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Summerfolk is For Kids … Too

By David Newland

Ask what “folk” means as a musical genre, and the conversation could go on for weeks. One thing we can all agree on is that the “folk” in “folk festival” means people. At Summerfolk, that includes little people — in a big way. Kids, in fact, are in many ways at the heart of the festival.

I’ll be honest: I never thought a lot about the family-friendly aspect of folk festivals when I first started attending them. Why would I have? I was a teenager at the time. If anything, I was there to get away from my family! Even when I started to play festivals and to help organize them, my main thought was for the main stage.

It took becoming a parent myself to help me realize that not only are festivals great for kids — kids are also great for festivals. The past few years at Summerfolk have shown me just how vital the family experience is to the whole feeling of the festival itself.

Any performer with family -– indeed any festival patron with family -– will tell you that the whole experience changes with kids in the picture. The late nights are gone, replaced with early mornings. Camping is no longer just a matter of crashing in a tent; it’s all about logistics and meal planning and such. The main stage in the evening may or may not be doable– and by and large, the beer tent fades a bit as little ones come into the picture — an adjustment, to be sure.

The good news, though, is that it’s not that hard of an adjustment to make at Summerfolk. In fact, having kids along makes the whole experience richer and more interesting in a number of ways –- for everyone!

little girl pink hat by stage Summerfolk 2015 Saturday August 22 2015 image by ©kerry JARVIS-38

Summerfolk lets young fans get close to the fun

Think of the site itself. An adult might see it as a place for both healthy and junk food and for shopping for that special piece in the artisan village. The adult may be looking for that opportunity to discover some lesser-known performers along with the well-known ones and have an opportunity to purchase a CD or two in the General Store.

From the child’s point of view, it’s a village –- a world unto itself, really, with its own rules and feelings and textures. At night, it looks magical with the special lighting in the trees, in the Amphitheatre and under the tents. To see a folk festival through a child’s eyes is also to see a small community that honours creativity, the arts, and the environment as if that were the most ordinary thing in the world. Plus, it’s just plain fun.


The Children’s Village


We have crafts for folkies young and old.

Like a village it has it’s pathways as well. This year the wildly popular Storywalk returns. The Storywalk is an initiative of the Owen Sound Public Library. Starting at the front gate and leading to the children’s area this year’s selection, The Man with the Violin, gives the children insight into the world of music and provides an interactive reading experience. The book is available at the retail store and last year’s selection sold out in a matter of hours.

Pages from last year's story walk

Pages from last year’s Storywalk

Summerfolk, in fact, is the kind of world many of us are hoping to help create for our kids. And even if you don’t have kids, or your kids have grown, seeing this temporary village operate the way it does—for the young, and the young at heart alike—is good for the soul.

Action speaks louder than words when it comes to understanding how important kids are to Summerfolk. In Children’s Area, there is a list of activities available –- making a beaded bracelet, making a costume for the parade, designing a mask, building your own drum as well as a spaghetti sensory workshop from 11 am to 2 pm each day. There is also the usual playdoh and face painting by professionals and more.

For peace of mind you can have have your children registered as you come through the main gate at the First Aid trailer on the right. No one wants to see a child lose sight of a parent but if this happens, the job of reconnecting you and your kids is is made easier.

There are some very cool workshops going on during the festival that kids and their parents won’t want to miss that include learning how to walk on stilts, juggling and spinning thanks to Lookup Theatre and Vita Twirlin’ Diva.


Young stilt walkers from Look Up Theatre will animate the site all weekend

Consider the kids’ parade that snakes through the site on Sunday afternoon. Led by the Gypsy Kumbia Orchestra, they’ll be costumed, masked, and in full voice when they arrive at main stage! Banging and blowing and honking and marching like a combination of a mamba snake and a mambo line, the Summerfolk parade is like a Dr. Seuss Book come to life.

Like all of us at age 41, Summerfolk is enjoying its maturity, in part by passing on the excitement to the next generation. Sure, Down By the Bay is still one of the greatest beer tents anywhere, but if your late nights with the gang have turned to early mornings with the kids, there’s a lot worth waking up for. Elephant Thoughts Educational Outreach is bringing a dino dig — complete with a 25-foot dinosaur!

Folk, of course, means music too. Summerfolk’s kids’ performers are some of the very best — Magoo, for example. The legendary madcap songster with his winged helmet, roller skates, ukulele and sprawling wacky wardrobe is second only to Santa in the esteem of children across the folk scene.

Magoo is also famous for his fashion tips.

Magoo is also famous for his fashion tips.

