The people who care about the Blue Skies Music Festival care about it deeply. Though isolated, small and entirely volunteer-run, this festival, which takes place on a verdant property near Clarendon every August, has inspired a 25th anniversary retrospective book, a two-hour documentary, several theme songs, and a dedicated niche following of attendees from across Canada and beyond.
Blue Skies began in 1973 as an afternoon picnic. World-renowned luthier Oskar Graf invited some musician friends to spend an afternoon on a patch of remote farmland, where they shared songs and enjoyed the summer weather. While the festival has been steadily formalized over the years, its laid-back, community-based origins continue to inform how Blue Skies operates.
This festival has always prioritized experience and tradition over growth, and a lottery system in order to fairly distribute tickets while keeping the festival attendance around 1200. Blue Skies relies on dozens of volunteers and a number of dedicated community builders, such as eccentric long-time MC and children’s entertainer Magoo, to maintain the festival’s inviting atmosphere. Nearly every attendee camps, including performers, with tents and antique camper vans stretching out in every direction on the property.
Blue Skies features a diversity of acts that fall loosely within the folk genre. In previous years, performers have included Quebec’s soulful storytellers Durham County Poets, family-friendly folk rocker Jeremy Fisher, Indigenous blues act Digging Roots and roots-soul songwriter Julian Taylor. The lineup always includes a blend of acclaimed international and Canadian artists of all levels.
During each day of the festival, intimate workshops like couples yoga and sonic healing are hosted in teepees and atop hills around the campground areas. Attendees can grab food from the cookshack, but are encouraged to bring their own plates and cutlery, as Blue Skies has a garbage-free policy. Attendees may head out to one of several nearby swimming spots during the day, only to return to gather with everyone else at the festival for the main acts in the evenings.
The Blue Skies festival organizers started Blue Skies in the Community in 1988, an outreach program dedicated to sustaining musical programming in the festival’s surrounding areas (Kingston, Cloyne, Perth and Ompah). Since its inception, this non-profit has funded choirs, orchestras, private music lessons, and a children’s camp run on the festival site.