Aug 16,17,18 2019 tickets

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Sun Times Article 12: Two’s company

Every year Artistic Director James Keelaghan writes a series of 12 articles for the Owen Sound Sun Times previewing the Summerfolk Music and Crafts Festival

By James Keelaghan

One of the advantages of being the Artistic Director of Summerfolk and a touring musician is that I get to see music on the road that I might never see otherwise.

 

I’m with Quincy Jones—I like all kinds of music, except bad music. I’ll listen to anything and it doesn’t matter to me if it’s jazz, blues or country. All that matters is that it’s good. I have to admit though, if it’s quirky, it goes to the head of the line.

 

Last year, I was playing the Chester Folk Festival in the UK. On the Sunday night, there was a band on immediately before us in the Marquee tent with the enigmatic name, The Hut People. The festival program was devoid of photographs and, in my mind, I imagined a band of twenty-somethings in 1970s retro gear.

 

While wondering when they were going to appear, I was backstage with Hugh McMillan and two guys roughly my age. One of them was laying out a low table full of all kinds of, “I didn’t know what”. The other guy had a piano accordion. That’s how I met Sam Pirt and Gary Hammond, The Hut People.

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A table full of “stuff” and a piano accordion are pretty good indications that the quirk factor is going to be high. The table belonged to Gary and the “stuff” turned out to be percussion instruments:  a bell tree, bottle caps, kudus, ghatams, all manner of cymbals and found instruments. I couldn’t name half the things on that table, but they sounded great.

 

Sam plays the accordion in a number of different styles from traditional English to Finnish folk as well as step dancing and Quebec-style foot percussion.

 

Watching them set up I had to wonder, what the heck is this going to be about? After the first tune, I was hooked. I have never heard or seen anything like them. They are unique.

 

Sam and Gary had been on the scene in England for a long time. They travelled in the same circles but didn’t come together as The Hut People until three years ago.

 

At first blush, accordion and percussion seem an odd combination to hang a set of music on, but every single tune was fascinating. Musically, they wandered the world—folk tunes from Quebec and Spain, from Scandinavia to Sussex. It would be a mistake to think they are a novelty act. Master musicians both, and though the music may be light-hearted, it’s played with skill. I bought a CD and offered them a gig at Summerfolk as soon as they came off stage.

 

A duo is one of the most challenging ways to present music relying almost exclusively on chemistry. Unless there is a spark, it’s just two people on stage. Sam and Gary know each other’s moves, laugh a lot on and off stage and they clearly enjoy each other’s company.

 

Mama’s Broke may not be as light-hearted as The Hut People, but they do have the duo thing going on. Amy Lou and Lisa Marie, like Sam and Gary, came together a little over three years ago. Since then, the road has been their home.

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It’s rare for a young band to have a wide touring range in the early years, but Amy and Lisa have managed to tour Ireland, Continental Europe, Canada, the USA, Indonesia and Australia in that time. The venues have been as varied as their repertoire: from circus shows in New Orleans to pirate ships in Amsterdam, to concert halls in Ireland, to theatres in Brooklyn. They say they are based everywhere and nowhere and the tour history bears that out.

 

They are folk hunter-gatherers. Every trip taken is an opportunity to learn a new song and delve into a new tradition. Off-road months are spent weaving those influences into new songs and then they set off on the next expedition. Drawing from old-time, Quebecois, blues, punk, Celtic, Balkan and doom metal, they create a soundscape that is both familiar and new.

 

It’s cliche to say that a group pushes the boundaries, but with regard to Mama’s Broke, it’s actually an understatement. What they play sounds traditional, but there are surprising twists and turns—harmonies that wander into Eastern Europe while the instruments stay in Appalachia. Their commitment is to challenge borders between people, places and traditions while encouraging freedom of expression and community through music.

 

While a lot of the material is original, they play it old school—no DI boxes—just two musicians, two microphones, fiddle, mandolin, banjo, guitar and two perfectly blended voices.

 

Mama’s Broke and The Hut People are two of the finest duos you are ever going to see. They have workshops and concerts throughout the weekend and we’re happy to welcome them to their first Summerfolk.