Folk music often addresses the challenges of our times. Enter Ben Spencer with his Songs for Terrible Children. Born on the prairies, resident in Montreal, Ben’s clever satire tackles body image, diversity, bullying, and environmental concerns in a way that is both topical –- and hilarious.

Ben Spencer

Ben Spencer

Even the food is kid-friendly. Who doesn’t love the usual hamburgers, hotdogs, angel fries, pizza, lemonade, kettle corn, deep-fried mars bars, cotton candy and more to discover.

And the best part? Children under 12 accompanied by an adult get in FREE at Summerfolk. That’s a price anyone can afford, for an event everyone can enjoy. You won’t want to miss the 41st annual Summerfolk Music and Crafts Festival on August 19, 20, and 21st at Kelso Beach Park. There’s more info at

Natalie MacMaster and Bruce Cockburn

Natalie MacMaster and Bruce Cockburn at Summerfolk

By James Keelaghan

You have to understand that there was a full-tilt party going on. The performers’ bar was like a who’s who of Folk Music — Paul Brady, Mary Black, Maura O’Connell, Aly Bain and Garrison Keillor. The volume was indescribable. People were packed in shoulder to shoulder amidst the fug of cigarette smoke and the cracking of plastic pint glasses. Tables were placed in rough concentric circles around the bar.

She was sitting at a table in the outer-most ring, her eyes hidden beneath the peak of a ball cap. In front of her were some textbooks and notebooks. The seats across from her were empty. A guitar player in Lennie Gallant’s band, Chris Corrigan and I sat down opposite her.
“ What are you doing, Natalie ?” I asked.
“ Studying for my exams,” she replied.
“ What? Here?” I asked incredulously.
“ They’re not going to take themselves.”

I ran into Natalie MacMaster a lot that summer. She was riding high. She was getting main stage slots all across the country and in Europe as well. She was clearly on the edge of breaking big, of becoming the new Canadian fiddling icon, yet she was focused enough to keep up with her studies.

The summer after that, in 1996, she made her only appearance at Summerfolk. She’s been away too long and, after 20 years she’ll be returning to Summerfolk41. A lot has changed since that smoky bar in Denmark 21 years ago, but she has never lost her focus. She knows what she wants and is willing to do the hard work necessary to get it.

Natalie MacMaster Photo 1

Natalie MacMaster will play Sunday, August 21.

All that makes her sound rather serious, but she’s not. She has a great sense of humour and is as much fun as you would imagine someone who was raised in the kitchen party atmosphere of Cape Breton should be–as long as you catch her when she isn’t studying.

Consider this: Her uncle was the legendary Buddy MacMaster, her mother and father are both musicians, her cousin is Ashley MacIsaac and another cousin is renowned fiddler, Andrea Beaton. She comes by the music honestly — it’s an integral part of her. When you watch Natalie, you are not watching one person — you are watching generations of players who have all contributed to what she is now. She’s aware of that history, but she wears it easily.

The best thing about of Natalie MacMaster is that she measures success not by ticket sales or CD downloads. Success is time spent with her family, in hard work completed, and the power of music. Natalie is busy, amongst everything else, raising a family of five.

I grew up in a family a little larger than that. Not being blessed with infinite amounts of space, the way the kids were distributed about the house was a complex algorithm of age and gender. As boys, my brother and I were assigned bedrooms in the basement early on. Strange music would waft down from the bedrooms above and some of the tunes would stick. Going to the Country became the soundtrack of my twelfth summer — a tune I sang quietly while watching the prairies roll away through the back window of the Custom Suburban station wagon. So began my relationship with Bruce Cockburn. It’s been ongoing for over 40 years.

Bruce is the embodiment of the Canadian acoustic music scene for the past four decades. He’s never been content to plough one crop and, by turns in his life, he has been a solo acoustic player, an electric player, a bandleader and a social justice advocate. That is the secret to his longevity as a figure on the Canadian cultural scene — the ability to explore new sounds and new approaches to writing.

Bruce Cockburn will play on Saturday, August 20.

Bruce Cockburn will play on Saturday, August 20.

As a songwriter, there is no mistaking his style, sometimes as regular as any Tin Pan Alley pro, sometimes spilling out lyrics in an unrestrained flow where the words tug and push at the margins. As a guitar player, he has inspired a couple of generations of players. Learning to play Foxglove is a rite of passage for most young Canadian guitarists.

He’s not afraid of politics. We’re living in an era where there is pressure on live artists to leave politics out of the performance. Bruce retains a devotion to a folk singer’s responsibility to sing about issues. He has always done so. From songs like Gavin’s Woodpile or Going Down Slow– another station wagon favourite — to the debate-inducing If I Had a Rocket Launcher, he’s never been afraid to put his ethical heart on his sleeve.

