Scott Merrifield had no way of knowing what the Northern Lights Festival Boréal would eventually mean to him.
Forty-one years after it began, it has become the country's longest continuously running outdoor music festival, and it has resulted in Max Merrifield, a 26-year-old who shares his dad's love of music and desire to make the festival the best it can be.
If not for the festival, there is a possibility Max simply wouldn't exist — after all, Scott began a relationship with his wife and Max's mom Vickie McGauley at an early edition of the festival, where they shared the role of co-artistic directors.
Now that their son has grown up, he's taken on the job of outreach and logistics co-ordinator of NLFB — it's a position that allows him to continue growing something his father began, alongside Jean-Jacques Paquette, Normand Glaude, Ray Auger, Stan Bielinski, Gary McGroarty and John Bell all those years ago.
“I think it's great,” Scott said, smiling at Max. “(The festival) has held true to its traditions.”
More than four decades ago, when Scott and the other founders started the festival, it was planned as a one-off event.
“I had a summer job as a student, working to try to bring together a number of youth-serving community projects ... including a number of drop-in centres,” Scott said. One thing all the drop-in centres shared were coffee houses where local musicians could jam.
It wasn't long before the aspiring performers started looking for a project — a reason to get better. As simple as that, the idea of holding a folk festival at Bell Park was born. In two months time, a lineup that included Murray McLauchlan, as well as several others, was born.
“It was really just to provide a fun event with good music,” Scott said. “We really only thought of it as a one-time event.”
Turns out, audiences thought it was worth bringing back. Scott said many people came to him, saying “Gee, that was so great you should do it again.”
So the group did.
“I got a lot of satisfaction from playing a role in bringing together audiences and great artists,” he said. After 20 years of working behind the scenes, Scott decided to call it quits. He still attends the festival every year though, and volunteers like hundreds of other supporters. Thanks to these people, the weekend event has continued to flourish.
The festival has grown from attracting a modest crowd of 1,000 people to as many as 15,000 in recent years, but the values of it have remained the same.
Since day one, it has been important that the festival present audiences to new artists and allow them to experience them in workshop settings.
“The night concerts are the heart of the festival, but the workshops are the soul,” Scott said.
And that's never changed.
“It's really about more than presenting music,” the young Merrifield said. “It's a community coming together, year after year.”
Scott echoed his son's words.
“We used to call it that festival feeling,” he said. “It's still there — it's almost indescribable.”
This year, NLFB runs from July 6 to 8 on the shores of Ramsey Lake. For a complete list of performers or to buy tickets, visit nlfbsudbury.com.
Posted by Arron Pickard