 

Summerfolk43 begins one week from today, August 17. For ticket information, to view/download the schedule or to preview the performers, visit us at www.summerfolk.org

 

Kubasonics

Sun Times Article 8: A world of talent

Every year Artistic Director James Keelaghan writes a series of 12 articles for the Owen Sound Sun Times previewing the Summerfolk Music and Crafts Festival

By James Keelaghan

There is an extensive intelligence network at Summerfolk. When people ask how I find the acts that make up the roster, that’s what I tell them. Tips come from people about bands they’ve seen. Summerfolk volunteers come back from other festivals with favourites they’d like to see here. At music conferences like Folk Alliance or Folk Music Ontario, directors of other festivals mention must see acts as they pass in the hallway. People email me lists of performers –– it’s never ending and I love it. A vast musical buffet is out there and folks are more than willing to point you to the tastiest dishes.

That intelligence network is also working right now. It’s high festival season and I receive texts like this:  

2018-07-06, 10:33 PM

I’m watching the kubasonics play a killer set right now at mariposa…I’m definitely dancing right now I think they’d do great High energy and driving rhythm…And a standing ovation

It makes me happy that I booked them.

 

Michele Law, from the Kingsville Folk Music Festival, mentioned The Kubasonics to me after attending a showcase event in St. John’s—raved about them, in fact. After a conversation about them with Mariposa’s artistic director, Liz Scott, I decided to take a chance based on what I was hearing from people I trusted—I’m also a sucker for Ukrainian music.

 

The Kubasonics’ promo proudly states, “ They are arguably Newfoundland’s finest Ukrainian band”. I won’t dispute it. They were voted the “Best Band to See Live” in Newfoundland. Think about that for a second. Best live band—in Newfoundland!

 

Known for their high energy shows and playing on a dizzying array of exotic traditional instruments—the tsymbaly, a kind of hammered dulcimer, the drymba and the hurdy-gurdy, they round it out with more familiar ones—accordion, violin, bass and guitar.

 

The music is from the Ukraine and the Ukraine is a big place. Band founder, Brian Cherwick, describes their style this way, “Ukrainian music comes in many genres. Some of it is the fast dance music, like the type we often play, but much of it is complex lyrical music. We play that from time to time as well. There are some distinctive scales and modes that are used—often the minor sounding ones—that are a bit different from what we usually hear in other music. There are also some unusual rhythmic patterns. And, to state the obvious, I guess the fact that the words are in Ukrainian would make it different too.”

 

Though they appear to be new on the scene, this is just the latest version of the band. Originally formed in Alberta in 1996, The Kubasonics enjoyed some success and had a devoted following touring across Canada and Europe. When Brian Cherwick moved to Newfoundland in 2011, the Kubasonics went on hiatus.

 

In 2015, Brian reconstituted the band. Three-fifths of the band are Cherwicks—Brian is joined by Maria on violin and Jacob on Drums. The roster is rounded out with a couple of great Newfoundland musicians, Darren Browne on guitar and Matt Hender on bass.

 

The intelligence network is one way of finding bands. Sometimes though, the bands come to you all by themselves. Back in January, we held an open audition for Summerfolk and Polky Village Band travelled from Toronto to participate. It’s not a stretch to say that they were the hit of the afternoon. What made it great was that they were so unexpected.

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Their music is Polishenergetic and played in a traditional fashion. The capacity crowd in the Heartwood Music Hall took to them like a house on fire. Polky Village Band received the only standing ovation of the afternoon. Pleasantly surprised, but I shouldn’t have been— Summerfolk audiences love music that is authentic.

 

Polky Village Band was formed by two Polish womensinger, Ewelina Ferenc and dancer, Ala Stasiuk. When they met in Toronto, they realized that there was a shared passion for the unique and enigmatic style of Central and Eastern European folk music. Eager to share the music and dance learned when growing up, they found some equally incredible Canadian musicians—Georgia Hathaway on fiddle, Matti Palonen on cello and hammer dulcimer, and Tristan Murphy on accordion and pocket trumpet—and Polky Village Band was born!

 

Both The Kubasonics and Polky Village Band will take the stage at Summerfolk this year. In addition to concert slots and workshops, both bands will present dance workshops at our Down By the River stage.