Nor, has he left out the spirit. There is often a note of searching in his songs, a longing for the calm at the centre of the human experience.

Despite the fact that he has been part of my life for so long, to me he is still enigmatic. My memories of him backstage at festivals are from a distance, a solitary figure walking and deep in thought. He is soft-spoken and considered. In another age, he might have been a cloistered poet like Gerard Manley Hopkins.

We are especially happy to welcome Bruce Cockburn and Natalie MacMaster back to Summerfolk after too long an absence. Come on out and enjoy them, but don’t bug them if they are studying.

Bruce plays on Saturday, August 20 and Natalie on Sunday, August 21. You can get information and see schedules at


Honestly Unforgettable Performers

By James Keelaghan
Sometimes an artist owns a song. Chances are they didn’t write it, but it’s their voice that you hear when you imagine the song being sung. Judy Garland—no one since has owned Over the Rainbow. Arlo Guthrie still has the definitive version of City of New Orleans.

Sometimes, you witness a hand off — that moment when one artist takes possession from the previous owner.

Since Irish Mythen and I share a bit of heritage, I have a confession to make. The first time I actually heard her, rather than just hearing about her, was at last year’s Folk Music Ontario conference. I walked in on the last song of one of her showcases. She ended the set with The Auld Triangle. The song was written by legendary Irish poet/playwright Brendan Behan, though the rumour persists that it was actually written by his brother, Dominic. The song has been owned since the 60s by Luke Kelly, the gravel-voiced singer for the band, The Dubliners. Shane MacGowan, of the Pogues, covered it in the 80s, but never really owned it.


Irish Mythen

When Irish Mythen started singing it, I did a subconscious eye roll. So many have attempted the song. So many have failed to do it justice. By the second line of the song, however, my hair was on end. By the time she finished, it was clear the song had a new owner. It was like the spirit of Behan and Kelly had descended from the sky and placed their fingers on her.

Irish is a powerhouse. If you combined the output of every generating station in North America, it would still not come close to matching the energy in her voice. It’s a voice built to silence a Dublin pub.

I’ve gone out of my way to see Irish several times since that conference. I have rarely seen a performer more in command of herself or her audience. The darkness of some of the material is tempered by a between-song personality marked by deep humour and a sharp, quick wit.

She is not just a voice. She was named SOCAN’s songwriter of the year in 2015. She has the Irish gift for a turn of phrase. She speaks her mind and the songs can be pointed or poignant as the occasion dictates.

What Irish Mythen has in spades is honesty. It’s the hallmark of all great performers and contrary to the old adage, it can’t be faked. Old Man Luedecke has the same quality, though he and Irish have distinctly different personas.

Music conferences can open a window on a performer’s stagecraft, but they can also let you have a more intimate glimpse of a performer’s personality. I was at the Folk Alliance conference last February in Kansas City. Nice though the hotel was, after a couple of days I had to get out of the conference atmosphere and get some real food. When you are in Kansas City, the real food is barbecue.

Fortunately, not far from the hotel, was the famous Jack Stack restaurant. I was standing in the lobby looking at a map when I saw Chris Luedecke. I asked if he would like to join me, as he had a hungry look about him.

We had a pleasant walk, but when we got to the place, it was jam-packed. The hostess mentioned that there was takeout at the back. That’s how Chris and I ended up eating a mass of burnt ends (you’ll have to trust me) under a bridge beside the railway tracks.

I have rarely had a better meal—it wasn’t just the food, it was the company. Chris is down to earth and although soft spoken, he has an easy humour and is a great conversationalist. You would be hard pressed to pick him out of a crowd, but there is no mistaking him on stage.

Old_Man_Luedecke_Photo1 web edit

Old Man Luedecke

Chris writes about ordinary lives, but does it with extraordinary insight. He captures the everyday with such truth that you can’t help but see yourself in his lyrics. When I listen to an Old Man Luedeke song, my first thought is always, “I wish I’d written that.” I think that not because I am jealous of his writing, but because he is saying the things that I think, but never put into words.

His power is simplicity—a voice, a banjo—mostly—and some lyrics. With that, he creates an entire world. He seems like a modern day Pete Seeger, but where Seeger was earnest, Luedecke is laid back. There are no big issues, just small moments illuminating truth.

