Aug 18,19,20 tickets

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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.

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The Children’s Village

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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.

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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 summerfolk.org.

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.

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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 summerfolk.org

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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.

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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.

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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 summerfolk.org.

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Refreshing Classics And New Traditions

By James Keelaghan
It should be no surprise to you that with a name like Keelaghan, I know a bit about Celtic flavoured music. It might surprise you that it’s not the fiddle in Irish trad that really gets me going — it’s the tenor banjo.

There is a whole twisted and fascinating history of how the banjo got into Irish music, but however it got there, I think the music is the better for it.

For a number of years, the tenor banjo all but disappeared from traditional celtic music. In the ballad heavy 50s and 60s, the five-string banjo was king. But with the trad revival of the 70s, it came roaring back. Kieran Hanrahan of Stockton’s Wing and Mick Moloney brought it to the fore. I was backpacking in Ireland in 1979 at the height of the revival and the sound of the tenor banjo was the soundtrack of my travels.

It went out of fashion for a while, but there’s been another renaissance, though the resurgence has been mainly in Canada. Composers like the late Jean-Paul Loyer and players like Darren McMullen, who was with us last year as part of Còig, have been bringing it back.

Which brings me to The East Pointers, who are joining us for the first time at Summerfolk this year. The East Pointers are a wicked band. Wicked! Tim Chaisson is surely one of the finest fiddlers on the planet, and a great songwriter in his solo career. Jake Charron is a rock-solid rhythm guitar player-like a machine, he drives the tunes forward. And then, there is the tenor banjo player, Koady Chaisson. His playing is staccato, but it isn’t square. It pushes and it pulls, but it never drags. When all three instruments suddenly land on the melody line, it’s electric, played with a precision that is at odds with the laid-back look of the group. You wonder how much they must have played in order to be so pristine. They don’t play it sitting down, either, which is also a change. It adds to the raw energy of their sets.

The East Pointers

The East Pointers

Here’s the best thing—all the tunes are new. There are no old chestnuts, but every single tune sounds like it’s already a part of the tradition. It helps that the Chaissons (Tim and Koady are cousins) are one of the dynastic musical families on PEI. There have been at least seven generations of musical Chaissons on the island. While the taste in the family has always run to the Scottish, The East Pointers have brought in the Irish and the French to create a sound that not only raises the roof, but rattles the floor. Add Tim working on a stomp box and the pickup system that allows Jake to play bass as well as guitar—it is innovation-advancing tradition at its very best.

I get excited about music that has a bloodline that goes along with the melody line. Music that knows where it came from is inherently more interesting than a flavour of the week, or music from an artist that is dipping a toe into a genre.

Lindi Ortega is serious about the bloodline of country music. Last year she wrote an article partly in response to some things that Blake Shelton said. Specifically his contention that, “Nobody wants to listen to their grandpa’s music” and his reasoning that sales are the only measure of good country music. What bugged Ortega was that Shelton’s solution to making country more popular is that commercial country music is now a …“bro country” domain. It is a world full of frat boys, partying and drinking, and making sure their women wear tight jeans and are referred to as “girl”.

She summed it up beautifully. “Gone are the days of originality, not only in style but in songwriting. In that classic era you could tell the difference between Johnny Cash and Waylon Jennings. Artists were easily discernible and legends arose because of their unique qualities that made them not only country music legends, but revered and respected all over the world.”

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Ortega is nothing if not discernible. She doesn’t fit the mold. You get the feeling that she probably stands out at industry mixers. That’s bound to happen in a world that often mistakes fashion for achievement. In a town that is notoriously hard on artists that are “different”, critics have nothing but praise for her. Universally, the praise refers to her as refreshing. They then point out that the refreshing thing about Lindi is that she has a classic sound and classic sensibility.

Her songwriting style is confessional, but not self-indulgent. In this, she is solidly in the bloodline of country music. She writes and sings stories that are missing from mainstream commercial country. She’s not singing about pick-ups and beer. It’s about heartache and being from the wrong side of the tracks. It’s about good women and bad choices.

Her singing voice is true, but has rough edges. It’s a voice with character, easily identifiable. If you HAD to make a comparison to a voice from the classic generation, I’d choose Kitty Wells singing It wasn’t God that made Honkey Tonk Angels.

She’s been known to play some classic covers during her sets, but like The East Pointers, she’s really all about moving the tradition forward. To make people realize that their grandpa’s music was pretty good, and that’s the standard you have to write to.

The refreshingly classic Lindi Ortega and new tradition of The East Pointers will be gracing the stages of the 41st annual Summerfolk Music and Crafts Festival on August 19, 20, and 21st at Kelso Beach Park. There’s more info at summerfolk.org.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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 summerfolk.org.

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.

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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 summerfolk.org or by phoning our office at 519-371-2995.

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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 summerfolk.org 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 Summerfolk.org 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.

Roger-Roger-web-crop

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.

Blackburn

Blackburn

 

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.

The View From Stage Right

newland
By David Newland

The other day, my teenage daughter confronted me: “Dad, why are you still wearing that t-shirt? It’s ten years old!” I looked down, stunned. “What?! This is my Summerfolk 30th anniversary shirt!” Okay, guilty as charged. But I can explain…

In 2004, I’d been playing as a singer-songwriter in Ontario for a couple of years. Festival gigs were hard to come by. I had played at a Last Chance Saloon for a slot at Summerfolk, and despite many a plastic beer cup raised to my effort, I didn’t get the gig.

 I did, however, get a chance to walk through the site at Kelso Park, where so many of my musical heroes had played. Walking among the standing stones with the winter wind whipping off Georgian Bay, I dedicated myself to someday playing Summerfolk.

 Elsewhere on the scene, fellow performers and volunteers talked of great moments spent at Summerfolk; of Willie P. Bennett and Stan Rogers; of passionate fans lined up to place their tarps; of late night jams, summer storms and endless encores; of a volunteer corps second to none.

 I got invited to play one of the off-season GBFS songwriter series shows, in a lovely theatre above the old courthouse. I stayed in a B&B with a basement vault, a relic of the Prohibition era whiskey trade. At the Tom Thomson gallery, I discovered the painter’s mandolin, a poignant artifact I have made a point of visiting time and again. If I couldn’t play the festival (yet) I could love and admire the place. And I did.

 When Liz Harvey-Foulds took over as AD in 2005, she hired some musical friends of mine, and one of them, Jory Nash, asked if I could help out as a volunteer stage host at the Homemade Jam stage. I jumped at the chance. You know the old saying: if you can’t dazzle them with brilliance, baffle them with… hosting. People I’d been listening to for years were playing: Tanglefoot, Rita Chiarelli, Garnet Rogers. I got to sit in on an Ian Tamblyn workshop! I was hooked.

 The following year I was back, hosting Down By the Bay. The dream was coming true by tiny increments. Prairie Oyster, Lynn Miles, Crooked Still… I was still a fan, but now I was finding myself backstage with these folks. On Sunday morning I caught the gospel workshop from my canoe, Suzie Vinnick’s voice echoing off the grain elevators.

 In 2009, with Richard Knechtel at the helm, I was back with my band, The McFlies. Rocking Down By the Bay, right before Hoots and Hellmouth on the Saturday night, was one of my favourite musical moments ever. The next day, Sharon, of Sharon, Lois & Bram showed up at a kids’ workshop I was hosting and joined me onstage for Skinnimarink. Does it get any better?

 It did. In 2011, Richard called again: how about hosting mainstage? Yes sir, I said. Summerfolk was one of seven festivals I did that year with my fiancée by my side, weeks before our wedding. Now I had someone to share all my favourite things with: the steam powered corn cooker, the deep fried turkey legs. The beach and the tipi and the smiling faces now becoming familiar: Pete Miller driving the shuttle van, Ariel Rogers managing the tweeners. Steve and Steve in the CIUT tent. The instrument petting zoo!

 In 2012, Summerfolk had a new Artistic Director, and I had a new album. James Keelaghan offered me a night hosting mainstage again, the usual workshop slots and a spot in a brand new venue: the Wine Bar. Now my wife was pregnant and the in-laws were along in support. Summerfolk had become a multi-generational affair in more ways than one: Nathan Rogers (with Dry Bones) took to the stage named after his father, just one among a slew of acts like Chic Gamine, Al Simmons, H’SAO, and my old buddy Dave Gunning. Wow.

 Two years later came another call from Keelo, this time with a bold request: would I host all three nights on main stage? On that long-ago winter’s day, all I’d hoped for was the chance to play the festival one day. And now I would be introducing the likes of Laura Cortese, Oh Suzannah, and the incredible Buffy Ste. Marie? Yes, I said. YES!

 And now here we are in 2015. Once again, I find myself heading to Owen Sound to host mainstage at Summerfolk. Now, it’s not just heroes, but colleagues and friends I have the honour of introducing: Up-and-comers, the Young Novelists. Ukulele wizard James Hill and the wildly talented Shari Ulrich. Samantha Martin, whose band will simply blow people away. The profound and insightful Evalyn Parry and the passionate and inspiring Digging Roots. The outlandish Steve Poltz and the haunting Sarah MacDougall. Joel Plaskett! Trout Fishing in America! Whitehorse!

 So yeah, I’m still wearing my volunteer t-shirt from 2005. It’s not yet holey, but it’s kinda… holy. Still, I may pick up a new one this year. Summerfolk 40? Sounds like a dream come true to me.

Workshops and Festival Magic

Randy represents the audience at the Songs from a Hat workshop in 2014

Randy represents the audience at the Songs from a Hat workshop in 2014

By James Keelaghan

We have a lot of people who buy tickets to the festival before we announce even one name from the lineup. They know that what happens at Summerfolk is unique. They don’t need to see a lineup to know that the entertainment will be top notch.

