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Will this be the last year for Birtle’s Pasture Pickin’ weekend?

Organizers hope new members will step forward to ensure the event’s future

After 13 years of providing down-home music in a valley setting, the future of Birtle’s Pasture Pickin’ weekend is uncertain.

The current organizing committee will lose two key members this year, prompting the group of five to bow out in hopes that others will come forward to fill their shoes.

“Although the present committee of five is taking a step back, it’s not to say the event is over, as the committee has put the invitation out to anyone who would like to give it a try,” said Dwight Stewart, who has been involved with the event since the beginning. He and wife, Gay — longtime residents of the community — will be moving to Winnipeg in the fall to be closer to their children and grandchildren.

“Committee members are willing to share what has been learned over the years and to give advice and tips if asked.”

The musical event has carved out a niche of its own since the first one was held in 2006. Singers and musicians gather on the May long weekend to jam together on a mandolin, banjo or guitar, or on a harmonica, keyboard, or accordion, just for the fun of it.

“The first year, the jamboree started outside, with a tent set up at the fairgrounds,” said Stewart. “Mother Nature had different plans, as it was too damp for instruments to stay in tune and too cold for fingers to stay nimble, so it moved from the ‘pasture’ to the community hall.”

Over the years, Dwight and Gay are not the only Stewarts to get involved. Their children Jonathon and Elizabeth, have played a vital role in the production of the Pasture Pickin’ since its second year in 2007. As the sound crew, they used a blend of bought and borrowed equipment including a digital 16-channel mixer.

The quality presented over the years was outstanding, as bluegrass, old time, gospel and traditional country music enriched the souls of performers and audience alike. A simple idea of extending a warm welcome to fellow jammers to sit and pick awhile on an open pasture, first suggested by the late Ken Harman, blossomed to an event which had a great impact on Birtle.

Fellow committee member and performer, Marj Barteaux, said the musical festival has brought people from as far away as Winnipeg, Brandon, Spy Hill, and Bottineau, N.D., and many other places as well, all enjoying the weekend. Organizations have benefited too, and it was a great means to showcase the beauty of the community and local talent.

The get-togethers welcomed all ages, giving novice singers and musicians a chance to hear, a chance to tune with the best of them, and to play along with more experienced musicians.

As with any event, it takes thought, time and energy in planning and staging. Will other dedicated volunteers step forward to keep this major undertaking alive, or has the final curtain closed on the Pasture Pickin’ weekend? Only time will tell.

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