His is the kind of music that sneaks up on you. The first time you watch one of his shows, there is a pleasure that washes over you, some laughs, a knowing nod of the head, a hint of a tear. It’s not until a day or two after that you realize you have witnessed something extraordinary. It happens as you find yourself singing lyrics that you have only heard once. It’s the second time you see him that it really hits home. You hang on every note and every perfectly placed word resonates.

Folk music is about truth and honesty. We are pleased to present two of the most honest performers you will ever meet- Irish Mythen and Old Man Luedeke at this year’s Summerfolk Music and Crafts Festival, August 19, 20 and 21st at Kelso Beach Park in Owen Sound. Find out everything you need to know at

big tent

Where the music happens

By James Keelaghan

When you talk about folk festivals, music is essential, but really it’s all about the space.

In 1992, I played the Tønder Festival in Denmark for the first time. That festival was a week after the Lunenburg Folk Harbour Festival in Nova Scotia, so rather than go home to Calgary in between, I went directly to Denmark. I hung out in Copenhagen for a few days and then went down to Tønder.Main-Telt-Tonder

It’s a small town — 6,000 people at most, but tens of thousands descend on it for a weekend of music.The town doesn’t have a concert facility for that large a crowd and so, in a square on a field at the edge of town, they set up two circus tents. One holds about 3,500 people and the other 1,500.

After I’d spent half a day seeing everything I could see in the town, I went to the festival office and asked if there was anything I could do to pitch in. They looked at me sideways and then gave me to a guy named Neils. He took me to the bigger of the two tents and I spent a pleasant day tying off the acoustic baffling that would be hoisted into the roof of the tent.

The tent was amazing! It was completely empty with no seating. The stage and sound gear hadn’t been installed. It was just a big canvas shell.Over the next two days, crews transformed it into concert hall. It was beautifully lit, had great sight Main Stage Telt 1lines and a powerful, well run sound system.

Ever since then, I have had my eye on the spaces that music happens in. A well thought-out site with great well-run venues are essential for a successful event.

One of the undoubted stars of Summerfolk last year was the new Down by the Bay tent. Since starting as Artistic Director of Summerfolk, I’ve wanted to bring in some clear span tents. I’ve seen them, and performed in them, at festivals in Europe and Australia but have never encountered them at a Canadian folk festival.

It’s taller and more open than the tent we used for years in that space. That’s because it has no interior poles. The structure of the tent makes it easier to hang lights meaning that we can light the roof of the tent and the stage without bringing in additional scaffolding. The result is a space that inspires and welcomes. It transforms the space into a proper concert hall.

big tent

Looking into the Down By the Bay tent.

I really wanted to have the tent in our licensed area. Veterans of the festival call it the “Beer” tent. We call it the “Down By the Bay” tent because “Beer” tent just doesn’t reflect all that goes on in that space. It’s a place for high-energy music — just ask anyone who danced to Delhi 2 Dublin or The Mackenzie Blues Band last year.

20150823-1073 d2d in beer

Delhi2Dublin inspired a high energy dance party Down By the Bay at Summerfolk40

It allows for incredibly intimate moments as well. Last year’s “Tall Tales” workshop with David Francey, Steve Poltz and Donovan Woods brought the house down. During the songs, you could have heard a pint glass drop, it was so quiet.

20150822-0546 poltz in beer tent

Steve Poltz performs Down By the Bay

On the Saturday of the festival, activity in the tent starts at about 9 AM as the stage crews arrive to ring out the sound system and prep the stage. Music starts at 11AM and runs straight through until until 1AM -– with the exception of a quiet hour between 6 and 7 so the crew can get dinner. Last year, on Saturday, twenty-seven acts played on the stage in fourteen hours.

We’ll do pretty much the same this year. One highlight will be Bruce Cockburn playing an afternoon workshop with Leonard Sumner and Lindi Ortega. On Sunday the tent will host an east coast kitchen party with Natalie McMaster, The East Pointers and Cassie and Maggie Macdonald. On both Friday and Saturday nights, the evenings traditionally end with sets that blow the roof off. This year, Blackburn, Gypsy Kumbia Orchestra and My Son The Hurricane will do the honours.

Down By the Bay has evolved into a second main stage at the festival. This year, by adding another section to the tent, we can have close to a thousand people under cover.

We now have the audience under cover at five of the six daytime stages. That’s not just because we want folks dry in case of rain.

The fact is, recently we have had more sunshine than rain at Summerfolk. In the past four festivals, we have only had one day of rain. The sun is becoming a concern for a lot of people and a shady place to listen to music is a great thing on hot summer afternoon.

We don’t worry about the sun as much at the other mainstage — the Amphitheatre.

