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Monthly Archives: February 2013

Outside of the Box

One of the great things about the Summerfolk Music and Crafts Festival is that there has always been room for acts that are outside of the box. Acts that are hard to describe.

In the past couple of years, bands like Canailles and Baskery and writers like Wendy McNeill and Evalyn Parry have helped to stretch our thinking about musical and lyrical innovation.

This year, we are going to keep that tradition. Two of the acts to watch are Leonard Sumner and the Gypsy Kumbia Orchestra. They couldn’t come from places more different.

Leonard Sumner comes from the Little Saskatchewan First Nation in Manitoba. Manitoba is a beautiful place, but there are large swaths of the province that are prone to flooding. If you are Winnipeg, the province builds a ditch around the whole city to divert the flood waters north. If you are the Little Saskatchewan First Nation, you take your chances. In 2011, the province diverted historic flood waters away from Winnipeg-and right into the Interlachen area. Seven thousand people were evacuated. Sixteen hundred of them have still not returned and are living in limbo in Winnipeg.

For Leonard Sumner, it wasn’t nature that took his home and his community, it was the water management policy. “Kid’s that left when they were 13 are now 18. Some of the elders that were evacuated have died, without ever seeing their homes again,” he recently told CBC radio.

In happier times, Leonard listened to oldies radio and taught himself how to play guitar by watching YouTube. Country music is the unofficial traditional music of the Western Canadian First Nations. Leonard cut his teeth on Dolly Parton and Dwight Yoakum. Eventually though, a young man has to rebel. Living with his head back on the reserve, but with his feet in Winnipeg, he gravitated to hip-hop.

The result is a unique blend–hip-hop lyrics and rhythms sung out over country chords and an acoustic guitar. He has a sweet voice that is at odds with the politics in the lyric. His voice has a hint of anger, a dash of longing and ton of truth. He also has a great way with an audience. He comes by it honestly. When he was starting out, he performed in front of any audience that would have him, entered song contests on Treaty Days and played open stages. It honed his ability to show himself as he is.

Last fall, when I was asking people about who was turning heads out west, his was the first name out of the mouth of almost everyone I asked. Without exception, everyone mentioned how real he was and described his effect on an audience.


Leonard Sumner

Music is a migratory animal. Its pace, for most of human history, has been slow. With the advent of radio and mass migrations of people, the pace picked up considerably. Today, a musician’s ability to gather influences from almost any culture has never been greater, so hybrids begin to appear–hip-hop meets country in central Manitoba, for example.

During the 1940s in Columbia, a courtship music that was originally found in the Afro-Caribbean communities began to migrate. African rhythms moved inland to meet indigenous instruments and dance. Like most grass roots music, cumbia (or kumbia), was frowned upon by polite society. Like most things frowned upon by polite society, it became wildly popular. By the mid-1950s, there were cumbia bands throughout Central and South America. By 2006, there was a cumbia category in the Latin Grammys.

The Gypsy Kumbia Orchestra take the evolution of the hybrid one step further. They have blended kumbia with balkan music and the result is a wild, unrestrained whirlwind of dance and virtuosity that is impossible to resist. It’s Afro-Columbian percussion, with a powerful Balkan style brass section, topped of with a Roma fiddle and a lithe dance troop with serpentine moves, they are a rollicking, roiling wave of colour and sound. It’s not just a performance–it is a spectacle in the best sense of the word.

Their base is Montreal, as it should be. The city has gained a reputation as a cultural melting pot. The clubs along St Laurent have been incubating a crossover world music scene for the past few years. Young Montrealers have embraced the scene. The dancing has been known to spill out onto the street.

Gypsy Kumbia Orchestra have toured across three continents, playing over 140 dates in the three years since they got together. They are playing a full slate of the Canadian festivals this year–a hard thing to do with an ensemble this big. It speaks to the excitement they are generating.

They are not shy and they throw down the musical gauntlet, “We dance. And we will make your body and your mind dance in overwhelmingly beautiful ways.”

We are pleased to serve you Leonard Sumner and The Gypsy Kumbia Orchestra fresh out of the box at this year’s Summerfolk Music and Crafts Festival. You’ll find Summerfolk at Kelso Beach Park on August 19, 20, 21 this year. Information on all the performers, tickets and more can be found at or by phoning our office at 519-371-2995.


