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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

Claire Lynch Has The Voice

By James Keelaghan
Every now and again I play a little game with myself. I imagine which musician I would like to be. Sometimes I’d like to be Phil Ochs, sometimes Captain Beefheart. Lately, I’ve wanted to be Claire Lynch.

ClaireLynch

Claire Lynch and band

 

Claire possesses that high reedy voice that is the hallmark of Anglo-American roots music. It’s reminiscent of Alison Krauss or Hazel Dickens. She can whip you into a frenzy with a holler or seduce you with a lullaby. When Dolly Parton says you are one of her favourite vocalists you must be doing something right. The International Bluegrass Association agrees. Claire Lynch is a three time winner of their Female Vocalist of the Year award.

 

There are singers and there are songwriters. Sometimes you have singers who sing their own songs but they really aren’t writers. Sometimes you have songwriters who sing their own songs, but they aren’t really singers. It’s very rare that you find someone who can really do both.

 

Claire Lynch is that person. Her songs have been recorded by Patty Loveless, Kathy Mattea and others. At the IBMA’s last year she also won the Best Song award for “Dear Sister”. The song is based on letters written between a brother and sister on the eve of the Civil War battle of Stone River. It fuses the world of the traditional and the original.

 

Her band is an astounding group in and of themselves. Mandolinist-guitarist Jarrod Walker is a soulful singer and skilled player. Bryan McDowell is a young string wizard who, at 18, had an unprecedented hat-trick at the Winfield, Kansas National Flat-picking Championship winning first place in fiddle, mandolin, and flat-picked guitar. Mark Schatz is a two-time IBMA-winning bassist-clawhammer banjo player-dancer-percussionist. He makes the coffee as well.

 

Mark Schatz also has a close connection to a member of the Winnipeg band, The Duhks. Some of you may remember Leonard Podolak being here 4 years ago with Dry Bones. One of the highlights of their sets was the hambone solos. Leonard learned to hambone and clog from Mark. Schatz also produced one of the Duhks recordings.

TheDuhks

The Duhks

 

I met Leonard Podolak when he was 10 years old. My band and I arrived in Winnipeg by train early on a cold October morning and cabbed it over to Mitch Podolak’s house. Mitch was the concert promoter for the show we were playing in town that night. He is also the legendary creator of the Winnipeg, Vancouver and Edmonton Folk Festivals.

 

I knocked on the door. There was the scurry of feet. The door swung open and a cloud of smoke billowed out. Leonard’s ten year old face screamed, ”I’m makin’ pancakes”!!

 

His level of enthusiasm has never dimmed.

 

He grew up in a house that was the centre of folk music in Winnipeg. The Podolak place housed anybody who was anybody in folk music. Stan Rogers, Utah Phillips, Odetta, Tom Paxton, Spirit of the West, you name them, they slept in the spare room. Leonard soaked it all up getting lessons and advice from them all. Banjo became his area of expertise, but he also learned how to build and run a band.

 

The Duhks, Grammy nominees and Juno award winners, play a high energy version of Old Time music. They get their instrumental power from the guitar, banjo and violin. The Duhks added a signature percussionist to give it more drive and then topped it all off with an incredible lead vocalist, Jessee Havey.

 

Jessee joined the band as a teenager. She received her musical education on the road. Because of the immense touring range of the band—they regularly play in the US, Europe and Australia—Jessee was able to learn from cajun musicians, traditional British singers and jazz greats.

 

The band has always described itself as polyethnic. It has certainly taken that approach with its material, but the band is diverse as well. Fiddler Anna Lindblad is from Sweden and brings a nordic style to the strings. Less raw, more melodic, but still capable of unstoppable groove. Guitarist/bouzouki player Colin Savoie-Levac is from Quebec where he’s in great demand. He splits his time between the Duhks and filling in when needed for Éric Beaudry in star trad trio De Temps Antan. He also guides his own group, Les Poules à Colin. Drummer/percussionist Kevin Garcia is from Detroit originally but now make Brooklyn his home where he plays with, well, everybody.

 

The Duhks has been a labour of love for over 14 years. Doc Watson, no less, said, “Oh God, it is so beautiful, some of the finest music I’ve heard in many a day.”

 

The band has evolved over the years, losing and adding members as bands do. What has never changed is the absolute dedication to producing music that is true, focused and as enthusiastic as a 10 year old making pancakes for the guests.

 

Claire Lynch and the Duhks are just two of the over 40 acts that will be playing the Summerfolk Music and Crafts festival this year. The festival happens August 20, 21, 22, 23 at Kelso beach in Owen Sound, just like it has for 40 years. You can find information about the festival at www.summerfolk.org

 

*This article first appeared in the Owen Sound Sun Times on June 19th, 2015

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