Aug 16,17,18 2019 tickets

Tag Archives: Leonard Sumner

big tent

Where the music happens

By James Keelaghan

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

big tent

Looking into the Down By the Bay tent.

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

20150823-1073 d2d in beer

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

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

20150822-0546 poltz in beer tent

Steve Poltz performs Down By the Bay

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Outside of the Box

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Leonard Sumner

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Gypsy Kumbia Orchestra

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