrate what was in town this past week for the big "do's" 25th birthday?

There's the general atmosphere of energy and busy-ness that leads up to the festival: the influx of unfamiliar, though always welcome, people who come to Grand Falls-Windsor, even set up temporary colonies (because the RV parks are often full) in mall and college parking lots with their big trailers; they set up and out comes the tables and chairs outside their rigs. It's like a camp of Gypsies, full of music, life and vigour.

Don't forget the economic spinoff. Retail is always delighted to reap the benefits of thousands of extra bodies in Grand Falls-Windsor; so are restaurants, gas stations, hotels, B and B's, surrounding parks - everyone needs a place to stay.

After the party's over, there's still another bonus. People often don't just rush back home after the last note has been played. If they're from out of town, they check out the attractions, even explore other communities in the Exploits Valley.

The next time someone complains about the Salmon Festival, gently take them aside - and point out the positives. They will certainly cancel out any negatives.

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