I spent the civic holiday weekend at the Blue Skies Music Festival. It was the 35th occurence of the festival and I think my tenth. I missed last year because of my Newfoundland trip, I missed 2001 because of an Amnesty meeting in Senegal, and there was that one crazy year that I decided I was burned out on Blue Skies and went to the Maxville Highland Games instead.
If you can stand hours and hours of listening to pipe bands play Scotland the Brave, I would encourage you to go to the Highland Games instead of Blue Skies because going to Blue Skies is a lot of work.
I am writing this guide because there is no official Blue Skies website and even if there was, it probably would not be this frank.
Step 1: Get a ticket
It is easy to get day passes for Saturday and Sunday. But really, to get the true Blue Skies experience you have to get a camping pass. This allows you to enter the site on Friday, erect your home away from home, attend the first choir practice, see the Friday night show, and if you want, stay up all night, yacking or hanging out at a jam.
Here are 3 ways to purchase a camping pass:
- Win the lottery: Seriously. Because more people want to go to Blue Skies than can go to Blue Skies, there is a lottery in the spring. To enter the lottery, you must be on the Blue Skies mailing list. To put your name and address on the mailing list, someone must go to the info booth during the festival weekend and pay $3 for every year that you would like to have an entry form mailed to you. You could do this by buying a day pass, or someone you trust who is going to the festival could do it for you. In the spring, an entry form will be mailed to you. On this form you are allowed to indicate how many tickets you would like to purchase. Although it is not stated on any of the Blue Skies material, everyone seems to know that 4 is the maximum. (However, I know of one first-time lottery entrant who asked for 6 and got them after a phone call about how they don't do more than 4 but if she really needed 6 they could do it this one time.) Almost everyone I know asks for the 4 whether they need that many or not. This is because they have arranged with others for the contingency that they do not win the lottery. While this seems like the logical thing to do, one friend reports that he always asks for 2 tickets and wins the lottery every year. [2009 Update: He got 2 tickets again this year. None of the four people who each applied for 4 tickets from this address got any.]
- Receive a ticket from a friend: Someone you know may offer you the opportunity to buy one of their spare tickets from the lottery. This means that this person thinks highly of you. They think you will be fun even if you have spent two nights sleeping on a rocky slope and your clothes have been soaked by a torrential downpour. They also think that other people that matter to them will like you. Receiving a ticket from a friend may happen by accident, but it is more likely to happen if you let everyone know that you are trying to find a camping pass.
- Buy a camping pass on the road outside the gate on Friday morning: Cars will start arriving at 7 am and they won't be allowed in until 10am. The long lineup will be there until sometime at night. Some of those cars will have one less person than they expected to have and therefore a camping pass to sell. What you do is walk along the lineup with a little sign that says something like "looking for a camping pass" and there is a good chance you will be able to buy one. Everyone I know who has tried this method has succeeded with it. But then, it's not likely that I would meet someone who tried to get in this way and failed. [2009 Update: This year, a Girl in a Yellow Dress took it upon herself to act as an intermediary. When I talked to her at about 11am on Friday morning, she had connected ten people up with camping passes.]
You will need all your usual camping stuff, all your usual music festival stuff, and all your music jamming stuff. You will not need a book to read. You will not need shaving cream. You do not have to bring coffee or coffee making equipment unless you actually care what coffee tastes like. You will need to bring any beverages you want to drink over the weekend except water. Even if it is warm during the day, some years it gets so cold at night that tuques are called for.
By all means, bring some tarps, but if they are plastic, make sure they are blue. While you can often buy orange tarps at prices lower than the blue tarps, you will feel like an outcast if you use them at Blue Skies.
Step 3: Arrive as Early as You Can
This year, I arrived at about 11:30. I believe I found the only remaining level spot at the site. This is an important thing to remember: Although Blue Skies is an amazing cooperative event completely created by volunteers and dedicated to the creative arts, the environment and peaceful coexistence, the race for good camping spots is a savage competition that requires speed, strength and guile.
Step 4: Setup Your Home for the Weekend
If it looks like it might rain, set up your tent first. If it looks like it will be sunny, set up your gazebo. After years of cursing over putting up tarps, I am all for the store-bought, easy-assembly gazebos. On the other hand, if you have the skills to create an architectural wonder out of a tarpaulin, poles and rope, you will be the envy of all your neighbours.
Once your home away from home is set up. Relax. If you're joining the choir, until 6. If not, for the rest of the day, or until it starts raining and you have to race around zipping things up, moving things to dry places, and rebuilding your architectural wonder that has blown away.
- 2014 Update: There is now an official Blue Skies website with a performers lineup and map and directions!
- Google Map with the Location
- Photo of the tiny sign on the Highway 7 that tells you to turn off at Road 509
- Larger sign on Highway 7 for people coming from the East
- Scotland the Brave at the Highland Games (Are there only six songs that can be played on the bagpipes, or is that the maximum that pipers are capable of memorizing?)