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Monthly Archives: February 2013

Fruitful artists have roots in tradition

Joel Plaskett

Joel Plaskett

By James Keelaghan

Several years ago, I was teaching at a music camp in New Jersey. I had a group of about 16 songwriters as students. On the first night they invited me down to a songwriters’ circle at one of the cabins. I went, stayed for one round through the circle, and said my “good nights”. I then went and played for two hours with the contra dance band.

The next day, they asked what I thought about the circle. My inner Canadian was still asleep and instead of being polite, I said what was on my mind. I told them that the best thing they could do as songwriters was to go back home and find a traditional band to play with-traditional Irish, traditional Rock and Roll, it didn’t matter. They were writing songs that had no tie to any tradition, except a singer songwriter tradition. To write better songs, they had to grow some roots. Case in point-Joel Plaskett.

Joel is a node. He’s one of these people who works well with others. He has written the occasional song with Matt Andersen. He produced the latest James Hill CD. He’s recorded and performed with Rose Cousins and Anne Egge. He’s played everything from orchestral shows to Cafes. Later this month, he’ll be performing as part of the Interstellar Allstars for the Interstellar Rodeo in Edmonton with Kathleen Edwards and Luke Doucet. He clearly likes to play. He likes to explore and bring people along for the ride.

Joel has spent most of his career in bands-Nabisco Fonzie, The Thrush Hermits, Neuseiland and his eponymous Joel Plaskett Emergency. Lately, he’s been appearing more as a solo or a duo. It allows him to be more nimble, to switch up the material. He’s a great live performer, relaxed and comfortable. His melodies are catchy. Though he has dabbled in a lot of styles musically, his lyrics maintain a consistent conversational tone. There’s a lot of storytelling.

Joel has enjoyed and is enjoying the kind of success that independent artists aspire to. Great sales, sold out concerts, nominations and awards are all fruits of hard work and talent. But there is something else.

Joel is, in fact, a poster child for the value of exposing kids to live music.

Before moving to Halifax, Joel grew up in Lunenburg Nova Scotia.The town is the embodiment, in wood and stone, of what every Canadian imagines Nova Scotia to be. Trim wooden houses rise up from the harbour. It looks prosperous because it was. The Bluenose is the most famous of the vessels that was built in that harbour, but she was only one of thousands born in Lunenburg’s cradles. In the mid 1800s, there could be as many as 18 vessels under construction at a time. There may be busloads of tourists now posing before the picturesque, but it’s still a working harbour.

Joel’s father, Bill Plaskett, is a musician in his own right. He was one of the founders of the Lunenburg Folk Harbour Festival. On festival weekend the town is dominated by the tent atop Blockhouse Hill, the highest point in town. Music also happens on the docks on the waterfront.

From the beginning, the festival was plagued by a lack of accommodation for the musicians. Volunteers and members of the board offered their houses as billets. Kitchen parties at the Plaskett house during the festival were a big event, but there was live music in the house all year round. Joel did not learn to be a musician in isolation, it was part of the fabric of his youth.

Evalyn Parry, who is going to be with us at Summerfolk this year, puts it this way

I was raised in a tradition: squeeze boxes in the kitchen.
Heads thrown back, call and response, feet stomping, gut strings thrumming.
Believing in the songs I was raised with .
Songs sung from festival stages, around campfires…
You can circumnavigate the globe in song, but you know you are home
When you know all the words

That’s why Nova Scotia, or Winnipeg, or the Ottawa Valley continue to produce consistently great musicians. There is a tradition of music being part of the everyday fabric of life.

That’s essentially what I was trying to say to that group of writers in New Jersey. They had some catching up to do. You don’t write good songs unless you come out of some sort of tradition. The more music you are exposed to in your youth, the better you will be. Luckily, it’s never too late to have a great childhood.

Joel Plaskett will be playing in the amphitheatre at Kelso Beach on Friday, August 21. He will do a workshop on Saturday Morning at 11AM with James Hill and Steve Poltz. They are just three of the over 40 acts that will be playing the Summerfolk Music and Crafts Festival August 20-23. Tickets and information can be found at summerfolk.org.

