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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.

The View From Stage Right

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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.

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