 

The Summerfolk Music and Crafts Festival happens August 17,18,19 at Kelso Beach Park. Information is available, with no need of a spy network, at summerfolk.org.

 

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Sun Times Article 9: Family Fun

Every year Artistic Director James Keelaghan writes a series of 12 articles for the Owen Sound Sun Times previewing the Summerfolk Music and Crafts Festival

By James Keelaghan

A couple of years back, my family and I were at the Mariposa Folk Festival. They had lots of great stuff for kids—giant bubble makers, magic and plenty of music. What our boys couldn’t get enough of, though, were the reptiles. The turtles, snakes, skinks and frogs were endlessly fascinating.

 

Roxane Davidson, our General Manager/Festival Coordinator, must have thought me a little loony. She asked, “What did you like at Mariposa?” and maybe a little too enthusiastically I blurted, “Reptiles! We gotta book some reptiles!” It’s taken a long time, but they will be slithering, hopping and skidding their way to Summerfolk this year, thanks to Scales Reptile Park. Scales does interactive displays so the kids and you can get up close and personal with your favourites. They will be doing demonstrations at 1PM on both Saturday and Sunday.

 

Family is very important to us at Summerfolk. That’s why we ask you to check in just inside the main gate at the First Aid/Child Registration trailer.  In the rare circumstance that you end up in opposite directions, we like to facilitate your getting back together. After that is taken care of, there is plenty of stuff to do for the kids and grandkids too. Some of my most treasured memories of Summerfolk are bound up with the things my kids have made in the crafts area. Coordinator, Cassandra Bauer, leads a whole volunteer crew that runs our children’s village. They spend the year gathering supplies and drawing up projects for the kids.

 

The children are set loose on tables full of paper and glue, paint and fabric. Under supervision, they bang away with hammers building ships, cars and even, on one occasion, a full on miniature beach chair that was then put to good use. The kids make masks, banners and decorate T-shirts. They also spend some time decorating a forty-foot long dragon that is the centre-piece of the children’s parade.

 

The parade was added to the festival a few years ago at Roxane’s suggestion. The dragon, articulated by the children, weaves its way through the procession. The kids fall in line with stilt-walkers and musicians and wend their way through the park arriving at the amphitheatre to open the Sunday evening show. Leading the parade this year will be Tallbeat.

 

Bringing together the circus element of stilt walking with its gigantic, taller-than-life performers, Tallbeat plays Maracatu style—an Afro-Brazilian drumming style with deep bassy grooves that move the soul. They can be seen and heard over 200m away with their colourful costumes and oversized instruments. Tallbeat raises Afro-Brazilian rhythms to new heights!

 

Summerfolk is a generational event. Grandparents, parents and children are all in it together in a safe welcoming space. Anyone who knows Kelso Beach Park knows that the splash pad and wading in the bay are a great way to entertain the young ‘uns, too.

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On Saturday afternoon this year, we are trying something a little different—a dedicated kids’ concert in the Amphitheatre with the one and only Fred Penner. One of the most popular acts at Summerfolk a couple of years ago, and not just with the kids, people of all ages flocked to his shows for chance to relive memories. From the quintessential version of The Cat Came Back to everybody’s favourite, Sandwiches, Fred delivers the goods and is as entertaining now as he was back in his television heyday.

 

Then, there’s the music. Although we have featured kids’ performers like Fred, we’ve found that kids, in fact, like all kinds of music. I love being at a stage and watching them feel the music—dancing, swaying and wide-eyed with appreciation. But it cuts both ways—a lot of performers are parents as well. Often they are away from their children while with us at Summerfolk and you can watch them light up when there are kids in audience.

 

Summerfolk has been putting smiles on faces for 43 years. We will be in Kelso Beach Park August 17, 18 and 19 this year. For information on what’s going on, check us out at www.summerfolk.org.

 

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Sun Times Article 10: Mix-match and magic…

Every year Artistic Director James Keelaghan writes a series of 12 articles for the Owen Sound Sun Times previewing the Summerfolk Music and Crafts Festival

By James Keelaghan

I have a workplace out back of the house. It’s a great little unit that is 8’x12’ on skids with a shed roof. It was dragged into the backyard five summers ago and, after I insulated, drywalled, and put in a floor, it made the perfect backyard office.