Putting the Crafts into Summerfolk Music and Crafts Festival

By Jon Farmer

When the first Summerfolk Music and Crafts Festival was held in 1976, organizers intended to promote folk music and folk arts. They filled the space between musical stages with crafts people demonstrating and selling their wares. The artisans didn’t have electrical access in 1976 and instead used candles and lanterns to light their booths at night. Forty years later, the Artisan Village is still a bright spot at the festival.

I discovered the magic of the Artisan Village one night at my first Summerfolk. I was heading back to the amphitheatre, following my new favourite artists between stages. Part way through the Artisan Village some acoustic music caught my attention. A group was jamming in a vendor tent ahead of me. I lingered at the entrance watching a handful of people in the dimly lit space, some sitting on the ground, some on chairs, all playing the handmade instruments from the displays. When the song ended someone greeted me and handed me a guitar that I couldn’t have afforded as a fifteen year old. I played Folsom Prison Blues and someone pulled a harmonica out of their pocket for a solo. I left the jamming artisans with a smile on my face.  I’ve forgotten whether that booth belonged to Ron Belanger or Outside Instruments, but both are returning for the 40th Anniversary Summerfolk.

Becoming a Summerfolk artisan is a competitive process. Aspiring crafts people apply through a discerning jury. The criteria are fixed: crafts must be handmade and of superb quality. After that, it’s anything goes. Seventy artisans applied to fill just 46 spaces. This year they’ll bring everything from hand forged metal and carved stone, to jewellery, clothing, instruments, and longboards. The juried process ensures a healthy mix of new and returning vendors. Each year 25-30% of the booths are new. Artisans are invited to submit their best works to the juried craft show over the weekend for the chance to win judges’, artisans’, and people’s choice awards.

Amanda Cuffe came to Summerfolk for the first time in 2014 with her Amanda Sew & Sooo booth, full of colourful handmade coats and sweaters. Amanda grew up surrounded by art in her grandfather’s Tobermory studio. Although she’s created art for her entire life, she only began to sew eight years ago when she inherited the contents of her aunt’s sewing room. She describes her sewing process like painting with big unrestricted strokes of colour. After a quick visit to her website, I she what she means. Her coats are colourful fabric collages that look decidedly spunky and warm. Amanda doesn’t use patterns. Every piece is truly one-of-a-kind. She made a good impression in 2014, winning the People’s Choice Award. She’s back for Summerfolk40.

Work by Amanda Sew & Sooo

Work by Amanda Sew & Sooo

Mark and Shelli Eisenberg brought their Delicate Touch Jewellery to Summerfolk for the first time in 1977 and have been back almost every year since. They use a soft saw technique to create beautifully intricate designs in gold and silver. If you’ve seen silver earrings shaped like the Georgian Bay Folk Society logo, then you know their work. Over their own 40 year career, Mark and Shelli have vended at hundreds of fairs and festivals but Summerfolk is their favourite. “We come back every year because we enjoy it and we do well,” Mark said on the phone from their studio in Hamilton. “It’s kind of like coming home”.

Summerfolk is a family affair for Mark and Shelli – in fact, their family started at the festival – and they brought their children every year after. One year the kids set up a face painting station to make a little money. “They ate like kings all weekend”, Mark said.

delicate touch

Rings by Delicate Touch Jewellery

Artisans camp behind their booths during Summerfolk, a tradition that helps the Artisan Village live up to its name. Richard Cox started to make wooden flutes a decade ago and has brought them to Summerfolk for almost as long. You’ll find him at his booth through the day, in the Down by the Bay tent enjoying the music at night, and cooking breakfast behind his booth in the early mornings.

Vince Bowen brought Rockrose Pottery to the festival in 1979 and hasn’t missed a year since. He’s known for fine porcelain ware with classic, simple forms, colourful glazes, and an eye for function. He has a history of winning the juried competition. Vince has shown his pottery at festivals across the country gathering a following of patrons, volunteers, and well-known musicians. Summerfolk is close to both his home and his heart.

Over the weekend, festival goers wander through the Artisan Village like treasure hunters. They chat with artisans, linger over pieces, and circle their favourites, deciding whether to carry them home. It’s not uncommon to see young and old walking the festival grounds showing off their newest souvenirs whether it’s one of Joel Brubacher’s Banjo Puppets or Lisa Spalding’s henna tattoos. The art, like the festival, is easy to get attached to.