Gypsy Kumbia Orchestra

Bringing West Coast Energy to Summerfolk41

By James Keelaghan
Last summer, I was able to cross a music festival off my life list. It’s in a little town called Atlin, in Northern BC, population 450. In my early twenties, some friends of mine moved up there. The place had a reputation for being incredibly beautiful. A lovely place, nestled in a glacial valley, with a fantastic music festival.

During the weekend, I made a classic mistake. Early on the Sunday afternoon, I was at the mainstage watching a really great young band. They had well-written, memorable songs, a serious groove and tasty arrangements. When the set finished, I went over to the cd tent to get their disc. I didn’t have program with me, so I wasn’t sure of the band’s name. The cd store staff pulled a disc of the rack and said, “This is them”. I paid for it and put it my jacket pocket.

At the party that night, I ran into the keyboard player. We talked about mutual acquaintances and made musician small talk. As we headed off to different parts of the room, I pulled the cd out of my jacket and said, “Great show this afternoon, I bought the disc”. She cocked her head and said, “ That’s not our disc, we are Good for Grapes”. Unfortunately for me, they had sold out of cds. I had to content myself with looking for their video’s.

Good for Grapes web edit

Like all good BC bands, their formative moment came while on the BC ferries. They were a group of friends, sitting on deck, trying to write some tunes. Word spread that there was a live band playing on board and people began to gather. Given that they had a very large interested audience on hand, they threw together a set and wowed the crowd.

Since then, they have been darlings of the band scene in Western Canada, racking up awards and prizes.

What attracted people then, and what keeps their fans coming back, is their sound and their energy. Their songs are full of the muscle of the mountains and the mystery of a low fog. More folk than pop, they play with a great stand-up energy. When they take to the stage, you can just feel that there is a good party about to happen and they don’t disappoint. The six members operate as a cooperative unit—there are no divas. Daniel McBurnie vocalizes and plays guitar, Graham Gomez, electric guitar and vocals, Alexa Unwin channels the dance energy, plays keys and sings. Alex Hauka bows the cello. Robert Hardie holds down the bass end while Will Watson is on the percussion. They are a folk big band sound with a classic West coast sound in the tradition of the Hometown Band.

It’s energy that separates a mediocre band from a good band. I’ve known players that were virtuosos, but who just couldn’t get through to the audience.

While I am on the topics of energy and the West coast, I can’t wait for you to meet the Big Little Lions. The Lions are Helen Austin and Paul Otten. Helen is based in Comox on Vancouver Island and Paul is in Cincinnati, Ohio. Normally that wouldn’t work out too well for a band, but it’s working for the Lions. You may think it’s hard to write coherent, tuneful, lyrically delightful music from a distance of 4,500 kilometres. In fact, you’d be right. It’s not for the lazy or the faint of heart. You need the heart of a lion!

The big Lion is Paul, he is well over 6 feet. Helen is the little Lion. She brushes 5’2. They met at a conference years ago on a songwriting panel. Helen had musical career in the UK before coming to Canada and Paul’s songs found regular placements in film and television. Helen was writing kid’s music and had Paul produce a record for her that went on to win the Juno for children’s music in 2014. Helen and Paul realized, though, that they had something special.

BLL hi res web crop

They began writing at a distance and discovered one of those rare partnerships where the whole accentuates the parts. It’s got a decidedly pop feel, but was roots enough to win them the Ensemble of the year at the Canadian Folk music awards in 2014.
The song “ They Know my Name” is like a song that a railed Dahl character would sing.

These monsters are hiding within my brain, they roar and they shout and they know my name.

The lyrics are heavy, but Helen’s wispy, sweet voice is the aural equivalent of innocence. Her voice is the bright light illuminating the darkness.

While Helen is doing the singing and strumming, the musical monster is Otten. He’s playing drums, piano, bass pedals, laying down a rhythm and a groove behind that vocal that turns the song into an upbeat danceable anthem about learning to live with your monsters.

They are a joy to listen to and great to watch.

Good for Grapes and Big Little Lions will be with us at Summerfolk for the first time. You can find bios, videos and links for all our performers on our website.

The 41st Summerfolk Music and Crafts festival happens at Kelso Beach park August 19,20,21 2016. Advance tickets are on sale until July 31st. Tickets and information can be found at or by phoning 519-371-2995.

Keeping the Magic (A)live

By Jon Farmer
Lately, I’ve been asking people to describe Summerfolk in one word. The most common response has been ‘magic’. It’s an accurate description but it makes it hard to write about.

