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Tag Archives: Lindi Ortega

Lindi_Ortega_Press_Photo_Credit_Julie_Moe_3

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.

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.

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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.

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