You can find out more about all 46 of the artisans at www.summerfolk.org and meet them for yourself at the 40th anniversary Summerfolk Music and Crafts Festival at Kelso Beach in Owen Sound, August 21-23rd.

Trevor MacKenzie trying out a Rosbilt TinCan Banjo/Ukelele at Summerfolk39

Trevor MacKenzie trying out a Rosbilt TinCan Banjo/Ukelele at Summerfolk39

Q & A with the Wareham Forge

The Artisan Village puts the ‘Craft’ into the Summerfolk Music and Crafts Festival.  Recently, we asked Darrell Markewitz of the Wareham Forge about his over 20 years of Summerfolk experience.

At how many Summerfolks have you vended?

“Over 20”

I think my first year was either 1992 or 1993. I’ve missed two years over the period to this year.

How would you describe your experience at Summerfolk to another vendor who has never been?

The atmosphere at Summerfolk is far more relaxed than a typical ‘just sales’ event. There are a large number of people attending who come for all of the three days, plus a large number who actually camp on site for the whole event. This means a lot of ‘browsing’, people typically will make several returns to an individual booth, after viewing the entire selection of artistic work available, before making a purchase. This also goes for people who return year after year, watching your work as it develops. Generally I feel that although this does mean more effort on my part, it does make for a ‘better educated’ customer.

The very relaxed ‘old hippie’ tone to the event, coupled with this return flow, does mean that booth security has never, ever, been a concern for me personally. If you wander off yourself for a half hour (to see a music set), nothing will be missing and any potential customers know they can just catch you later.

Balanced against this are the length of the working days. Typically 12 plus hours – longer when you consider the set up Friday and tear down Sunday.

 How does Summerfolk compare to other craft and music festivals you attend?

Honestly, I have cut back on other sales events in the last decade.

Partially because of the huge work involved in transporting and setting up the booth structure. My own work has been come more complex over the decades – with an increase in pricing related to this quality and scale increase. I don’t make $20 candle holders any more, and consider my presentation at Summerfolk more of a gallery setting – than any specific attempt to generate sales. This year Summerfolk is the *only* retail sales event that I will be taking part in.

One significant part of Summerfolk is distinctive : the Artisan Gallery.

The original intent of this was to allow individual artists to display work well beyond the scope of typical sales items. Supporting this effort with cash prizes has proved especially effective in encouraging this additional effort to produce more elaborate objects by the artists.

(I’ve won a good number of these over the years, and personally I can tell you this recognition has been very important in personally encouraging my own work.)

What is your favourite Summerfolk memory?

For me it comes down to the people.

There are a group of regional artisans who over the years I have come to consider my peers. Many of these people I only see at Summerfolk, but even still there is a warmth of seeing ‘old friends’ every year.

This extends to the ‘customers’ as well. I do have some regulars who have in effect been ‘collecting’ my work over the years.

Personally, my many years beside Jim MacNamara has had a major impact on my direction of work and outlook to the ‘way of the artist’. Over the years, the line between our individual work has blurred, with echoes of the influence on each other (or at least Jim’s on me) showing. Not to mention general inspired craziness. At its height, the two us where actually showing up early Thursday morning and hauling in several tons of rock to create the large garden style displays which themselves became one of the many Summerfolk traditions.

What should people know about your art?

I am distinctive in the depth of historical research that goes behind the work people see displayed at Summerfolk. Since 2001, I have been involved in a series of experimental archaeology projects, recovering lost methods of actually smelting metallic iron from raw ores, based on Northern European ancient technologies. This makes Wareham the centre for this research, most certainly unique in Canada, and perhaps the primary site in all of North America.

The bloomery iron produced by these ancient methods is a distinctive material, with properties different than modern industrial steels. My effort to create objects revealing the forms and textures of bloomery iron will continue with new work presented at Summerfolk this year.

wareham forge

Visit the Wareham Forge online at http://www.warehamforge.ca/ and in person at Summerfolk40

Building on Musical Mentors

By James Keelaghan

In April this year, I lost a good friend. Ron Casat had been one of my earliest mentors. He taught me pretty well everything I know about music. He taught me how to be band leader and about the fundamentals of song writing and performance. He taught me the importance of musical community.

