By James Keelaghan
Performers live for stickers and lanyards. They are the campaign medals of the touring circuit. I’ve got a wall full of them in my office. I had one guitar case early on that was primarily held together by stickers.
To be truly collectable, the festival’s logo must stand out, so that other performers, by sight, can identify the festival at a great distance. Vancouver has Pete Seagull (really), Calgary has the cow, Edmonton has the dancing petroglyphs, Tønder has their iconic circle. For Owen Sound, it’s the guitar player under the tree. The logo was designed by Julie Watson, nee Chantler, in 1982. It has graced the poster and been the logo of the Georgian Bay Folk Society since that time.
The logo came from a photograph that was used for the 1977 festival poster. The tree, of course, is behind what is now the amphitheatre at Kelso Beach. A lot of musicians have tuned up or warmed up under that tree before going on stage at Summerfolk.
David Essig was in the right place at the right time. The logo has meant that he has been on more Summerfolk posters than any other artist in the 40 year history of the festival. David is the musician under the tree.
Of course, he’s more than that.
David was born in Frederick, Maryland but came to live in Canada in 1971. He is a guitarist, a composer, a producer, a radio host. He’s played every folk festival in the country over the course of his career.
He’s a songwriter, a subtle storyteller. He can write songs that are as contemporary as a news headline. He can also compose a tune that you would swear was off a 1920s vintage 78 recording. He is equally renowned as an instrumentalist and traditional performer. David is a master of the blues and slide guitar.
David has recorded 20 albums of his own music over the course of his career. He’s never been content to just promote his own music, though. In 1974 he established one of Canada’s first musician-run recording companies, Woodshed. He produced records for 60 or more musicians including Willie P. Bennett, Cathy Fink, Dixie Flyers, Fred J. Eaglesmith, Tim Harrison, Humber River Valley Boys, and Jackie Washington.
David Essig still likes to hang out by the water, just a bit west of our beloved tree. He lives in Sointula, on Malcolm Island, BC. That’s up near the northern tip of Vancouver Island. He enjoys the solitude and the community feel. He keeps an interesting touring schedule. There are regular excursions to Europe, where he is treated as folk royalty. He’s still a favourite at Canadian folk festivals as well, not least because of the depth he brings to any line up.
David is the best of folk music. He is informed by the tradition, not bound by it. Familiar enough with the forms that he can play with them and make them speak to the contemporary world.
In that same class is the new Cape Breton super group Còig. They are from the other side of the continent from David Essig, but they share with him a respect for their tradition and a desire to move it forward.
If you are going to make an impression in the East coast music scene, especially the trad scene, you are going to have to be a top notch entertainer. Each of the members of Còig can make that claim. They have nearly 30 awards and nominations among them.
The tricky thing with groups that are made up of performers that already have solid solo careers is they don’t actually come together as a band. With Còig, this is not a problem.
They have melded their styles into a traditional music juggernaut. Fiddlers Chrissy Crowley and Rachel Davis are setting new bench marks for Cape Breton tradition. Their repertoire is studded with classic pieces but they also are writing new tunes that are being absorbed into that tradition. Then they play it all with the intensity of Ashley MacIsaac or Natalie McMaster.
Jason Roach has to be seen to be believed. He has reinvented the traditional Cape Breton piano accompaniment, adding passing chords and rhythmic shots that are new and exciting. He plays with such power that he has been known to go through two keyboards on a festival weekend!
Rounded out by the multi instrumental “ swiss army knife” that is Darren McMullen, they are the new powerhouse leading the East coast trad music scene.
They are sure to bring the house down at Summerfolk.
Summerfolk is proud to bring seasoned veterans like David Essig and explosive young performers like Còig together for a weekend of music at Kelso Beach. They will be playing numerous workshops and shows throughput the weekend, as well as providing intimate instructional sessions. We’ve got their stickers and lanyards ready for them!
The Summerfolk Music and Crafts festival kicks off with a 40th anniversary Birthday bash Thursday August 20 and continues the 21, 22, and 23. Information and tickets can be found at summerfolk.org, or by phoning the Georgian Bay Folk Society office at 519-371-2995.
*This article first appeared in the Owen Sound Sun Times on June 10th, 2015