When we hit Prince Albert National Park we knew we made a wrong turn somewhere. But with some creative navigating through a maze of dodgy roads we found our way back to the highway and had a good laugh as we read the directions on Ness Creek’s website:
“Approximately 5 km out of SHELLBROOK, turn LEFT onto HWY 55. This is the turn most often missed, so watch for it carefully! You are now going North-West.”
As we pulled into Ness Creek I could hear the Karpinka Brothers performing so I cut through endless forest until the music got louder and I found my way to the stage. Setting up camp could wait.
Being my very first Ness, John Antoniuk (Smokekiller) greeted me with a personal tour of the festival grounds and backstage area. The scenery is beautiful and backstage is quite the sight. What started with a single Santa Claus doll has exploded into an entire Christmas village. It’s surreal and a touch frightening at night, especially for those not particularly sober!
Backstage at Ness Creek
Flagging down a friend, I was taken to our campsite to find my tent already set up (thanks guys!) and a fire roaring. A few beers and veggie dogs later I made my way back to the stage for a dazzling performance by Elliott Brood, one of the performers who I had been particularly looking forward to.
Wandering backstage I was invited to join Shooting Guns on stage to shoot photos as they closed the main stage for the night. As they played the audience became a sea of faces banging their heads in a trance to the Guns hypnotic riffs.
After swaying to fuzzed out ’90s pop I made my way back to our campsite where we stayed up talking around a fire for hours.
Rumours of photos featuring a particular Ominocity reporter passed out around a campfire as fellow Ness Creekers huddled around in mocking poses have been circulating, but at this time we cannot confirm or deny these allegations.
To my credit it was six in the freaking morning!
Saturday, July 20
Waking up after only a few hours of sleep, I grabbed breakfast at one of the food vendors and joined some friends on a short hike down to the creek. After taking a few nature shots and giggling at people bathing in the water we decided to head out to Nesslin Lake for the afternoon and spend the day floating around in tire tubes.
Stringing together five tubes purchased for $10 a piece on a clearance sale while floating around and drinking in the middle of the lake was definitely the highlight of my trip. The weather wasn’t great but the water was warm enough to keep us entertained for hours.
Attempting to leave Nesslin Lake was a bit of a disaster…
First, I managed to get my friend’s only car key stuck in his trunk lock, which happened to be broken. Fortunately after a collective panic attack some WD-40 managed to set the key free.
Next, a friend had a tire on his truck go completely flat. After eight of us spent over an hour failing to get the tire off we decided to call in some “real men” for help.
Returning to our campsite I was introduced to one of Ness Creek’s most notorious characters — a nine year old boy wielding a giant hunting knife that went from campsite to campsite terrorizing festival goers.
Since returning home it seems that everyone had a run in with this kid. I’ve heard stories that he was tripping on everything from pot cookies to acid. I’ve even heard rumours that he died in a fire at Ness Creek twenty years ago and has been haunting the festival grounds ever since.
Ghost child or not, this kid scarred many of us deeply.
After taking a much needed nap to alleviate all this stress I woke up to catch the Classy Chassys closing the main stage as rain began to pour from the sky.
Despite the downpour the rain did not chase anyone away as the crowd moved to catch the final performances of the night by Gunner & Smith and Sleepwreck at the after hours stage.
Gunner & Smith put on the best performance I’ve ever seen them give and despite being drenched from head to toe I danced my ass off to Sleepwreck before finding shelter in my soggy tent.
Gunner & Smith
It’s a good thing it rained on the last night of the festival as there were a lot of grumpy faces in the morning as people awoke cold, wet and muddy. At least we weren’t one of the unfortunate few whose vehicles wound up stuck and submerged in mud as they were trying to leave.
I had a lot of fun at my first Ness Creek but it was definitely a weird and surreal experience. Everyone was kind and welcoming, but I wish the festival focused more on the music and less on the drugs. Had the lineup not focused so heavily on local acts who perform week in and week out in Saskatoon, perhaps more people would have ventured out of their campsites to truly celebrate the spirit of this festival.
A true highlight was the opportunity to camp and spend a weekend with so many people who I would not normally share such intimate encounters with. That is something I will cherish and made Ness Creek very special for me.