The schedule for the entire weekend is up on the website now. I looked at the spike in web traffic when we posted it. I knew what was going on. The serious were handicapping the schedule.

They were figuring out how to maximize their time at the festival. Plotting how to see everybody that they want to see. I also see it in that first hour on site, before the music has actually begun. The calm before the song, as it were. People are hunched over their programs, the highlighting tool of their choice in their hands. They are circling things.

Every year, we hear same thing,“ you can’t possibly see it all ”. It’s true, you can’t. With seven daytime stages and two to three evening stages, you’d have to have clones to take it all in.

It’s my job to program all that activity. Eighty-eight separate shows that add up to one festival. I would like to take all the credit, or blame for that, but the ideas for the workshops come from a lot of different places.

When performers return their paperwork for the festival, they also return a sheet where they have listed their workshop ideas.

Workshops, if you haven’t seen them, take a few performers, give them a theme and sixty minutes or so on stage. Performers play to the theme, but if they are feeling particularly comfortable, they start playing with each other. The very best workshops end up with the performers becoming a pick-up band. It’s electric.

They might also mention people they would love to be in a workshop with. The Bombadil’s really wanted to do a workshop with Grit Laskin. Done ( Saturday August 22 11AM, Down BY the Bay stage). Ann Lederman wanted to do a workshop with Bruce Molsky. Done ( Sunday afternoon, August 23rd, 4:30 at the Wine Bar. Be there or be square).

There are often existing relationships between musicians that you know will bear fruit in a workshop. Leonard Podolak is at the festival this year with his group, the Duhks. Mark Schatz is here as part of Claire Lynch’s band. Mark and Leonard have known each other for years. Mark produced two of the early Duhks’ records. He also taught Leonard to hambone and clog. Clogging, you are probably familiar with, or you can take a wild guess and probably will be right. Hambone, you might not be familiar with. It’s a form of dance mixed with body percussion and it’s a great thing to watch and an ever better thing to do. Master and student will teach it all to you at Noon on the Sunday of Summerfolk ( Over The Hill stage).

There are many other instructional workshops over the weekend. David Essig has a workshop called Art of the Jam that could help those who tend to stall out around the campfire. How about learning how to write a haiku, be a part of the Summerfolk choir, or learn how to spin poi?

Other workshops are about throwing musicians together and, with the relaxation that comes from the Summerfolk atmosphere, magic happens, not to mention a few sparks. I anticipate the last workshop on the Down By the Bay Stage, Sunday afternoon, called Groove Summit with Whitehorse, The Mackenzie Blues Band, and Samantha Martin and Delta Sugar is going to take the roof off the tent.

Another Down by the Bay workshop (1PM Saturday), Songs from a Hat has become a favourite of the audiences in the past few years.
The idea is simple. I have a hat. It’s filled with song titles written on long scraps of paper. Steve Poltz, Anne Beverley Foster, Trout Fishing in America and David Woodhead square off against the audience. The challenge is to sing at least the first verse and chorus of a song pulled from my hat. If the pros can’t do it, it’s up to the audience. There’s only one other rule. Don’t throw the microphone!

Shari Ulrich, Claire Lynch, Wendy McNeill and Sarah MacDougall are four writers with very different styles, but my bet is they find common ground at a workshop called “Wolf at the door”, (Down by the Bay, Sunday at noon).

Those are just a few of the things we have in store for you. The best part is, you still don’t know what it is that is going to surprise you.

You’ll find the weekend schedule and everything else you need to know about Summerfolk at summerfolk.org. The 40th annual Summerfolk Music and Crafts Festival happens August 20-23 at Kelso Beach Park, Owen Sound and is brought to you through the efforts of the Georgian Bay Folk Society.

A workshop on the Down by the Bay stage in 2014

A workshop on the Down by the Bay stage in 2014

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

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.

Deep Roots at Summerfolk

By James Keelaghan
The other day, I was doing research into Canadian folk festivals. Every now and again, I like to go old school on the fact finding. I went to my Canadian Encyclopedia. In the entry for folk festivals, 6 festivals are mentioned-Winnipeg, Vancouver, Edmonton, Mariposa, Miramichi and…Summerfolk in Owen Sound. We’re even a little more prominent in the online version.

 

When the first Summerfolk debuted in 1976, I was 15 years old. I had never been to a folk festival. There wasn’t one in Calgary. We had a folk scene that was just beginning to take hold. There were house concerts at Lynn and Barry Luft’s place as well as Tommy Makem and Liam Clancy recording a television series at the local TV station, CFAC. There were plenty of clubs with acoustic music, but I was too young to frequent them because they served the demon alcohol.

 

Over here in Owen Sound, two brothers, Tim and John Harrison decided it was time for a festival. Out of thin air, with the help of friends and volunteers, they launched Summerfolk. It would take Calgary and Edmonton another 6 years to start festivals of their own.

 

I came to Summerfolk for the first time when I was 25. That was just shy of the 10th anniversary. I was the guitar player for a Scottish folk singer named Margaret Christl. It was the first time I had gigged east of Regina.

 

At the time, the festival at the time housed performers in a downtown hotel on 2nd Ave E. I have quizzed people about this, but there doesn’t seem to be agreement on what the hotel actually was. I distinctly remember there being a sign on the front that said St James, because a friend and I kept referring to the place as the St James Infirmary. There was a respectable motel attached to the back, but the hotel itself seemed like it might have been used as a squat. All the rooms were funkily decorated. There was an elevator that required an operator and a swimming pool that had been drained. I played a late night game of imaginary water polo in that pool with Odetta, Ron Casat and several others.

 

The hotel sessions at Summerfolk have always been legendary. I availed myself. I jammed hard on the Friday night with a group of people up in my 2nd floor room.

 

The next morning, when I arrived on site a woman, who I now know was Sandy Hogg pulled me aside and told me “her crew” had been singing my praises. She wanted to know who I was, precisely and she wanted to hear me sing.

 

I played the festival another eight times. I came to love it because it marked, in the sweetest way, the end of the summer touring. If you were lucky you started at Bumbershoot or Seattle Folklife in May, and ended up in August, right here beside Georgian Bay. I’ve always loved the fact that Summerfolk made it easy for musicians to play together. Since I took over as Artistic Director, I’ve made it my priority to keep that feel. There is, after all, a four-decade long tradition to uphold.

 

Since Summerfolk is turning 40, we are going to celebrate with a Birthday Bash!

 

The first Summerfolk opened on August 20, so the decision was made to crank up the site for Thursday August 20th this year. We are going to celebrate in style! There is a new tent for the Down By the Bay Stage. We’re going to raise the roof with 3 hours of outstanding music from Ottawa’s MonkeyJunk and New Brunswick’s Matt Andersen.

 

Matt Andersen

Matt Andersen

When Matt played the festival 4 years ago, he sold the most recordings of any solo artist in our history. Matt is real. He sings with his entire being. Since then, he has recorded a fantastic new album produced by Steve Berlin ( Los Lobos, Tragically Hip). He’s been keeping up a gruelling tour schedule, but wanted to be with us to celebrate our birthday!

 

He has over 2 million views on YouTube, platinum-sized independent cd sales, a 2013 European Blues Award, and won Best Solo Performer at the Memphis Blues Challenge. The entire world is now discovering what we at Summerfolk always knew-Matt Andersen is a powerhouse performer with a giant soul-filled voice and commanding stage presence. He has built a formidable following the old fashioned way–touring worldwide letting his reputation spread through word of mouth.

 

Also on the bill is MonkeyJunk. They are a powerhouse swamp rock R&B band with a fistful of awards and nominations. I’ve been trying to get these guys to the festival for a few years. It’s extra special that they will be making it for our 40th birthday.

 

MonkeyJunk

MonkeyJunk

You can buy your ticket to the Thursday Birthday Bash as a single night ticket or add it to your weekend pass. All the information you need is at summerfolk.org  or on our facebook page facebook.com/Summerfolk

 

The Summerfolk Music and Crafts Festival happens at Kelso beach in Owen Sound August 20, 21, 22 and 23, 2015.

*This article first appeared in the Owen Sound Sun Times on June 5th, 2015

Claire Lynch Has The Voice

By James Keelaghan
Every now and again I play a little game with myself. I imagine which musician I would like to be. Sometimes I’d like to be Phil Ochs, sometimes Captain Beefheart. Lately, I’ve wanted to be Claire Lynch.

ClaireLynch

Claire Lynch and band

 

Claire possesses that high reedy voice that is the hallmark of Anglo-American roots music. It’s reminiscent of Alison Krauss or Hazel Dickens. She can whip you into a frenzy with a holler or seduce you with a lullaby. When Dolly Parton says you are one of her favourite vocalists you must be doing something right. The International Bluegrass Association agrees. Claire Lynch is a three time winner of their Female Vocalist of the Year award.

 

There are singers and there are songwriters. Sometimes you have singers who sing their own songs but they really aren’t writers. Sometimes you have songwriters who sing their own songs, but they aren’t really singers. It’s very rare that you find someone who can really do both.

 

Claire Lynch is that person. Her songs have been recorded by Patty Loveless, Kathy Mattea and others. At the IBMA’s last year she also won the Best Song award for “Dear Sister”. The song is based on letters written between a brother and sister on the eve of the Civil War battle of Stone River. It fuses the world of the traditional and the original.

 

Her band is an astounding group in and of themselves. Mandolinist-guitarist Jarrod Walker is a soulful singer and skilled player. Bryan McDowell is a young string wizard who, at 18, had an unprecedented hat-trick at the Winfield, Kansas National Flat-picking Championship winning first place in fiddle, mandolin, and flat-picked guitar. Mark Schatz is a two-time IBMA-winning bassist-clawhammer banjo player-dancer-percussionist. He makes the coffee as well.