Magic has to be seen to be believed, so how do you describe it to someone who doesn’t know? Some people think that concerts – and festivals especially – are just expensive ways to listen to music. It is 2016 and you could probably spend the rest of your life listening to free music online but nothing can fully capture the magic of witnessing a live performance.

It has to do with connection, in the same way that eating a home cooked meal is so much more than chewing and swallowing. It’s special to share the meal with other people, to know that someone made it just for you and that it will only be like this once. Maybe two cooks are sharing the kitchen who have never cooked together before and the new combination of flavours amazes you.

I’ve seen that happen, musically, more than once on a stage. Summerfolk follows the Canadian workshop tradition of placing multiple bands on one stage at the same time. The musicians take turns playing songs related to a theme and often play along on each other’s tunes.

In 2014, at Summerfolk, I saw a guitar workshop with Tim Edey, and Olivier Rondeau. Olivier started a song and invited the others to join in. After a minute or so, Tim’s fingers started flying along the neck of his guitar. Soon the song spiraled into a ten minute long improvised jam. When it was over, both players were grinning from ear to ear and the audience was cheering. “Well that was fun!”, one of them said. It was a once in a lifetime performance.

Something similar happened the first time Beppe Gambetta and Tony McManus played together at Summerfolk38. As the story goes, Grit Laskin came up to them after the workshop and said, “You should play together more often”. That idea planted a seed that bloomed into a new duo mixing Beppe’s incredible flat picking with Tony’s Celtic tunes. You’ll see them back as a duo this year.

Beppe Gambetta and Tony McManus

Beppe Gambetta and Tony McManus

Performers enjoy a good jam anywhere and festivals like Summerfolk make room for the audience to participate, too. I once watched Ken Whiteley lead a workshop on how to play with a band, coaching audience members through their own songs while some of the best players in Toronto backed them up. That’s where I learned that a good backing band is as much fun for the musician as the audience.

Ken Whiteley & the Beulah Band

Ken Whiteley & the Beulah Band

Ken will be back at Summerfolk41. You’ll see him centre stage during the Sunday morning gospel workshop. Gospel is best sung together and you’re sure to hear harmonies rising from the Kelso Beach amphitheatre that would make a professional choir proud.

If gospel isn’t your thing, there are other ways to raise your voice. You can join the Songs from a Hat workshop where a panel of performers competes with the audience to sing randomly chosen, but well-known, songs. It’s a friendly combination of live karaoke competition and jam session.

For those who like more structure there’s the free-to-join-everyone-welcome Summerfolk Choir. This year the choir will be led by Treasa Levasseur – one of Hamilton’s finest blues and R&B players. If you like to sing along with more anonymity, there’s the Summerfolk Finale when all the performers who are left crowd on to the stage to lead the audience in Stan Roger’s ‘Mary Ellen Carter’.

Festivals give communities the chance to connect. Volunteer-run festivals like Summerfolk do it especially well. You’ll see almost 700 volunteers at Summerfolk from their mid-teens to late-eighties, all working hard to make sure that everything is set up and running the way it should be. But you don’t have to volunteer to feel like part of the team. Spend some time wandering through the festival grounds and I guarantee you’ll run into someone you know.

Even if you don’t know anyone going in, by the end of the weekend you’ll recognize familiar faces. You might not realize that you’re starting to recognize faces, but one of the secrets to a good magic trick is to start the process without the audience knowing. The same faces will appear again and again throughout the festival, in line at a food vendor, dancing at the Down by the Bay tent, or looking at jewellery in the artisan village.

Eventually you’ll find yourself singing along to a chorus at the end of a night and when you look to your right or left there will be familiar faces sprinkled through the crowd. You won’t really know them but familiar strangers have a peculiar power to make us feel at home. Maybe you’ll see them downtown a week later; maybe you won’t see them again until next Summerfolk. But where ever your paths cross next, you’ll know that you share something, even if it’s only the memory of a great concert. I can’t fully explain this feeling but that, too, is part of what makes it magical.

If you’re looking for a little bit of magic, then head to for more information. There won’t be any eye of newt or leg of frog, just good music, beautiful art, tasty food, and friendly people. That’s magic enough for me.

photo by John Fearnall

Crowds mixing and mingling at Summerfolk39 photo by John Fearnall

Jon Farmer is Promotional Coordinator for the Georgian Bay Folk Society and a long-time Summerfolk volunteer.

Brothers and Sisters

Every year our artistic director writes a series of 12 articles for the Owen Sound Sun Times in the 12 weeks leading up to the festival. This is the first one for this year.