His memorial was held in Calgary on a bright May afternoon. Five or six hundred people attended to remember him and to play music. There were reggae bands, folkies, country singers, There were hundreds of people that he had played with over the years-hundreds who couldn’t make it. There were no “kinds” of music for Ron, there was just music. Ron built community and connected us all because he knew that was the only way for musicians to survive.

Most musicians have a “Ron” in their lives. I talked to Samantha Martin a couple of days ago and I wanted to know who were the influences on her musically. I wanted to know if there was something special about the Grey Bruce in her musical development. Sam was born in Edmonton, but her dad’s family have been on the peninsula for 4 or 5 generations. At various stages in her life, she found herself living by the shores of Georgian Bay. She says there is a special community vibe here, a feeling that’s hard to find in other places.

Samantha Martin and Delta Sugar

Samantha Martin and Delta Sugar

Her voice is always true. True enough that she could belt out show tunes when she was in elementary school. Like most great musicians she plowed through a lot of different styles before finding the music that speaks to their heart.

Eventually she spent a lot of time hanging out at the intersection of gospel, blues, rockabilly and soul music.

2015 may be her biggest year yet. She was featured in the prestigious Women Blues Revue concert at Massey hall in Toronto last November. She’s in demand at festivals in Canada and Europe. The critics have been universal in praising her power and originality.

Who was her Ron? Without hesitation, Samantha answered that it was Trevor and Tara MacKenzie.

When Martin came back to town in 2004 after time away at college, it was Trevor and Tara that helped her focus on what she wanted and how to get it. They encouraged her to write and helped her join what was in her head with what was in her heart.  She recorded her first EP at Trevor’s studio. She’s hardly looked back, except in gratitude.

Musicians are like sharks. In order to live you have to keep moving. You have to try to carry your music to its farthest geographical limit. But in doing that, it’s easy to lose home and community.

When Tara MacKenzie came back to the Grey Bruce after being away for the better part of her 20’s, it was only for a family visit. She had been playing and studying in Amsterdam, Budapest and throughout Europe.

On that trip back, she met Trevor MacKenzie. In Trevor, she found someone who shared her passion for building musical community. She did what is hard for a lot of touring musicians to do. She put down roots.

You can see Trevor and Tara’s contribution to the musical community everywhere you look. It’s  can be seen in The Choir that Rocks, the constant recording sessions at Trev’s studio, their participation in the Youth Discoveries program. They’ve provided hands on education and vocal training and many more initiatives.

In the past 3 or 4 years, though, the road has been calling again. The MacKenzie Blues Band has been wandering farther from home. They have a full slate of festivals this summer. If you don’t know them from here in town, you haven’t been paying attention. As blues outfits go, there are few as tight or as powerful as MBB. Trevor is a truly awesome electric guitar player. At Summerfolk three years ago, no less than Oscar Lopez, threatened to steal him away. Trev declined. With a rhythm section anchored by Mike weir on Drums and Joel Dawson on bass, the Mackenzie Blues Band make a mighty sound.

 

The MacKenzie Blues Band

The MacKenzie Blues Band

The beating heart of the band is undoubtebly Tara MacKenzie. She gives the band a run for its money in the power department with a voice that will literally blow your hair back. As a vocalist she does more than blues, though. If you haven’t heard her sing Irish Traditional music you haven’t lived.

No matter how much they tour, though, there is no way that they will abandon the scene they have helped to build.

Summerfolk survives because of the community that has been built over 40 years, by the work that is done every year by over 700 volunteers, by the kind contribution of sponsors. It also thrives because there is a vibrant musical scene in the Grey Bruce that gets better with every passing year.