 

Mark Schatz also has a close connection to a member of the Winnipeg band, The Duhks. Some of you may remember Leonard Podolak being here 4 years ago with Dry Bones. One of the highlights of their sets was the hambone solos. Leonard learned to hambone and clog from Mark. Schatz also produced one of the Duhks recordings.

TheDuhks

The Duhks

 

I met Leonard Podolak when he was 10 years old. My band and I arrived in Winnipeg by train early on a cold October morning and cabbed it over to Mitch Podolak’s house. Mitch was the concert promoter for the show we were playing in town that night. He is also the legendary creator of the Winnipeg, Vancouver and Edmonton Folk Festivals.

 

I knocked on the door. There was the scurry of feet. The door swung open and a cloud of smoke billowed out. Leonard’s ten year old face screamed, ”I’m makin’ pancakes”!!

 

His level of enthusiasm has never dimmed.

 

He grew up in a house that was the centre of folk music in Winnipeg. The Podolak place housed anybody who was anybody in folk music. Stan Rogers, Utah Phillips, Odetta, Tom Paxton, Spirit of the West, you name them, they slept in the spare room. Leonard soaked it all up getting lessons and advice from them all. Banjo became his area of expertise, but he also learned how to build and run a band.

 

The Duhks, Grammy nominees and Juno award winners, play a high energy version of Old Time music. They get their instrumental power from the guitar, banjo and violin. The Duhks added a signature percussionist to give it more drive and then topped it all off with an incredible lead vocalist, Jessee Havey.

 

Jessee joined the band as a teenager. She received her musical education on the road. Because of the immense touring range of the band—they regularly play in the US, Europe and Australia—Jessee was able to learn from cajun musicians, traditional British singers and jazz greats.

 

The band has always described itself as polyethnic. It has certainly taken that approach with its material, but the band is diverse as well. Fiddler Anna Lindblad is from Sweden and brings a nordic style to the strings. Less raw, more melodic, but still capable of unstoppable groove. Guitarist/bouzouki player Colin Savoie-Levac is from Quebec where he’s in great demand. He splits his time between the Duhks and filling in when needed for Éric Beaudry in star trad trio De Temps Antan. He also guides his own group, Les Poules à Colin. Drummer/percussionist Kevin Garcia is from Detroit originally but now make Brooklyn his home where he plays with, well, everybody.

 

The Duhks has been a labour of love for over 14 years. Doc Watson, no less, said, “Oh God, it is so beautiful, some of the finest music I’ve heard in many a day.”

 

The band has evolved over the years, losing and adding members as bands do. What has never changed is the absolute dedication to producing music that is true, focused and as enthusiastic as a 10 year old making pancakes for the guests.

 

Claire Lynch and the Duhks are just two of the over 40 acts that will be playing the Summerfolk Music and Crafts festival this year. The festival happens August 20, 21, 22, 23 at Kelso beach in Owen Sound, just like it has for 40 years. You can find information about the festival at www.summerfolk.org

 

*This article first appeared in the Owen Sound Sun Times on June 19th, 2015

Sun Times 08022014 Why We Folk

The only thing that keeps me going in the winter is the thought of summer. There used to be a time when I embraced winter, but that time is long gone. It was Winnipeg’s fault. No winter anywhere gives you bragging rights like a Winnipeg winter, and I have 10 of them under my belt.

From November to April this year, it was like Winnipeg had set up an Ontario branch office.  The only thing that kept me from snapping was the thought of Summerfolk.

I was putting the finishing touches on the line up for the festival. The space heater was desperately trying to keep my backyard office warm. I was trying to keep focused on the fact that at some point the weather would be warm again. There was going to be a time when we would be able to be outdoors without 15 layers of clothes.

I imagined myself in the Down by the Bay Tent with a bag of kettle corn, a glass of beer and some Mexican music.

I thought about strolling between the artisan’s booths, wondering what treasure my family would buy this year.

I wondered what crafts my boys were going to show off on the Sunday, having my morning coffee while listening to great songs and great players.

That’s what got me through the winter.

PHOTO BY JOHN FEARNALL

PHOTO BY JOHN FEARNALL

 

It is only two weeks until the festival and my anticipation is getting even keener. Back in the winter all the performers were discreet individuals. Now they are grouped in workshops, arranged in concerts.The schedule is finished  and I wonder how the workshop combinations are going to unfold.

The beauty of a folk festival is, it is more than the sum of it’s parts. The combinations of musicians and themes bring out unexpected energies. As an audience member the excitement is knowing that what you are seeing and hearing is truly unique. It will only happen that one time-in the here and now.

I’ve put the musicians together on paper, but it’s the musicians themselves that will make the magic happen.

Nothing prepared me for the explosive energy of last year’s workshop with Coco Love Alcorn, Ian Sherwood, Alex Cuba and Cècille Doo Kinguè. I know there will be workshops as great as that this year, but it’s all a bit of a surprise.

I think that’s part of why people want to be at festivals. They want to be in the right place at the right time. They want to be able to turn to a friend and say, “ Do you remember when…”

An event like Summerfolk lets us know that we can gather in our thousands to enjoy each others company and celebrate what makes us human.

Every now and again it is a great idea to turn off the news, put away the paper, turn off the radio and listen to music in real time, to share an experience that isn’t mediated by facebook, or instagram. Festivals are a social network come to life-your 3000 friends and you sharing a moment together.

All this happens because over 700 people volunteer to make it happen.They build stages, put up tents, shuttle performers and run sound stages. They contribute over 10,000 hours of labour to make the weekend happen.

For  almost two generations, people have been gathering at Kelso Beach Park on the 3rd weekend of August to celebrate what we know to be true-music makes the world a better place.

It makes our lives richer, tells stories,makes us move and moves us. We know that a weekend listening to music, even in the rain (if it comes to that), is better than driving Hwy 6 in January.

Finale Sunday Night PHOTO BY JOHN FEARNALL

Finale Sunday Night PHOTO BY JOHN FEARNALL

 

On behalf of the volunteers, the board and staff of the Georgian Bay Folk Society, I’d like invite you to join us at Summerfolk 39. Summerfolk happens August 15, 16 and 17th. Information on performers, artisans, food vendors, kid’s crafts area and tickets can be found at summerfolk.org or by calling us a 519-371-2995. If you want to experience Summerfolk from the inside, we are still looking for a few volunteers.

Sun Times Article 07/25/2014 Molsky/Naiman

 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.The Sun Times online edition here

 

Hannah Shira Naiman’s CD rose to the top of the pile that came from the Folk Music Ontario conference last October. There were some really great original tunes, interspersed with traditional material. I wondered where she’d found so many traditional tunes that were new to me. When I got round to reading the liner notes I was pleased to discover that she wrote them.

The songs are solidly in the Appalachian/Old Time tradition. The melodies come from someone who has an intimate knowledge of the classic ballads and tunes. It helps that she was raised in a musical family in Toronto-both her parents are themselves respected players.

Hannah Shira Naiman

She has a willowy voice and gentle hand on the claw hammer banjo. She’s a joy to listen to.

I hired Hannah because I loved the cd and the songs. I also wanted to have her pitch in with our dance program. She’s an accomplished dancer herself, you can hear some foot percussion on the cd. She’s also a dance caller.

There’s been a revival of contra and square dance brewing in Toronto. Hannah is one of the go to callers at the popular Hog Town Hoedown. Contra dances, like square dances, are done with the help of a caller. That’s where Hannah comes in.  She teaches each dance before it begins in a ‘walk through’.  Once the dancers have done the walk through, the caller will strike up the band, and she/he will continue to prompt the dance until it looks like everyone is flowing along on their own.

As we talked about dance programming, she suggested that she could call and teach the dances, sing her original tunes and put together a band that could handle both. She’s bringing some great players from Toronto. Her dad, Arnie Naiman on banjo, Rachel Melas ( from Betty and the Bobs) on Bass, and Rosalyn Dennett ( Oh my Darlin) on violin.

 

I mentioned some of the other people coming to the festival and she suggested that maybe there was an opportunity to put together an All star band for our Saturday night contra dance band. Why not said I. So, over the course of the Saturday night dance, the band will be joined by a parade of some of the best trad players in North America-Brittany Haas (Crooked Still), Eli West, Ann Downey and Ian Rob from Finest Kind and the incomparable  Bruce Molsky.

Bruce Molsky should be made a UNESCO World Heritage site. He has a deep, wide catalogue of American songs and tunes. He is the undoubted master Appalachian fiddler of his generation. When you listen to Molsky you listen to history.

Guitar, banjo, fiddle and a classic reedy voice are Molsky’s hallmarks. They are deployed on the staggering library of tunes and songs stored in his head. He’s a natural folklorist, sifting though songs learned from field recordings, festivals, and old-timers.

He was raised in the Bronx and had a brief flirtation with bluegrass when he was younger. He became devoted to Appalachian and Old Time music when he was studying to be an engineer at Cornell. He was attracted by the music’s drive and power, but also by its social and communal side.

 

Bruce Molsky

“Community is integral to the music,” Molsky explains. “Most of us started playing in a social context. The music is all about pulse and heartbeat-everybody has that, it’s just expressed a little differently in different places. There’s always common ground that we can find.”

His first solo album, Lost Boy,  was released in 1996. It wasn’t until 3 years later, though that he finally gave up his day job and turned to music full time.

His latest disc, 2013’s If It Ain’t Here When I Get Back, finds Molsky not only self producing, but also playing all the instruments.