Brothers and Sisters

I don’t believe an accident of birth makes people sisters or brothers. It makes them siblings, gives them mutuality of parentage. Sisterhood and brotherhood is a condition people have to work at. ~ Maya Angelou

I met Madeline and Lucas Roger (Roger Roger) the first week my wife and I moved to Winnipeg. They were about ten at the time. They had more than their fair share of exposure to music. Their father was Lloyd Peterson, a well-respected, affable and talented musician, engineer and producer.


Lucas and Madeline Roger are Roger Roger


The twins were no strangers at the studio called Private Ear that Lloyd ran then.
The parade of talent through the studio was amazing–the Wailing Jennies, The Weakerthans and some minor folk luminaries. Lucas and Madeline ate it up.

When Lloyd decided to downsize, the studio moved to their home. I remember breaks in recording sessions as they came home from school or when Lucas would come in to raid equipment for one of his first bands.

Not unlike other siblings, they drifted apart for a while. That can happen when you’ve been together since conception. Madeline went in for theatre and travel. Lucas was rebuilding hotrods. One day, when they were both at home for a stretch, Lucas heard Madeline strumming and practicing some new songs. He picked up his guitar and began to play. They rediscovered each other musically.

When Miche and I moved east, I lost track of them for a while, but they showed up at last year’s Folk Music Ontario conference. They were certainly taller, more mature than they had been when I saw them last. We had a great reunion, and then, I heard them sing.

What a revelation! People talk about family harmonies–that particular blend that you can only get when you have sung with someone for your whole life. It struck me watching them that it was more than that. It’s also the shared experience. When they sing about their childhood together, as they occasionally do, they have the same pictures in their heads.

Their songs are crisply written. Lucas tends to be more dark and brooding, Madeline, more hopeful and poetic, but they fit together seamlessly. They are clean players with a sense of dynamics and range that’s unusual for two people so young. I guarantee they will melt your hearts

Cassie and Maggie Macdonald never really had the sibling hiatus. They started performing together at the age of six, but at that stage of the game, it was Highland Dancing. They were born to a family with a rich musical heritage and raised in Nova Scotia, a province that is serious about its in musical culture and traditions.
Playing music together since they were ten years old, they bolstered the traditional with classical training. They went beyond playing tunes and started writing and performing songs as well. They do it with a passionate intensity and a facility that can only come from spending the better part of your life playing music with one person

They are a powerhouse duo who clearly love the stage and performance. Check out their mind numbing tour schedule if you don’t believe me. That kind of touring tests the metal of even the stoutest band mate–to do it with your sister is another thing all together. This is a different kind of family harmony where people transcend being siblings and actually achieve sisterhood.

Cassie and Maggie MacDonald

Cassie and Maggie MacDonald

Cassie says that what keeps them chill on the road is that they really do play two different rolls. One is good with the bookkeeping, one with the promotions. When one plays lead, the other plays rhythm. Still, you have to be tight with your sister to be able to spend so much time together.

I come from a big family. There were enough spaces between the arrivals of my siblings and I that there is a slight difference in the cultures we grew up in–folk for my oldest sister, Beatles for the next, Zeppelin for my older brother, a quick reversion to folk from me, Elton John for my sister and Captain Beefheart for my youngest brother.

The Blackburn Brothers are very much like that. They grew up in three different eras musically and create a unique sound that arises from their history and their connection. That’s how they have managed to seamlessly absorb the best of Soul, Funk and Blues.

In Toronto, the Blackburns are called the first family of funk and soul. Their dad, the legendary Bobby Dean Blackburn was, and is a musician’s musician. They were schooled in the soul and gospel influences of the church and the stirring jazz, R&B an blues backdrop of their Dad’s live performances.




Some say that Duane, Brooke and Cory are evidence that genetics plays a significant role in musical talent, but it doesn’t, really. What Bobby Dean gave them wasn’t the genes it was something better. He let them see that it was possible to live your life making music.

And they do make great music. Duane plays a vintage Hammond B3 organ, Brooke handles the guitar, and Cory is on drums. It’s backbone moving music–sinuous and snaky They have that natural musical camaraderie that comes from family connection. It drips with history.

Blackburn, Cassie and Maggie Macdonald and Roger Roger will be appearing, with no sibling rivalry, at the 41st annual Summerfolk Music and Crafts Festival, August 19th, 20th and 21st at Kelso Beach Park. You can find out about how to purchase tickets here and who else is on the line up here.

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