James Keelaghan wrote a series of articles for the Owen Sound Sun Times last year as part of the lead up to Summerfolk.
I played my first paying gig at seventeen in a folk club in Claresholm, about an hour south of Calgary. After that I played as regularly as I could. Luckily, Calgary was rich in places to play in those days.
I had a regular gig at a place called the Kensington Delicafe. I played three hours a night Thursday, Friday and Saturday-it largely paid my way though University. There was a guy who used to come in for his deli-burger, a bass player named Bill Eaglesham, he was tall and wiry, with piercing blue eyes. I knew him from the local scene. During my sets he would watch me but not once did he ever applaud. My mission became getting some kind of reaction out of him.
I never did. I ended up hiring him as my bass player on my first national tour instead. For the next three years Bill and my other player, Gary Bird, whipped me into shape. Today we would call it mentoring. Back then we just lived by the adage that the best way to get good was to play with people who were better than you.
I did not emerge fully formed as a musician, no musician ever does. Learning to be a performer is a long process-the only way you learn is by playing.
The four finalists from this year’s Youth Discoveries program are already on that road. Youth Discoveries is an initiative of the Georgian Bay Folk Society and is sponsored by Bruce Power and the Dock 92.3 FM. The four acts were chosen from thirty-six who showcased for the opportunity to appear at the 37th annual Summerfolk Music and Crafts Festival.
Amy Carson Hunter is the performer most likely to make you impulsively hold hands with whoever is next to you. She’s from Toronto, but like many of this year’s Discoveries hopefuls, she made the trek north in the hope of winning a spot at the festival and the judges were duly impressed. Her voice sounds too mature to come from someone so young. It hovers somewhere in the dusky zone. She also writes and performs with a maturity and poise that any performer would be envious of.
Mad Casper didn’t travel as far as Amy. Simon Kaarid, Tristan Kaarid, Dan White Erik Wagenaar come from right here in Owen Sound. When I first heard them it took my mind back to a workshop I played with Gil Scott Heron at the Calgary Folk Festival.
Gil’s songs, particularly The Revolution Will Not Be Televised, paved the way for rap music. It’s been argued that Gil was the first rap artist. What was he doing at a folk festival?
All you had to do was listen to get it. The lyrics were politically charged and relevant. The music was played acoustically on piano, upright bass and percussion. If Gil wasn’t folk music, what was?
Mad Casper has the same sensibility-a story to tell against a solid back beat. It’s a mix of hip hop, dub poetry with an acoustic instrumental edge. The lyrics sung in a cadenced and measured staccato are political, sincere and relevant.
Chris Strazz comes from Woodbridge. He sings with a high reedy tenor and has a great sense of amtosphere. He is slightly bluesy with an undeniably great rhythm guitar style. Chris is blessed with a quick smile and a comfortable attitude that is disarming. If Carson Hunter is the dark and sultry, Chris is the guy who’s going to send you down the street whistling. Of all our Discovery finalists I would peg him as the guy most likely to end up doing one of those coveted musical appearances on Sesame Street.
I was extremely happy that traditional music was represented at the Youth Discoveries showcases. I love fiddling and step dancing, but it is a crowded field and to rise to the top you have to be really good. Andrew and Diana Dawydchak are 12 and 14 years old, respectively. They were the youngest performers at Youth Discoveries, but may be the most seasoned performers of the bunch. You don’t get to be as good as they are unless you’ve been doing it a long time. They have taken top honours at the Canadian Open in Shelburne and the Ontario Open in Bobcageon. That is no mean feat.
They are energetic and explosive, but what was the most disarming thing about them was the fact that their bio ends by saying that they are proud to be Maple Leaf’s fans. Is there anything more enchanting than the optimism of youth?
Youth Discoveries happens because of the hard work of many people. In the next year we are going to expand the program. We’ll be offering workshops on everything from performance to vocal technique and a new venue for the Final Showcase.
There is a wealth of young talent in our communities and we want to help that talent reach its audience. You can help the GBFS by letting us know abut the outstanding young performers in your community.
Join us Friday, August 17 at the Summerfolk Music and Crafts Festival for the Youth Discoveries concert starting at 7pm on the Young and Hungry/Over the Hill stage
For more information visit us at www.summerfolk.org.