Digging Roots led a round dance in the Amphitheatre on Sunday night

Digging Roots led a round dance in the Amphitheatre on Sunday night

That’s because we only run that stage at night. For the first few years of Summerfolk, the area where the amphitheatre is now was just a broad field. The amphitheatre was built in 1982. For 35 years, it’s hosted thousands of performers.

The stage, of course, is named after the late, lamented and much loved Stan Rogers Summerfolk loved Stan and he loved it back, setting the pattern for a relationship many performers have with Summerfolk.

An amphitheatre is not unique. What makes ours special is the backdrop. It’s a combination of sky, water, trees and a hint of the industrial.  It’s easily one of the most beautiful backdrops of any festival in Canada.

You can enjoy our Summerfolk space at Kelso Beach Park on August 19, 20 and 21 this year.Advance tickets are on sale until July 31st and information can be found at

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.

Sun Time Article Jez Lowe 06/13/2014

 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. 

Jez Lowe told me to stop reading.

Reading is my second favourite form of recreation. When I am on the road, a book is what clears my mind. Jez thinks the opposite. His theory is-if I am taking words on, I‘m not putting words out. In order to write more, I was going to have to lay off the reading for a while.

Jez Lowe Full sizeWhen Jez offers songwriting advice, it’s best to listen. He’s not only the most prolific songwriter I know, I think he is the finest folk songwriter of this generation. Richard Thompson has heaped praise upon him. The BBC has called him “a singular talent”. People who are my musical heroes record his songs-Liam Clancy, The Dubliners, Mary Black, Fairport Convention.

He played traditional tunes and a fair amount of Beatles and Stones when he was younger, He brings all those sensibilities to the songs he writes. Songs like “The Bergen” or “ Durham Goal” are as traditional sounding as they come. “Spitting Cousins” or “Greek Lightening” are more cinematic, more modern. They exist side by side in his live sets and neither suffer.

Jez was born in county Durham in the heart of coal country in the northeast of England. He didn’t follow his class mates into the coal mines choosing to make music instead.The first ten years of his musical career he played mostly traditional songs. He quickly became one of the mainstays of the folk scene, sought after for clubs and festivals.

He had always written but it took a  cultural earthquake to turn him into full time writer.  In 1984 the Thatcher government announced the closing of 74 coal mines, mostly in the Northeast . The divisive miner’s strike of 1984/85 and the breaking of the miner’s unions  signalled the end of a way of life in the Durham. Jez was there to document it in song. He has not stopped writing since.

The songs about the collapse of economy in the Northeast are not academic. He’s writing and singing about his family, about the guys he went to school with. He cares about it deeply. That’s what makes the songs universal. They are not just about the events in Easington or Peterlee. They are about the real human emotions in play when a whole way of life changes.

It’s not all serious stuff, either. He writes more and better comic songs than anyone I know. Most of them work because he is a man who takes great delight in language. He wrote a great tune about the Vikings. In the song, they are eager to get back down to earth from Valhalla because the world as it is now is perfect for them.

 They say we’re sick of sleeping in the arms of Thor

When down here its fun and games and war, war, war

Blood lust and savagery are guaranteed

And we maim to please-so say the Vikings


He’s got an amazing 17 CD’s to his credit. He has been the back bone of the recently revived BBC Radio Ballads. The original radio ballads series in the 1950’s was the brain child of legendary writer Ewan MacColl, with whom Jez shares a number of similarities. He’s written over 50 songs for that project alone.

I met him at the Old Songs Festival outside Albany, New York in 1994. I’d been hearing his name for years. People would tell me I had to keep an ear open for him. For some reason I thought he would be much older than he was. He wasn’t.

I’d see him when I was in England, or when he was on tour over here. We spent a memorable 6 weeks crisscrossing each other’s paths in Australia. We also toured together some. You learn a lot about people when you are in the car with them for 17 or 18 days.

Here are some of the thing’s I’ve learned.

-He is writing all the time. He’ll be driving but you can see that he is actually turning lines and  rhymes over in his head. He’s often writing three or 4 songs at a time. None of them are bad, or even mediocre.

-He’s right handed but he plays the guitar left handed. It is one of the enduring little mysteries about Jez. All he ever says about it is…that’s how I learned.

-Audience members have, on more than one occasion, told him that he is taller than he sounds on recordings. He says he thought the same thing when he first heard himself. But don’t take his word for it. You can judge for yourself.

Jez Lowe will be with make his Owen Sound debut at Summerfolk 39. The Summerfolk Music and Crafts Festival happens August 15, 16 and 17 at Kelso Beach Park. Information can be found at Tickets can be ordered online or by phoning     1-888-655-9090



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