Every year, as part of our continuing sponsorship with the Owen Sound Sun Times, the Artistic Director writes a series of 12 articles about the festival and the performers.
When my older brother and sisters started spending their pocket money on albums, music began to change in Mum and Dad’s house. My parents lost control of the playlist. Strange, unheard of music began to seep out from under my siblings’ bedroom doors. West End musicals and the Clancy Brothers gave way to Joni Mitchell, Neil Young and Led Zeppelin ( not all the Keelaghan’s were folkies).
I would have been 10 or 11 years old when I first heard Buffy Sainte-Marie. I’m pretty sure the song was Universal Soldier and I am certain it was my sister Cathy who did the introductions. Buffy has been with me, one way or another ,ever since.
Her songs were the part of the soundtrack of my geography. Her prairie songs were my favourites-Indian Cowboy, Piney Wood Hills,and her most haunting song Qu’Appelle, Saskatchewan.They were an essential part of the mix tapes I’d make to survive long drives across the plains.
Buffy was born in the Qu’Appelle, a breathtakingly beautiful river valley north of Regina. The valley is deep and wide, with cool water and poplar trees. Seven First nation reserves sit bedside the river from its headwaters to the Manitoba border. She was orphaned as an infant and went to live with relatives in Massachusetts but the valley never left her. In her haunting song about the place, she pleads-“Take me back to where I belong”-where she belongs is among the coulees and cut-banks of the Qu’Appelle Valley.
She attended U of M Amherst, studying Oriental Philosophy and graduating in the top ten of her class. When she wasn’t studying she was writing songs and performing at the University coffee-house.
Buffy started out like most singer songwriters-travelling alone, a voice and a guitar. She was part of the Yorkville music scene in the early 60’s, playing the Purple Onion, rubbing shoulders with Neil Young, Gordon Lightfoot and Joni Mitchell.
Joni and Buffy, born two years and 250 km’s apart on the vast prairies would be come the two iconic Canadian female singer songwriters of their generation.
She moved from coffeehouses to festivals to concert halls.While she was having success as a performer, her songs were doing even better. That was the way she wanted it. She’s frank about the fact that writing is her reason for being.
Until It’s Time for You to Go has been covered by Elvis, Jim Croce,Roberta Flack and at least 50 others. Cod’ine was recorded by Courtney Love and Janis Joplin.
A whole new generation came to know her in the 5 years she was a regular on Sesame Street. She wasn’t just singing and playing guitar either. She taught Big Bird about breastfeeding on international TV, a big deal at the time.
She’s never been shy about breaking the mold. Those who wanted her to be Pocahontas with a guitar didn’t know what to do with songs about activism and native rights. Folkies didn’t know what to do with her 1969 album Illuminations, with its synthesized vocals and electric arrangements.
While she swims outside the mainstream, she still has Juno awards, Grammys, a Golden Globe. She even has an Oscar for the song Up Where We Belong, which she wrote as the theme song for An Officer and a Gentleman. She feels… “As you grow you hang onto what was always great in your art and it just enhances whatever is coming up next”
Her shows are as energetic and dynamic. She’ll be coming to Summerfolk with the band that has been with her since 2008. It’s an all-star 3-piece ensemble from Manitoba. Leroy Constant-Cree from York Factory on bass and vocals, Lakota/Ojibwe guitar legend Jesse Green and Ojibwe Mike B
ruyere on drums and vocals (and if we’re lucky, footwork).
“They’ve got the energy I need, ”says Buffy, “ for driving songs like Starwalker and No No Keshagesh … what I sing about and where a lot of my songs originate is a world they know too: the realities of Native American passion, love, tragedy and music,”
Now into her 6th decade on the music scene she’s not showing any signs of slowing down. She’s in the studio recording a new cd for release in 2015.
Buffy Sainte-Marie is joining us at Summerfolk for the first time this year. She’ll play Saturday, Aug 16 on the Amphitheatre stage 10PM. She will also be doing a workshop named “I Fight for Life” on Sunday Aug 17.
Advance tickets are on sale until June 30th. Visit summerfolk.org for information, schedules, office hours and tickets. To order tickets by phone call 1-888-655-9090.