When Willie Nelson takes the stage in Camrose, Alta. Friday night, it will kick off the 25th anniversary of the Big Valley Jamboree (BVJ).
Camrose mayor Norman Mayer’s time on council predates the country music festival, and he’s seen it grow from year one.
“It has improved, in my mind, every year,” he said after Thursday’s BVJ parade. “It’s at the peak right now. I’m not too sure there’s many more things that we’d have to do to just keep it going the way it is, and we’re on top of the pack.
“I’m probably the only mayor in the country that my population doubles over the weekend, then all of a sudden, I fall back again,” he laughed. “They leave me.
“We’re just hoping the weather’s going to hang with us this year. Although it is pretty warm out there right now, which gets a little scary for me. Hopefully there’s no bad storms on the way. I think we’re going to have a great 25th anniversary.”
In 2009, the BVJ was marked by tragedy when a spectator was crushed by heavy speakers when high winds caused the stage to collapse.
“The year we had the difficulties was more of a surprise for everybody because it wasn’t predicted. The storm hit before the prediction came through,” Mayer said, adding that was a lesson learned for all organizers of outdoor events and that everyone is on top of watching the weather situation now on almost a minute-by-minute basis.
Organizers could sell way more tickets than the 25,000 they let into the grounds now, Mayer said. However, they’ve kept a cap on things because they’re at a comfortable level. It’s in part why Camrose hasn’t done an economic development forecast for the event.
“I don’t know, a few million dollars anyway,” the mayor said about what the spinoff is. “There’s a lot of people that come to town, and while a lot of them come in their own campers and trailers or motorhomes and come reasonably self-prepared, they still buy things and they still are out shopping.
Watch below: On July 29, 2016, Sarah Kraus filed this report about how the Big Valley Jamboree sold more tickets than ever before.
“For the parade, there was hundreds of people all lined up. I don’t know where they all came from.”
The economy, however, is top of mind for the merchants who are glad to see the visitors come.
“We’ve never had a boom-bust economy here, but we are having a cautious economy right now,” Mayer said. “People who would like to do things are sort of sitting on their hands right now to see what’s going to happen, and if things are going to turn around more.
“So it’s not as brisk as we’d like to see it but we really can’t complain too much. We’re hanging in there. And as I say, this gives everybody a shot in the arm so I think we can all enjoy it.”