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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

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