His other musical influences are on display as well. There’s Bimini Gal, which he learned from  an LP that featured Bahamian guitarist Joseph Spence. Or the playful instrumental Growling Old Man and Grumbling Old Woman a traditional Métis fiddle tune learned from field recordings of the Ojibwe people in Western Manitoba.

He’s got a quiet version of charisma. You can find him at fiddle camps, music schools and festivals where younger players flock to him to soak up technique or repertoire, or both.

If you are a fan of traditional music, you’ll be telling people about him for years. If you know nothing about traditional music, he will steal you heart.

 Hannah Shira Naiman and Bruce Molsky both possess an “I’ll sleep when I”m dead” attitude at music festivals. They are two of the fine musicians you’ll find in our roster of over 40 acts at this year’s Summerfolk Music and Crafts Festival. The gates of the festival open at 4 Pm on the 15th of August. The contra dance  with our Summerfolk All star Contra Band happens at 7:30 Saturday August 16th. Tickets, info and schedules can be found at summerfolk.org or by phoning the office at 519-371-2995. Come and catch the sound of summer!

Sun Times Article 07/18/2014 The blues

 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.The Sun Times online edition here

The other day, just for kicks, I tried to think of all the various kinds of blues. Chicago, New Orleans, Piedmont, Memphis, Detroit, boogie-woogie, jump, swamp. Add to those the genre’s that have been spawned from Blues, which would be pretty everything from 1920 onwards. Blues has become the musical language of mass communication. Strangely, though, blues  tends to come to me by word of mouth.

I first heard about the Reverend Robert B. Jones from my brother Bob. My brother’s band was playing a festival in Kitchener and shared a stage with him. When I quizzed him about who he’d liked, Reverend Jones was the immediate response. I asked him, what made Jones stand out? Bob said – He’s authentic.

Rev. Robert B. Jones

When you couple authenticity with exceptional talent, songwriting and storytelling you get the Reverend Robert B. Jones. He’s got an encyclopedic knowledge of the history of African American folk music, including blues, spiritual, and slave songs. He knows its players and its styles. He no slouch when it comes to performing it.

Until recently he has been pastor of the Sweet Kingdom Missionary Baptist Church on Detroit’s lower east side. The blues, typically, deal with a side of life that is decidedly secular. Reverend Jones doesn’t have a problem with that.

“ The fact of the matter is the two things are related.” he says. “ You can’t have gospel without the blues. And the blues came out of the spiritual…the two things are related always, and if you look under any good preacher’s bed, you’re gonna find that guitar that he don’t let nobody play.”

He’s spending less time in the church now. He’s handed over a lot of the duties there to his children. At storytelling festivals in classrooms and on stage he’s out preaching the gospel of song.

The place Rachelle Van Zanten lives is the opposite of Detroit. She’s from the Bulkley Valley in Northern BC. It’s a stunningly beautiful place, high mountain peaks and broad river valleys. The lakes are crystal clear, the streams and rivers are fast flowing.

Randy Bachman calls Rachelle Van Zanten Rachelle Van ZantenCanada’s best slide guitar player. She comes by it honestly. She got her guitar chops at family jams and in church. She’s honed them over the past 15 years with almost constant road work, first with band called Painting Daisies and, for the past 8 years, as a solo artist.

She tours regularly in Europe and is a favourite on the Western Canadian festival circuit. She’s known for her dirty guitar licks and gritty lyrics. She stole the show at last year’s 27th annual Women’s Blues Revue at Massey Hall in Toronto. I’ve seen her rock the house alone or with a band many times in Western Canada. Like the Reverend Jones  her appeal comes from sincerity.

The Blues has always been about struggle. Van Zanten’s songs don’t shy away from the issues in the valley. In a song like My Troubled Town, she’s singing about Northern BC but the town could be anywhere that the economy has moved on and left people struggling to find a new way to make their way in the world.

Politically Van Zanten is at ground zero of the pipeline debate in British Columbia.The roots of her “environmental music” started when Shell Oil tried, unsuccessfully, to build a gas extraction project in the heart of her region’s wild-salmon watersheds.

” I saw the effects of corporate bullying on a community.  When I saw the unity between the Tahltan nation and environmentalists … it really lit my fire,” said van Zanten.

She’s passionate about politics and it shows in the music

Musicians need regular injections of passion. It’s the emotional fuel that keeps the wheels on the road.

The 24th Street Wailers have a mighty set of wheels. A friend of mine says that the Wailers are like a big, sexy diesel truck. The truck’s destination doesn’t matter, you just want to be along for the ride.They have a smooth unstoppable groove that’ll get you where you are going.24th Street Wailers

From their debut release Dirty Little Young’s in 2010 to this year’s CD Wicked they have been bowling over critics and filling venues across North America. Now Europe is beckoning as well.

The Wailers have always been a band to watch. Their recordings are fantastic, but live they are tremendous. They’ve logged enough road time to know how to perform. The don’t play at you, they play to you and for you. They will have you on your feet in no time, like they are practicing some form of Blues voodoo.

Blues, more than any genre, prides itself on its genealogy. Fans can draw you flow charts of where this player got their licks, or who toured with who. One thing is certain, you don’t get recognition until the elders have spoken.

There’s a great video floating around the web this week. Blues legend Jimmy Vaughan steps on stage to jam with the 24th Street Wailers at the Apollo Club in Thunderbay. That is the blues equivalent of being handed a torch.

Jones, Van Zanten and the Wailers will be in the Blues by the Bay workshop on the Saturday of the Summerfolk Music and Crafts Festival. The 39th annual Summerfolk runs August 15, 16 and 17 at Kelso Beach Park in Owen Sound Ontario. Tickets are now available and info can be found at summerfolk.org or by phoning our office at 519-371-2995.

Sun Times Articles 07/11/2014 Oh Susanna

 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.The Sun Times online edition here

In the summer of 2012 Suzie Ungerleider and I were at the Mariposa Folk Festival. Suzie is better known to music fans as Oh Susanna. We were both performing, but we also had our families there. On the Sunday afternoon we hung out at the splash pad with our kids. “Splash pad” and “Oh Susanna” were not words that I thought would ever be used in the same paragraph.

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I met her first in 1997. She was on the Scrappy Bitches Tour with Veda Hille and Kinnie Starr, playing at MacEwan Hall in Calgary. It was a magic night. I had never heard her before, though I had started hearing of her through the grapevine.

Suzie’s voice is like a distant bell heard through a bank of fog. The songs are coal mine dark. They are narratives full of mayhem and broken dreams. Folk songs in short.

She’s always been attracted to storytelling and having characters drive the songs. The songs have a classic sound, like Appalachian ballads.

The moodiness of the songs are at odds with the woman. Ungerleider is engaging, charming and quick to laugh.

Suzie and I run into one another at semi-regular intervals, as musicians do. She’s one of those people who you can pick up with, no matter how long ago you left off.

So, I was looking forward to seeing Suzie at last year’s Summerfolk. However, a couple of months before the festival her agent called to say Suzie had been diagnosed with breast cancer. She was going to be undergoing treatment and was not going to be able to play the festival.

Suzie described for me the period between when they suspected it was cancer and when they confirmed it. She stepped on stage every night and sang all the haunting songs she does so beautifully. Suddenly they had a very personal edge. Now she was the character at the centre of a very dark ballad.

She told me that once she was diagnosed, things became less ominous. The people overseeing her treatment were encouraging, reminding her that breast cancer is a treatable disease. She message she gave to herself was positive; deal with this and you will live a long life. She put the dark feelings aside. Her friends and family rallied to her.

She’s doing great now. The occasional bout of tiredness, but she’s enjoying life and busy finishing the projects that were delayed by the cancer.

One of those projects is her upcoming CD, Namedropper.

Suzie is recognized as a great song writer. With Namedropper, she wanted to acknowledge the inspiration she gets from her peers. The people who, she says, inspire us, break our hearts and kick us in the ass.

Her and confidante, Jim Bryson ( Sarah Harmer, Kathleen Edwards, The Weakerthans) began asking other writers for songs, preferably new or unrecorded, that would suit Oh Susanna.

In a way, Namedropper is a tribute album. Suzie wanted to honour the Canadian songwriting community and it seems they wanted to honour her as well. The list of writers who eagerly contributed songs is stunning.

Songs came from Ron Sexsmith who wrote Wait Until The Sun Comes Up for her. Old Man Leudecke, Amelia Curran, Royal Wood and The Good Lovelies all contributed as well.

She says recording their tunes lead her to understand more deeply the difference between being a singer-songwriter and being a singer. Even if you have characters in your songs, essentially the song you’ve written is a piece of you. Singing a song written by someone else let’s you experience the other’s persona. Singing becomes a physical act, unencumbered by ownership of the words.

Namedropper was nearly finished when Suzie was diagnosed with cancer. She felt guilt that her ensuing treatment would put the brakes on a project that fans and contributors were looking forward to. She needn’t have worried. Namedropper has become one of the most anticipated releases of 2014.

Early in the project Jim Cuddy wrote Dying Light for her-the chorus was almost prophetic,

Come back to me darlin’

Let me know you’re all right

Cause I can’t let go of this dying light

I’m happy to say that Oh Susanna is more than all right. I’m excited that she will be joining us at Summerfolk this year and not just because I get to hear her sing. I’ve also got plans for a visit to the splash pad.

Oh Susanna will be appearing with Jim Bryson at Summerfolk August 15, 16, 17 at Kelso Beach Park. Ticket information, schedules, performer bios and links are all available at summerfolk.org. You can also phone us at 519-371-2995.

 

Sun Times Article 06/27/2014 Buffy Sainte-Marie

 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.

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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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sun Times Article 06/06/2014 Laura Cortese and the Dance Cards/Alysha Brilla

 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. You can find the online version of the article here

I met Laura Cortese on a cruise ship in the Caribbean. No, really.

