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Coombs festival organizer inducted into Canadian Bluegrass Hall of Fame

Jim Brown recognized for more than 50 years of volunteering
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Dysfunction Junction, from Seattle, performs at the 2023 Coombs Bluegrass Festival. (Photo courtesy of Linda Thorburn)

Jim Brown has been recognized for his 50 years of volunteering and numerous contributions to bluegrass events in Coombs.

He was chosen as one of the first inductees to the Canadian Bluegrass Music Hall of Fame — and the first from B.C.

“I was quite honoured,” said Brown, who was instrumental in launching the Coombs Bluegrass Festival in 1978. The festival continues to this day and draws in musicians from around Canada and the U.S.

He was a member of the Coombs community organization, which planned the event in 1976 and 1977 before holding the inaugural festival in 1978.

“They wanted to try something different and we had some people in the band there that said, ‘why don’t we do a bluegrass festival?’, which I’d never heard of before,” said Brown. “We were pretty nervous that first year. We didn’t really know where we were going to end up, but it turned out people came from all over Western Canada.”

The weekend festival was a roaring success and Brown figures approximately 3,000 people turned out to the farm — more people than the organizers expected, he added.

“The first year we were getting bands from all over the place,” said Brown. “We had one from from Prince George called the Zig Zag Mountain String Band — that was quite a band.”

The next year the festival moved the Coombs Rodeo Grounds, where it’s been held ever since and has attracted 4,000 to 5,000 music fans at a time. The event is put on by the Coombs Hilliers Recreation & Community Organization (CHRCO).

“It was quite a big thing for us to do at that time because we didn’t really know what to do,” said Brown. “We had enough help from bands that came and so on, and really wanted to get into it. So it made it quite easy.”

READ MORE: PHOTOS: Action pics as Coombs Rodeo returns for 2023

The festival has continued on for more than 40 years, with Brown acting in numerous capacities such as emcee, entertainment co-ordinator, site builder, project manager and parade float builder.

Thanks in large part to Brown’s efforts, the Coombs Rodeo Grounds is home to a large grandstand, a bunkhouse, a rodeo ring and a community hall. It’s become a popular venue for all kinds of events.

“I think the favourite part for me was to see everybody happy,” he said. “Because it’s just amazing when you’ve got a situation like that where everybody knows everybody after a while and they get together with bands and play together.”

His contribution to bluegrass music date back to the early 70s with the Coombs Country Opera, which began in 1971 and saw people get together once a month and play on the stage at the old hall in Coombs.

Brown said the Opera, still active today, provided a venue for musicians to meet which resulted in plenty of bands being formed over the years.

He added both the Opera and the bluegrass festival are volunteer driven and many people have helped in different capacities over the decades.

“Linda Thorburn has been very, very instrumental in so much of that and she’d just come out in the first one and ever since then she’s played banjo and wanted to be part of it all,” Brown said. “And she did a great job in lining stuff up with bands and so on.”

Brown was honoured on Nov. 3 at the CHRCO Coombs Rodeo Grounds, which is also celebrating its 100-year anniversary.

The 44th Coombs Bluegrass Festival is planned for Aug. 2 to Aug. 4, 2024.