 

I painted the inside south wall of the shed with blackboard paint. That’s where I used to do the majority of the planning for the festival. I was on the road so much this year, that I had to enter the twenty-first century and do it on the lap top.

 

Depending on how you allocate time, here is what has to be programmed for Summerfolk: eighteen concert slots on the Amphitheatre stage and twelve slots to fill on the Down by the Bay stage in the evenings. There are more than eighty slots to fill over the course of the three days on the six daytime stages. Over forty acts, singly and in groups will occupy those spaces.

 

A hefty chunk of those daytime slots are workshops that put two or three acts together on a stage, gives them a theme, and let’s them work it out. The model comes from the legendary Estelle Klein and the first Mariposa Folk Festivals. It’s structured to encourage an exchange among the musicians. You let them mix on stage and see what comes of it. Most often it’s magic.

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To create interesting workshops, you need the raw materials—great performers and an audience willing to go anywhere with them. We have an abundance of both at Summerfolk.

 

The best workshop takes into account the personalities of the performers. Knowing how artists are connected to each other is also important. Have they sometimes shared a bass player or a percussionist in the past? Sometimes members of various bands have worked together on recording projects making the magic a little easier to conjure up.

 

Sometimes the connections aren’t obvious until you dig. Looking through the band lists in the database, I noticed that one is bringing Andrina Turenne as their backup singer. She was a member of Chic Gamine when they played Summerfolk six years ago. One of my all-time favourite vocalists, Andrina knows a boatload of songs so she’s perfect for the ever popular Songs from a Hat on the Saturday afternoon of the festival.

 

That’s one down, only seventy-nine slots to go…

 

For many in the audience, the workshop delivers the most memorable performances of the whole weekend.  Anybody who was in the Wine Bar last year for the meeting of Al Simmons and The Harpoonist and the Axe Murderer will swear to that. The workshop took a turn for the surreal as Al scaled the wall of the Amphitheatre to make his exit.

 

So what have I got in store for you?

 

I’m looking forward to a workshop called Traditionally Amazing.  I’m putting Vishtèn, the incredible trio from PEI, together with Calan and see what happens when Acadian Traditional meets Welsh Traditional. I’m anticipating some impressive step dancing Friday at 10:30 PM at the Down by the Bay stage.

 

The Axe Masters workshop with Stephen Fearing, Beppe Gambetta and Joel Morelli is going to be a must-see for people who like hot licks and clever guitar tricks on Saturday at 3:10 in the Gazebo area.

 

Bryden Gwiss Kiwenzie will be leading a workshop on aboriginal dance, if you’ve ever wanted to know the difference between a jingle dance and a fancy dance. We’ll hope for a round dance as well, since Digging Roots taught us the basics a few years ago. That’s at noon on Sunday at our Down By the River Stage, where the emphasis is on dance all weekend.

 

Songs from a Hat will be fun as always. Fred Penner, Paige Ballagh, Doug Cox and Andrina Turenne square off against the audience who will challenge the performers to sing at least the first verse and chorus of a song pulled from Treasa Levasseur’s hat. If the pros can’t do it, it’s up to the audience. Past experience has shown that the audience can be very good at this game.

 

Sarah Harmer, Stephen Fearing, Rose Cousins and Nick Sherman lead a songwriter’s circle on Saturday afternoon. You’ll probably want to get to the Down By the Bay tent early for that one.

 

There are also instructional workshops. Doug Cox has a slide workshop in the Sharing Circle. Lap steel, slide mandolin and guitar are on the menu. The dance stage will be offering instructional workshops on step dancing, contra, balfolk, salsa, Eastern European dance styles and much more.

 

I could write all day, but you know, I have to go finish that workshop schedule for you.

 

Can’t wait to see you at Summerfolk!

 

Did I make the deadline? Visit www.summerfolk.org to find out. You’ll also find info about ticket prices, bios, videos and links to the performers. Advance ticket prices are in effect until July 31.

 

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