I had been spoiled by a couple of years where my touring schedule sent me south in the dead of winter. The year I met Laura, I was invited to perform on an Irish Music Cruise in the Caribbean.I could hardly say no.

Laura and Hanneke Cassel were the fiddle contingent on the cruise.They are both leading lights in the trad/alt scene that blossoms around the Berklee College of Music in Boston.

Over dinner one night I asked if they would join me on my set. There were a couple of songs I played that had fiddle tunes attached. I sang the tunes for them once, over the dinner table.

On the day in question I did my sound check…no sign of Laura and Hanneke. About 20 minutes before I went on they arrived. I was a little peeved. I got on my old guy high horse about not going onstage unrehearsed.

Laura looked at me and said, “Your choice, man”.

Which was to say, “ We can play it, dude”.

And they could.

And she does.

Laura is originally from San Francisco. Like so many other players she was drawn to the Berklee College of Music in Boston. Berklee and storied music clubs like Passim ensure that there is a vibrant indie scene in and around Boston. Laura quickly became one of the “go to” violinists.

She’s schooled enough to play with the most traditional bands, adventurous  enough to play with the Alt crowd. She  has played with Pete Seeger, Michael Franti and Band of Horses. She’s played Madison Square Gardens and Carnegie Hall, house concerts and bars.

When she’s out on her own she plays originals. She belts out her vocals against the string arrangements created with friends Valerie Thompson (cello) and Mariel Vandersteel ( fiddle and Hardingfele).

 

LauraCorteseandtheDanceCardsThey exist in a guitar free zone. It’s a sound that harks back to the Appalachian and Louisiana traditions. Her songwriting brings it into the present day. 

I’m really excited that Laura and the Dance Cards will be joining us at Summerfolk this year.

The cruise where I met Laura was the last time I made a dead of winter getaway.

I was thinking about that cruise this January as I drove through yet another snow storm on my way home from Owen Sound. Out in the back yard office the heater was trying valiantly to warm 96 square feet. I was wearing a heavy sweater and a toque as I listened to frosty CDs. I’d intersperse the festival submissions with Belafonte, or Desmond Dekker. Anything that would make me think of warm, far away places.

When I put on a disc by Alysha Brilla things started to look brighter. Brilla is an underrated rhythm guitar player with a slightly quirky voice. She who has a great ear for tasty arrangements.The songwriting is by turns cheeky, heartfelt and sexy. Sometimes it is all three at once.

Alysha’s music is the sound of summer. It’s pop, a bit jazzy and bit bluesy. That’s what makes it fun. She’s pours all her influences into it. There’s 70’s singer songwriters from her mom, the jazz and Tanzanian stuff from her dad. “I’ve got the whole world in my hands” is sung in Swahili against a  a band track featuring soprano sax

Her music is melting pot and it’s a deep one. I don’t think i could have made it through the rest of the winter without it.

Alysha is an irrepressibly optimistic person. She’s also not afraid to take chances.

A couple of years ago Brilla had grabbed the brass ring. She had a deal with a smart label and a couple of name producers. She was recording, writing and living in LA.

 
AlyshaBrillaThen, she gave it all up. In LA, they wanted her in a neatly labelled box. She wanted to be everything she could be.

She came home to Kitchener Waterloo. She assembled the players she wanted, rehearsed the material and recorded the CD she wanted to make. Eighteen months later, her self produced independently release “In My Head” was nominated for a Juno as Best Adult Contemporary Recording of the year.

She has just finished her first extended tour of western Canada. If you read her facebook entries  you meet a wide eyed, breathlessly excited woman in her mid twenties discovering her country and its scene.

Alysha is coming to Summerfolk with her “Brillion Dollar Band”, a six piece ensemble with drums, keys, horn section,bass. The sound is tight and is sure to knock your socks off.

Information about Laura, Alysha and all the other performers, artisans and vendors at this year’s festival can be found at www.summerfolk.org

 

The Summerfolk Music and Crafts Festival happens August 15, 16, 17 at Kelso Beach. Tickets available online or at 1-888-655-9090

Sun Times Article 05/30/2014 Yves Lambert

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. You can find their online version of the article here
I’d like to think that my wife came to Canada because of me, but really, she immigrated because of Yves Lambert.
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Yves Lambert photo by Guillaume Morin

I met my wife at the National Folk Festival in Canberra, Australia. While it was love at first sight for me, she needed some persuading. We courted by letter for about 6 months. I went to visit while I was on tour down under. Then, the summer after we met, she came to Canada for her vacation.

My game plan was to woo her with the Rockies and the West coast. I also took her to her first Canadian folk festival in Mission, BC. One of the acts that weekend was La Bottine Souriante. She had never heard traditional Quebec music before. She dug it. Really dug it. A large part of La Bottines appeal came directly from the energy that spilled like a waterfall from their frontman Yves Lambert.

He’s a fantastic raconteur, a barrelhouse singer and one of the best accordion players on the planet. Yves is the consummate showman, the living embodiment of charisma. He presides over gigs like a jovial Buddha with a squeeze box.

I’ve seen Yves perform to audiences on three continents. In many of those places people were hearing Quebecois music for the first time. No matter where it was-Denmark, the US, England – the reaction was always the same. Even the most staid would be on their feet screaming for more.

It doesn’t matter that he is singing in different language, or that the intros are a franglais mash-up. His joy and love of his art shines through. It’s  infectious.

In 2003, after 27 years  and 14 recordings with La Bottine Souriante, Lambert decided it was time to move on. He didn’t rest on his laurels. He drew some of Quebec’s best young players to him and created the Bébert Orchestra, he released another 4 CD’s, contributed to compilations, toured constantly, wrote new tunes.   He created a stripped down, trio version of Bébert for a 40 date tour. The power of that stripped down ensemble was undeniable.

In the Yves Lambert Trio, he is joined by multi-instrumentalists Olivier Rondeau and Tommy Gauthier.   Gauthier plays violin, mandolin and bouzouki. His early training as a drummer informs his foot percussion. He’s played with Matapat and Antoine Dufour. Rondeau plays the acoustic and electric guitars, banjo, and vocals.

Gauthier and Rondeau are young, but they are not inexperienced.Their sound is simple and layered. While true to their roots they are definitely taking the music different places. The rhythms are more intricate. The mouth music is there, but it’s sung with non-traditional harmonies.

Music has generational changes. Every 20 years, give or take, a new crop of musicians bring their instrumental experience to bear on the tradition. They write snaky new tunes. They borrow fiddle styles from Scotland or Norway. They move the tradition forward tune by tune. The Yves Lambert Trio is bridging the gap between past and future in the Quebec tradition.

For the second time in his life Lambert is in the vanguard of a Quebec musical evolution.   He is a genuine and humble man. He doesn’t have to be. He has a fist full of gold selling albums, Juno Awards, Felix awards, Canadian Folk Music Awards. He is one of the most influential of the musicians that lead the Quebec roots revival in the late 70’s. In song he is lyrical, poetic, not shy of the political or the romantic. Yves is a national treasure.

On the Monday morning after that festival in Mission, the phone in our hotel room rang at about 8:30. It was the front desk informing me that the van had been broken into. I dressed and went downstairs to inspect the damage. I never leave guitars or bags in the truck so I was more worried about the inconvenience of a broken window, or however they got in. I looked in the van. The thieves had rifled through everything. All our things had been scattered around. I was relieved and a little wounded that the box with 150 copies of my latest cd was still there… but La Bottine’s CD was gone.

 

Sun Times Article #4

Article 4 highlights the The Proclaimers.

It’s become something of a tradition- a series of articles written by the Summerfolk AD for the Owen Sound Sun Times.

An article a week is published between now and Summerfolk weekend  that highlights performers playing at this year’s festival.

James Keelaghan features The Proclaimers the boys from Leith in part 4

 

TheProclaimers

The Sun Times Articles 2013 – 1 and 3

It’s become something of a tradition- a series of articles written by the Summerfolk AD for the Owen Sound Sun Times.

An article a week is published between now and Summerfolk weekend  will  highlight erformers playing at this year’s festival.

James Keelaghan re-introduces Laura Smith to Owen Sound Audiences here

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Laura Smith

Some of the Blues contingent, Ray Bonneville and Cécile Doo-Kinguéare highlighted  here

Cecilè Doo Kinguè

Cecilè Doo Kinguè

The third article seems to have disappeared into the ether, but we’ll post it on this blog.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sun Times Articles 2012 – part 8

James Keelaghan wrote a series of articles for the Owen Sound Sun Times last year as part of the lead up to Summerfolk.

July 25

I played my first paying gig at seventeen in a folk club in Claresholm, about an hour south of Calgary. After that I played as regularly as I could. Luckily, Calgary was rich in places to play in those days.

I had a regular gig at a place called the Kensington Delicafe. I played three hours a night Thursday, Friday and Saturday-it largely paid my way though University. There was a guy who used to come in for his deli-burger, a bass player named Bill Eaglesham, he was tall and wiry, with piercing blue eyes. I knew him from the local scene. During my sets he would watch me but not once did he ever applaud. My mission became getting some kind of reaction out of him.

I never did. I ended up hiring him as my bass player on my first national tour instead. For the next three years Bill and my other player, Gary Bird, whipped me into shape. Today we would call it mentoring. Back then we just lived by the adage that the best way to get good was to play with people who were better than you.
I did not emerge fully formed as a musician, no musician ever does. Learning to be a performer is a long process-the only way you learn is by playing.

The four finalists from this year’s Youth Discoveries program are already on that road. Youth Discoveries is an initiative of the Georgian Bay Folk Society and is sponsored by Bruce Power and the Dock 92.3 FM. The four acts were chosen from thirty-six who showcased for the opportunity to appear at the  37th annual Summerfolk Music and Crafts Festival.

