Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Guide to the Blue Skies Music Festival: Getting There

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:

  1. 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.]
  2. 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.
  3. 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.]
Step 2: Pack for Blue Skies
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.
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Dave said...

The running joke that I always use is that there are two songs that can be played on the bagpipes: "Amazing Grace" and that other song.

Labhaois said...

Thank you so much! I'm going to Blue Skies for the first time this year, and my friends are all being vague and not knowing what it is they should be telling me.

Weavers of Light said...

And no paper plates, throw away stuff, poisons, pesticides, or other non "green" activities,and no throwing buts or bottle caps on the ground, or people will gawk and frown. Otherwise folks are real friendly, and the cook shack coffee is really not bad, fair trade and organic and good camping coffee Dave, come on, admit it...

David Scrimshaw said...

Louise, you are welcome.

Weaver, I should have been more clear. I love the Blue Skies cook shack coffee. It's just that I have a number of people in my life with extremely high standards on coffee acceptability and I simply don't know if the Blue Skies coffee would meet their standards. I do know that the coffee I am happilly drinking as I type this does not.

becca said...

HOw do i get day passes? can i buy them at the gate? And do you think i can get 4 camping passes at the gate with a little sign?

David Scrimshaw said...

Becca, I have no official connection to Blue Skies. I'm just a participant.

Day passes at the gate? From what I've seen in past years, at least some day passes are available either at the gate or from people who have arrived with extras.

4 Camping Passes - I suppose anything could happen, especially if we have a forecast of rain all weekend. Even if it is a beautiful weekend, some people will show up with an extra camping pass or two.

Your best chance will be walking past the row of cars waiting to unload.

That said, I wouldn't bring three friends to Blue Skies if I didn't have camping passes for any of us.

Abe said...

Thanks for the info! Great help. I'll be going this time for the first time in 18 years. My parents have been going every year and my dad is actually one of the hats, so it's about time. Can't wait! But I've never driven there. When I click on your google link I see the turn off is at Clarendon Station. But others have posted it at Clarendon (further north on the same road). Which is it?? :)

Labhaois said...

I had a wonderful time and signed up on the mailing list for a few years ahead.

How do you get back to ordinary life?

The Rakish Angles said...

Hi David,
We're a stringband from Gibsons, BC called The Rakish Angles. We were nominated for a CFMA this fall and are in the process of booking our summer tours. Do you have ANY contact info for the powers that be who do the band bookings for Blueskies?
Thanks for the blog,
Serena (on behalf of The Rakish Angles)

David Scrimshaw said...

Just today I received a mailing with two postal addresses for Blue Skies.

General address
Blue Skies Music Festival
Clarendon, ON K0H 1J0

Mailing List
Blue Skies Music Festival
Mailing List
PO Box 216
Kingston, ON K7L 4V8

Anonymous said...

Check out the Jesse Greene Band this year 2010 on Saturday night closing the show at Blueskies. Awesome blues band, chick guitarist/vocalist finalists at this years International Blues Challenge!

becca said...

Is there a number to contact people in charge of tickets? I was picked in the lottery but was out of the province, and the deadline has passed. Is there hope?

David Scrimshaw said...

Hi Becca,

With Blue Skies, there's always hope.

But, I've never seen a phone number on any mailings from them.

Maybe you could try Xpresspost or a courier company.

David Scrimshaw said...

Newsflash: That 1 Guy has a ticket info phone number for Blue Skies. Don't know if it's accurate or not.

HayleyRose said...

After frantically trying to find some sort of list of the line up for Blue Skies 2010 (should of known better, not sure they know what a computer is yet in Clarendon), I stumbled across this. I want to say thanks, because this made me laugh more than I've laughed in quiet a while.
I've been going to Blue Skies since I was 4, with a few years hiatus here and there, and no one has ever put the camp site race so succinctly. I didn't realize how much I miss it. Let the battle commence.

Anonymous said...

Can I buy tickets at the gate on Saturday?

David Scrimshaw said...

I think in some years they have sold out, so there is no guarantee that you can buy day passes on Saturday or Sunday.

Anonymous said...

Hi Dave. 2010 was my first Blue Skies and it was a trip!! I checked out your photos on Flickr. Can you tell me the name of the white haired gentleman in photos 216-218. On Sunday afternoon I sat with my grandson at the head of Magooville to enjoy the jam. This fellow totally blew me away! I feel I should know him but can't for the life of me figure out where/when/how.

David Scrimshaw said...

This guy?

If you said his name, I'd go, yes, that's it. But I can't remember it now. He's a delight.

Check back later, I'm sure I can find out by the weekend.

David Scrimshaw said...

His name is John Foreman. (Thanks to Jody Benjamin who asks "Isn't he wonderful?")

Karen said...

Thank you David and Jody. I now realize I recognize him from events around Bancroft.

madmadigan said...

haha you described it perfectly like it is i enjoyed this emensly haha thank you!!

Jeremy said...

Do you know if the address for the mailing list is still valid? Thanks!

David Scrimshaw said...

Jeremy, I do not know if the address is still valid.

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Taylyn Thomas said...

Note: This year there will be NO MORE $3 Mailing List fee!

Unknown said...


I have been going many years, camping etc.
I need to join the lottery to try to get my wife and kids in. Can I get on he mailing list after the festival. I did not sign up at the festival.

Brian Shiozaki

David Scrimshaw said...

I don't know, Brian.

You might try the Facebook group for advice on this topic.