Samantha Martin and Delta Sugar, The MacKenzie Blues band and over 40 other acts will be building a community by the shores of Georgian Bay at the Summerfolk Music and Crafts Festival this year. Summerfolk gets underway with a 40th Birthday bash on Thursday, August 20 and continues for three days of music, art and food August 21-23 at Kelso Beach Park. Information can be found at summerfolk.org or by calling 519-371-2995

 

 

 

 

 

 

Trout Fishing in America

Trout Fishing in America

By James Keelaghan
Nineteen eighty-eight was the first year I played Summerfolk with my own band. The festival, as usual, supplied rooms to out of town performers. Our rooms were on the ground floor of the hotel. My mandolin player, Kathy Cook, shared a hotel room with a young up and coming songwriter named Shaun Colvin. I shared a room with my curmudgeonly bass player, Bill Eaglesham.

On the Friday night, at the hotel, the party spilled out of the function room and into the hallway. People would emerge from rooms with mandolins, guitars or banjos and disappear into one of the many jam sessions going on. At the far end of the hall, a door opened and a man stepped into the hall. You couldn’t miss him. He was 6’8 with broad shoulders. He seemed to fill the hallway. Behind him, a more diminutive man was negotiating the passage with an upright bass. That was my first glimpse of Keith Grimwood and Ezra Idlet, better known as Trout Fishing in America.

I got to see them in action that night and they were the life of the party. Over the course of the weekend, I caught them as many times as I could. I came to realize they are that most essential of festival elements-the spark plug. They are musical instigators. They are also so proficient, and so sensitive, that they can play with anyone. Ezra and Keith manage to put other performers at ease and get them playing with one another.

Their personalities are as different as their heights. Ezra is more playful and extroverted while Keith is more serious and reserved. The difference is what makes them so strong. They bring out the best in one another.

Keith began playing music professionally when he was still in his teens. He was part of the Texas All-State Orchestra for years and later earned a degree in music from the University of Houston. At 22, he landed a position with the Houston Symphony Orchestra. Keith put himself through college with the inevitable basketball scholarship and by playing pop music in local clubs.

Idlet and Grimwood met  in 1976 when they became members of the eclectic folk/rock band, St. Elmo’s Fire. When St. Elmo’s dissolved in 1979, Trout Fishing in America was born (named for Keith’s love of Richard Brautigan’s writing and Ezra’s love of fishing).

I have rarely met two musicians more accomplished than Keith and Ezra. There are many reasons that they have been doing this for almost 40 years-solid rhythms, blazing riffs and great writers who also know how to cover other people’s material. Add to that four grammy nominations and an upright bass full of other awards and you get the idea. It’s only fitting that they join us for our 40th on the eve of their 40th. They are also one of the most requested acts from Summerfolk fans.

It’s rare to have a band that has seen you through a couple of decades of your life. The other day I pulled up a list of performers from that year. Of the 13 duos or bands at the 1988 festival, there are two still in existence. Trout Fishing in America is one of them.

One of the great things about Trout Fishing, from an artistic director’s perspective, is you get two bands in one. There is no denying their appeal to the adults, but Keith and Ezra discovered early on that they also were kid magnets. There are very few artists that can pull that off. Usually one or the other suffers. That’s why they will not only headline our mainstage, but will also be the highlight of our Family programme.

Summerfolk has always been a family affair. In fact, some families are represented by three generations at Summerfolk. We’ve expanded the family programme and made it easier on the family pocket book this year by making admission free for children 12 and under accompanied by a ticketed adult.

This year our children’s area will feature, the massive craft tent, Todd’s musical petting zoo, a Sunday afternoon children’s parade, and a return of Elephant Thoughts with reptile displays, Science gizmos and gadgets, a bubble station and more.

Our children’s parade was one of the highlights for the festival in 2014 and it’ll be even better this year. Stilt walkers, costumes, a 30 foot articulated dragon decorated by the kids and a parade route that takes them through the park and to the opening of the evening concert.

This year, we will also be having a children’s open stage session in the gazebo tent. It’s a chance for the youngsters to strut their stuff.

Trout Fishing will be doing workshops all weekend at the 40th Annual Summerfolk Music and Crafts Festival and will headline the amphitheatre stage on Saturday Aug. 22. Their featured kid’s show will be that same Saturday afternoon. Summerfolk happens at Kelso Beach Park Aug 20-23. All the information you need, and links to tickets can be found at summerfolk.org or by phoning 519-371-2995.

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