Amy Carson Hunter is the performer most likely to make you impulsively hold hands with whoever is next to you. She’s from Toronto, but like many of this year’s Discoveries hopefuls, she maIMG_0068de the trek north in the hope of winning a spot at the festival and the judges were duly impressed. Her voice sounds too mature to come from someone so young. It hovers somewhere in the dusky zone. She also writes and performs with a maturity and poise that any performer would be envious of.

Mad Casper didn’t travel as far as Amy. Simon Kaarid, Tristan Kaarid, Dan White  Erik Wagenaar come from right here in Owen Sound. When I first heard them it took my mind back to a workshop I played with Gil Scott Heron at the Calgary Folk Festival.
Gil’s songs, particularly The Revolution YDMadCasperWill Not Be Televised, paved the way for rap music. It’s been argued that Gil was the first rap artist. What was he doing at a folk festival?
All you had to do was listen to get it. The lyrics were politically charged and relevant. The music was played acoustically on piano, upright bass and percussion. If Gil wasn’t folk music, what was?
Mad Casper has the same sensibility-a story to tell against a solid back beat. It’s a mix of hip hop, dub poetry with an acoustic instrumental edge. The lyrics sung in a cadenced and measured staccato are political, sincere and relevant.
Chris Strazz comes from Woodbridge. He sings with a high reedy tenor and has a great sense of amtosphere. He is slightly bluesy with an undeniably great rhythm guitar style. Chris is blessed with a quick smile and a comfortable attitude that is disarming. If  Carson Hunter is the dark and sultry, Chris is the guy who’s going to send you down the street whistling. Of all our Discovery finalists I would peg him as the guy most likely to end up doing one of those coveted musical appearances on Sesame Street.

I was extremely happy that traditional music was represented at the Youth Discoveries showcases. I love fiddling and step dancing, but it is a crowded field and to rise to the top you have to be really good. Andrew and Diana Dawydchak are 12 and 14 years old, respectively. They were the youngest performers at Youth Discoveries, but may be the most seasoned performers of the bunch. You don’t get to be as good as they are unless you’ve been doing it a long time. They have taken top honours at the Canadian Open in Shelburne and the Ontario Open in Bobcageon. That is no mean feat.
They are energetic and explosive, YDAndrew and Diana copybut what was the most disarming thing about them was the fact that their bio ends by saying that they are proud to be Maple Leaf’s fans. Is there anything more enchanting than the optimism of youth?

Youth Discoveries happens because of the hard work of many people. In the next year we are going to expand the program. We’ll be offering workshops on everything from performance to vocal technique and a new venue for the Final Showcase.
There is a wealth of young talent in our communities and we want to help that talent reach its audience. You can help the GBFS by letting us know abut the outstanding young performers in your community.
Join us Friday, August 17 at the Summerfolk Music and Crafts Festival for the Youth Discoveries concert starting at 7pm on the Young and Hungry/Over the Hill stage
For more information visit us at www.summerfolk.org.

Sun Times Articles 2012 – part 7

James Keelaghan wrote a series of articles for the Owen Sound Sun Times last year as part of the lead up to Summerfolk.

July 12

My six year old, Tomas, has decided on some favourites from this year’s Summerfolk line up.

When I finished booking the artists for this summer’s festival, I loaded their music on my iPod. It’s great to have it to listen to when I am doing the programming. I set the player on shuffle and listen to it in the office or more often, in the van.
Tomas’ current van favourite is a song titled John Riley by the Paul McKenna Band. He specifically requests it to “pump him up” for T-Ball.
The song isn’t typical fare for a six year old, but I was much like Tomas when I was his age. I loved when my dad played tunes Paul Mckenna Band copylike Roddy McCorley or The Irish Rover-songs that told a good story about the adult world.
Paul’s song is about a group of Irish immigrants that are hired as mercenaries by the American army. They are sent to Texas, but get disillusioned with their commanders and switch allegiance, crossing the Rio Grande to join Santa Anna.
As Tomas goes about his six year old day, he’ll sing the chorus which he knows by heart:

Adventure calls, some men run
This is their sad story
Some get drunk on demon rum
Some get drunk on glory

It’s a catchy song with a tale to tell. Paul McKenna delivers it with an edge and a broad Scot’s accent like Dick Gaughan’s. He has a sweet high tenor voice like Paul Brady’s-it’s a voice that cuts through everything
McKenna writes great original songs like John Riley. He also a great interpreter of traditional song. His version of The Mermaid is as sweet as any I have heard.
The band part of the Paul McKenna Band is an energetic bothy style ensemble-rollicking melodies on fiddle, bouzouki, tenor guitar, flutes, whistles and percussion.
They come from Glasgow, a hard working town with a  proud working class history. Paul and the band tend to sing about the underdog, the working people. They do it by showing, rather than telling-picking a story like John Reilly  to highlight something universal in the human character. It’s not a stuffy history lesson, because when the band kicks its heels up they’ll have you dancing in the aisles-or air dancing in the booster seat, like Tomas.

We now hit the part of the van ride where Tomas would like some private time in the second row. For this he must get his two and half year old brother Patrick to sleep.

He chooses the most achingly beautiful song in the whole playlist. It’s by Chic Gamine. The song is J’attends (que tu sois la). The lyric, very roughly translated from the French:

The cold, snow falling on the balcony.
The heat, the flowers bordering the house
You discover them,
Spring, fall and summer.
Winter heralds the end of the year.
Your first words, first steps, …
… but now I wait, you’re here.

I wish you could put your ear up to the newspaper and hear it. Four voices and percussion. That’s it, that’s all it needs.

Winnipeg vocalists Alexa Dirks, Ariane Jean, Andrina Turenne and Annick Bremault recruited Montreal drummer and percussionist Sacha Daoud, and between them they created Chic Gamine. They have rewritten the definition of girl group with original lyrics in both English and French. They write smart, confident songs, as sweet as that lullaby your mother sang to you, as heart stopping as your first kiss.ChicGamineGREYPhoto

Since they got together in 2008, they have refined their songwriting and performance. The attention to detail and arrangements have landed them some plum gigs. They opened for Smokey Robinson. After sharing a stage with the legendary Mavis Staples she told them that they reminded her of her family, The Staples Singers.

You can hear Gospel in what they do. You can hear R&B and some French Chanson. Their voices are true to all of it.
I came to know the group mainly through Andrina. I met her at rehearsals for a Christmas event the Winnipeg Folk Festival put on every year. She was 16 at the time and a natural singer. She was one of my “go to” background vocalists on a couple of recordings. What I love about her, I love about Chic Gamine. They take the complex and make it seem simple. They take the difficult and make it seem easy. They sing because they were born to it.

In the van the other day, Tomas started asking questions. Who was Santa Anna? Where is the Rio Grande? He also started to translate French lyrics for me; “ oiseau: that means bird, Dad”.
Music at it’s best doesn’t just make the drive shorter, it makes our world wider.

The Summerfolk Music and Crafts Festival begins in 4 weeks time on August 17 and continues through the 19th.

You can find more information and tickets at www.summerfolk.com
For more about The Paul McKenna Band visit www.paulmckennaband.com
For more information about Chic Gamine visit www.chicgamine.com

Sun Times Articles 2012 – part 6

James Keelaghan wrote a series of articles for the Owen Sound Sun Times last year as part of the lead up to Summerfolk.

July 5th – Andersen and Vishtèn

All the great parties are kitchen parties. The reason has to do with time and motion. The kitchen is where the food is. If you are in the kitchen you are not far from the beer. If you are playing tunes, you don’t want to be far from the snacks or the beer. That’s why I believe that kitchens are the essential transmitters of culture.

Vishtèn, Emmanuelle and Pastelle Leblanc and Pascal Miousse, is a band that’s a product of kitchen culture.
The twin sisters are from the Evangeline on PEI, Pascal is from the Magdalene Islands. They are part of an Acadian community that has managed to thrive despite the odds.

The Acadians found refuge on PVishtenPhotorince Edward Island after the 1755 deportations. There were over 4000 of them on the island in 1760 but by 1768 there were only a couple of hundred left. They fished out of small villages like Tracadie and Rustico. It was a hard life, but their culture survived. In their kitchens and living rooms one generation handed the music to the next.

Pascal, Emmanuelle and Pastelle play the kind of music that can only be created by people who have had music in their lives since birth. They grew up in households where fiddle music was commonplace. Their musical parents opened their home night after night to local and traveling players. Musical jams into the wee hours were a regular occurrence. They learned their craft from their parents and from local legends like Bertrand Deraspe and Louise Arsenault.

Step dancing led to piano training. Piano led to accordion, then to fiddles, guitars, whistles, jaw harps and a host of other instruments.  The step dancing circled back and became foot percussion.

They’ve taken all that heritage and training and distilled it into an exciting, haunting and evocative nectar. It has the pulse and the soul of L’Acadie. It lays the foundation for the next chapter in Acadian musical culture.

______________

Last summer, I was lying in the grass at the Calgary Folk Festival listening to a blues workshop that my brother’s band was playing in. This is strange for two reasons.
First, it’s very rare that I am at music festival just hanging out.
Second, I’m very picky when it comes to the blues.
Reclining, as I was, I could hear the music, but couldn’t see the players. They were all good, but the fourth guy in the rotation was great. Really, really, great. I thought, “That guys got to be from Mississippi”

Matt_Andersen44

In fact, Matt Andersen is from Perth Andover, New Brunswick.

Matt is a a big hearted man. He has fingers like sausages that shouldn’t be able to play the way they do. He has a voice like a hurricane-a perfect storm of emotion and power.

Like Vishtèn’s, Matt’s childhood was full of music. His grandparents and parents played. No gathering was complete without fiddles and guitars.

He learned tuba and trumpet  but guitar playing and singing became his passion. While Matt studied studio engineering, he earned money playing in top 40 bands.

He might have been content playing in cover bands in New Brunswick but somewhere along the way the blues discovered him. Since then, the blues has been taking him on quite a trip.

In the past 18 moths he’s released his latest CD, toured on three continents and won a Juno award. At the Maple Blues Awards he won a stunning trifecta taking home hardware for all three of the categories he was nominated in-Entertainer of the Year, Male Vocalist of the Year, and Acoustic Act of the Year.

He’s played with bands, but I like him best when he is solo. There is nothing to distract from his voice-from the purity of his high notes and the rumble of his lows. There is nothing to distract from his gutsy guitar playing.

Matt says he fell in love with the blues because of it’s honesty. He returns the favour by playing it honestly. That’s the most compelling thing about Matt’s music.
he sings it and plays it like he means it.

In every great kitchen party, when the fiddles and accordions take a break, there’s always a singer who can belt out a tune. Matt is that guy.

Summerfolk is glad to welcome Matt Andersen and Vishtèn to our kitchen party at Kelso Beach.

Summerfolk happens August 17, 18, 19

For information on Vishtèn visit www.vishten.net
For Matt Andersen   www.stubbyfingers.ca
For information or Summerfolk tickets visit www.summerfolk.org

Sun Times Articles 2012 – part 5

James Keelaghan wrote a series of articles for the Owen Sound Sun Times last year as part of the lead up to Summerfolk.

Gunning and Miles

If Dave Gunning had a motto it would be “There’s a song in there somewhere.”

In mid October 2008, I was in Cape Breton for the Celtic Colours Festival. Artistic Director Joella Foulds had invited six writers to collaborate on the creation of an evening worth of music. She put us in a house on the main street of Baddeck.  We had a week to write somewhere between 12 and 16 songs, all on the theme of homecoming.

No pressure?

The writers were Rose Cousins, David Francey, Lori Watson, Karine Polwart, Dave Gunning and yours truly – James Keelaghan.

We took turns writing in pairs. When Dave Gunning and I got together, I asked him if he had any specific ideas. “Yeah,” he said, “I’d like to write a hanging song.”

I was a bit taken aback.  Death on a gallows is not what springs to mind when I think of homecoming songs. While there are some great hanging songs- Long Black Veil and The Night Before Larry Was Stretched come to mind, I think its fair to say the form has long fallen out of fashion.Dave Gunning Photo_by_mat_dunlap

Over the next two days, we would revisit the hanging tune, and each time the song became more real. Dave found a path that led from homecoming to hanging, creating a totally believable story. On the Wednesday it was finished.

Dave sang the song in the first set of the concert in Sydney. The Lieutenant Governor of Nova Scotia was in the front row. During the song, she sat bolt upright, her eyes firmly set on Dave. She was totally involved, not moving a muscle.

During the break in the green room, the LG was announced. When she came into the room she made a bee line for Dave, shook his hand and gushed,“ I certainly wasn’t expecting a hanging song!”

There’s a couple of reasons why Dave can get even the Vice Regal representative excited about a hanging song. He has a keen eye for a good story and he’s utterly charming on stage and off.

Tall and gangly in the way that men from Pictou County are, he’s your little brother. He’s every mother’s son. He’s the guy that makes you party too late and  the guy who just played you a hanging song and made you believe it. If I was him, I would have already turned this article into a song.

That week remains one of the highlights of my life.

Since that experience, I play a little game with myself. I imagine which writers I with whom I would love to be locked up with – if the chance every came again.  As always, topping my list is Lynn Miles.

The problem with the term singer songwriter is its over-use. Some people are great singers but mediocre songwriters. Some are great songwriters, but don’ t really have the pipes needed to be a good singer.

Then there are the rare few that actually live up to being truly both singer and songwriter

Lynn’s voice is eternally youthful, packed with emotion and colour that can only come from years of experience. If she didn’t write, I’d go to hear her sing other people’s songs.

The songs she writes are razor sharp. There’s not a wasted note or lyric.
Lynn has that rare ability to take the personal and make it universal. She can also step into a character sing about more than herself.

In her mournful mining ballad, “Black Flowers” she sums up the desolation of a mining town by observing:

The Undertaker, he’s a busy man
He’s got a clean blue shirt
He’s got soft pink hands
He’s got a paved driveway
And a brand new car
And Black Flowers grow in my yard.

Verses like that are the reason that I would love to spend a week in a house with her, figuring out how she manages to distill something that profound into 36 words.LynnMiles4

It’s not the only reason. She is also great company. She’s well read, a great conversationalist and has a quick dry wit. As a friend of mine once said,
“ She’s wicked smart!”

You’ll want to see Lynn and Dave on the main stage, but you shouldn’t miss them in workshops. Allow yourself the pleasure of seeing them in a spontaneous setting where the unexpected can happen. They will not disappoint.

Summerfolk is proud to welcome two of Canada’s finest singer songwriters to Owen Sound.

For more information please visit us at www.summerfolk.org
Visit Lynn at www.lynnmilesmusic.com
Visit Dave at www.davegunning.com

Sun Times Articles 2012 – part 4

James Keelaghan wrote a series of articles for the Owen Sound Sun Times last year as part of the lead up to Summerfolk.

Something in the Winter

In 2001 my wife and I decided to move from my hometown of Calgary to Winnipeg. We had a desire to live someplace different. Winnipeg was that, for sure.

It’s a city with a great history-epic battles, wave upon wave of immigration larger than life characters. It has the largest urban concentration of First Nation’s people of any Canadian city. It sits at the junction of two rivers, the Red and the Assinaboine, and two of Canada’s greatest geographies, the Shield and the Prairies.
Musically it sits at the place were all roads meet.
Every February, in the darkest coldest part of winter we looked forward to Festival du Voyageur. It was always high adventure, venturing out in 40 below to St Boniface to drink caribou ( the incredibly powerful fortified mulled wine) and listen to Franco-Manitoban music. While it wasn’t a trip to the tropics, it did break the back of winter for us.

In 2008 a songwriting student of mine, Vanessa Kuzina, told me that she three other local musicians had formed an all female old time band. Like all good Manitoba bands, Oh My Darling came together during a particularly frosty winter. Alison De Groot ( banjo), Marie Josée Dandeneau ( Upright Bass),Oh My Darling_35 Rosalyn Dennet (fiddle) and Vanessa (Guitar) took to the stage at Festival that year for the first time and have never looked back.

They tour relentlessly. If you wanted to hear them tonight you’d have to be in Verden, Germany. A week from now you’d have to be in Ireland.

Their music is a blend of bluegrass, Appalachian, Franco-Manitoban and old time. The original songs blend seamlessly with the traditional tunes. Over top of it all is that unique prairie accent and sense of place.

The Crooked Brothers are different fish, but the same kettle.In their press kit there’s a familiar reference. Their first CD, it says, was “recorded in a small cabin over a cold Manitoban winter.”
Manitoba should probably package that winter and send it to musicians in other parts of the country.
I don’t know the weather that led to their latest CD, but the first time I heard the track “17 Horses” I was hooked. It’s swampy and wide open.The vocals are low and rumbling, the percussion played by banging on an old piece of railway iron.
The Crooked Brothers are Jesse Matas, Darwin Baker and Matt Foster. They are kindred spirits. Like Oh My darling, they are all accomplished solo players in their own right. They have exceeded the sum of their parts and managed to forge a distinctive band sound.CrookedBrothers_HR_couch
You never know where they are going to take you next-they are hard to classify. The banjo, harmonica, dobro and mandolin give their music a roots feel, but the lyric and the melody spin you off into another dimension. They take you to that dark mid-February of the soul where we nurse our regrets and hone our desires.

I suspect that the long lonely Manitoba winter might have had something to do with why Al Simmons is the way he is. There’s no mention of it on his web site, but he may just take it as a given.

In many ways Al is like a real life muppet. He’s got their sense of vaudeville and musical comedy. He’s got the irresistibly corny humour and a body that defies the law of gravity. It’s his DNA that’s pulling his strings though.
He claims he was genetically engineered for comedy. He has lanky legs, a rubber face and large flipper like feet-all of which combine to make him the reigning sovereign of sight gags. I’ve seen him recreate the entire opening of 2001 in pantomime. I’ve seen him wearing a bathtub while playing a bath-brush ukelele.

AlSimmons_flippersHe is an underrated musician and songwriter-the fastest pun in the West.
I mean that in a good way, because Al’s comedy for all its madness, is gentle. Its comedy in the tradition of Victor Borge. There’s never a laugh at anyone else’s expense-no one gets hurt, no one is insulted. He does kids shows and adult shows but the distinction is strictly academic. I’d take any one of any age to see whatever he is doing. Al makes me laugh. What more do you need to say about a comedian?

The thing my wife and I loved most about Winnipeg was that music is part of the fabric of the life there.We loved that the fact that there was still live music in our local pizza joint, that musicians were more likely to jam for fun than rehearse for a gig.

I can guarantee it won’t be forty below during Summerfest, but we hope you’ll enjoy this taste of Manitoba nonetheless

You’ll find Al Simmons at www.alsimmons.com
Oh My Darling at www.ohmydarling.ca
The Crooked Brothers at www.crookedbrothers.com

Tickets and information for Summerfolk can be found at
www.summerfolk.org

Sun Times Articles 2012 – part 3

James Keelaghan wrote a series of articles for the Owen Sound Sun Times last year as part of the lead up to Summerfolk.

Lemon Bucket Orchestra

When I was hired to become the new Artistic Director of Summerfolk, the first thing that greeted me was a large box of CDs – a big cardboard container packed with lbo_promo_standingpromotional materials from those wishing to play Summerfolk.  They were submissions that had been piling up between Richard Knechtel’s departure and when I signed on.

There were hundreds of CDs.  I felt I had to listen to them all, an occasion that made for an interesting December at my house in downtown Perth.

By some strange geologic process, certain discs kept rising to the top of the pile.  But one that broke the surface most often was by a group named the Lemon Bucket Orkestra.  It was heartfelt, rollicking, breathtaking music from the Balkans and the Ukraine, tinged with strains of klezmer and gypsy, all served up with joyous abandon

I had never heard of the group.  That bothered me.  How did I miss out on this musical experience?  A Toronto friend surely would have said to me, “Oh, by the way, did you hear about this insanely great Balkan klezmer and gypsy party band?” I began to think, perhaps, they weren’t real but then I discovered this fantastic video on YouTube, plus a good looking website.

I phoned the number on the contact sheet, holding a conversation with Mark Marczyk.  He assured me that Lemon Bucket was for real and that it was him that I was seeing on the videos, playing fiddle.  He let me know that LBO could arrive with anywhere from a five to a twelve piece band, the culmination of a Toronto musical co-op.

Just as I hung up, the phone rang.  It was a colleague from Toronto, letting me know about this fantastic band he had just seen on the past weekend.  Quite unexpectedly, the next three phone calls I handled all raved about LBO.  Was it fate or a clever viral promotional assault?

In the long run, I decided it was fate!  I believe that LBO was made for Summerfolk and that Summerfolk was made for them.  I phoned Mark Marczyk back, letting him know that I wanted the full band and for the whole weekend.

There is great skill and virtuosity in the music they play – there is no pretense.  LBO is as comfortable performing their music on city street corners as they are on a large stage before a roaring crowd.  The YouTube video presents them on board an airplane, stranded on a runway.  To keep the passengers and crew’s spirits up, they made music, music that makes life better and more enjoyable, especially for tired, hot airplane travellers.

Tangi Ropers brings a Breton-accented accordian sound while Mike Romaniac adds reedy texture with the sopilka, a traditional Ukrainian wooden flute.  Anastasia Baczynskyj throws her head back, singing from a place very deep within herself.  The horns (alto sax, clarinet, trombone, flugelhorn, and sousaphone) and the percussion section put it all into overdrive.  On top of it all, out whirls dancer Stephanie Woloshyn.

Without a doubt, the Lemon Bucket Orkestra will have you on your feet, dancing and singing.  If they have their way, you will end up on the same Balkan binge that I have enjoyed for the past six months.

There is endless debate among festival directors concerning booking headliners.  Do you really need them to bring a larger audience to your event?  Do you need them to boost ticket sales?

These are totally relevant questions.  Still, speaking, not just as an AD, but a lover of music and a frequent audience member, I go to festivals largely to hear those people and bands to which I have never been exposed.  A particular headliner may well attract my attention but really, I go, hoping to be surprised.   And then I come away with CDs that I never thought I would end up from musical acts I never knew existed.

The Lemon Bucket Orkestra has been the soundtrack of my past six months.  I am totally excited that they are coming to Summerfolk – and I can guarantee our audience that they are going to love them..

More information can be found at www.summerfolk.org.  You can listen and read about LBO at their website at www.lemonbucket.com.

Sun Times Articles 2012 – part 2

James Keelaghan wrote a series of articles for the Owen Sound Sun Times last year as part of the lead up to Summerfolk.

Oscar and Popo

If you love the music of Oscar Lopez, if you love the power and the artistry that he brings to the guitar, if you own any of his Juno Award winning CD’s, if you have seen him with Rick Emmett and Pavlo as the super group PRO, if you liked Oscar and I playing together as Compadres – you’ve got Henry Caballo to thank for that.

Henry was a Portuguese immigrant owned an auto body shop in Winnipeg. In the winter of 1980 he was concerned about a young Chilean working in the shop doing paint prep. Oscar had been in the country for 3 months, was working hard on his English and in the shop. Henry liked having him around. Oscar would bring his guitar to work and play on his lunch breaks.

One day Henry called Oscar into the office. “You shouldn’t be working in a body shop!” he says, ” You should be playing your guitar. I’m going to do you a favour”. Henry fired him. That’s why we should be thanking Henry.

Oscar took it to heart and began playing with local bands in Winnipeg. The rest of his family had moved on to Calgary and Oscar followed.

Oscar Lopez

I was just starting to play the clubs in Calgary myself. I kept hearing about this amazing Chilean guy, an unbelievable guitarist, but somehow our paths never crossed. We finally met one weekend in Sudbury, of all places, did some jamming and we have been fast friends ever since.

Oscar is born to what he does – entertain. He has developed a style that can only be defined as original. The speed of his left hand is legendary and blinding, the attack on his right hand is blistering. While he comes out of a Latin sensibility and a Latin culture, his guitar playing transcends those definitions. He is truly in a class by himself.

On stage he is as intense as Great Lakes Squall, but if you want relaxed, you’ve got to see The Mighty Popo. His guitar work is effortless, almost as though its being played by some unseen hand.

He was born Jaques Murigande child of Rwandan parents in a Burundian Refugee camp. The music of the region informed him, but he has always been as fluent in different musical styles as he is in any of the 5 languages he speaks. He moves naturally between blues, R&B and jazz, but there is always that accent from the Land of the 1000 hills.

He came to Canada in 1987 and like Oscar, began to settle into the music scene in Montreal where he was a sought after player on the blues scene. People outside of Quebec first met him at the Juno award winning  “African Guitar Summit”.

2010_05_12_MIGHTY_POPO_00233

At the Edmonton Folk Festival lat year, I saw him bring the crowd to it’s feet at the blues stage. I ended that day sitting on a workshop stage with him, Deep Dark Woods and De Temps Antan. He led a massive jam for the last song of the workshop that above all else demonstrated his remarkable generosity as a performer.

That same spirit of generosity helped Popo achieve something  remarkable. In 2011, he went to Rwanda with a group of committed people to stage a folk festival in Kigali. Kigali Up was an amazing success. People donated air miles for flights, sound equipment, cash, anything to get the festival off the ground. And it soared. The 2nd Kigali up happens in early July this year.

Generosity is the soul of music. Performers who don’t give generously to their audiences don’t last long just as audiences who do not give back don’t attract artists. I can’t wait to bring these two together in a workshop at Summerfolk and see where it goes.

One thing is certain. No one is going to get fired.

Sun Times Articles 2012 – part 1

James Keelaghan wrote a series of  articles for the Owen Sound Sun Times last year as part of the lead up to Summerfolk.

Article 1, Rogers and Prescott

In my family, for generations, there has been no discernible musical talent. Nurses, policemen, union organizers, merchant sailors, farmers, yes, but there is no mention of musical talent anywhere. My brother Bob and I seem to be the trailblazers in that regard.

Some families, however, seem to ooze musical talent, and it doesn’t seem to skip a generation. Two performers from this year’s summerfolk illustrate the point. Nathan Rogers and Kelly Prescott.

Nathan, of course, is the son of Canadian Music Icon Stan Rogers. From the patented Rogers hairline to the diesel engine of a voice he’s proof that the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.

He learned guitar riffs from his brother Dave, his sister Beth coached him vocally and he drank it all in and the result is one of the most dynamic Canadian acoustic performers in a decade. Close your eyes while he’s on stage and you’ll hear the past, but if you open your eye’s you’ll see the future, because Nathan stands in no-one’s shadow. He incorporates Tuvan throat singing into his tunes. His songwriting owes more to the urban realities of modern Canada than to the sweeping landscapes of his father.

He has also inherited more than a touch of the theatre from his mother, Ariel Rogers. Nathan will be appearing at DRYBONES WEB ONLY copySummerfolk as part of the trio Dry Bones, with JD Edwards and Leonard Podolak ( and incidentally, Leonard is the son of Mitch Podolak, creator of the  Winnipeg and Vancouver Folk festivals, and a man who had a steadying hand on Summerfolk in its early years).

Travel up the road a few hours from where Nathan was raised and just outside Ottawa you’ll find the place that another musical family has put down roots. When your maternal grandfather is Joe Brown and your paternal grandfather is Irwin Prescott; when your grandparents and your parents have over 20 charted country music hits there must be a little pressure on you. Meet Kelly Prescott, daughter of Randall and Tracey ( Prescott-Brown), granddaughter of Joe Brown (the Family Brown) and of Irwin Prescott.

That’s quite a pedigree and she lives up to it. The National Post this year named her as one of the 5 acts most likely to break out and while that’s often the kiss of death to an artists career, Prescott has all the chops she needs to succeed. A smokey voice as engaging as any you’ve ever heard on the country music scene, an engaging stage presence and a knack for making it all seem effortless and natural.

Her sound tends to the classic, rather than the new country. In fact, she has had great deal of success and accolades playing and singing the part of Emmy Lou Harris in Michael Bate’s Grievous Angel:The Gram Parson’s Story. Her voice was much sought after and you can find her backing vocals on cd’s by Jeremy Fisher and Susan Aglukark. After releasing a cd with her brother Kaylen and an impressive solo debut cd, Kelly found her comfort zone with The Claytones. Along with bassist Adam Puddington and Anders Drerup on guitar, they are one of the sweetest trios I have heard in a long time. The Claytones copyThe harmonies are impeccable, the choice of material, original and covers, is well suited to their voices and talents.

Folk music is, at its heart, about generations and the handing down of traditions and styles. It’s not about going viral, but about producing music that will last for hundreds of years, that will be passed down to children and grandchildren.

The 37th edition of Summerfolk is proud to be part of that tradition.

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