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 are eighty-five days until Summerfolk.
Down at Kelso Beach Park, the buds are just beginning to open on the trees. The grass is turning green and the water, ice-free, is lapping at the shore. Were there security cameras installed, over the past weeks you would have noticed small groups of people with clipboards and measuring wheels roaming the grounds. You’d see a lot of pointing and scribbling and taking snapshots.
Eighty-five days, but we are in the park, measuring and imagining.
We’re imagining a park full of music and food and artisans. We’re imagining families, children, young lovers, tourists and others of all shapes, sizes and persuasions coming together for three days to share a common experience—Summerfolk.
Forty-three years ago this August, a group of people imagined Summerfolk into existence. Every year since then, we appear to conjure a festival out of thin air, transforming Kelso Beach Park into a place where music plays for 14 hours a day and where 4,000 people a day gather to share an experience.
Like Dickens’ spirits, though, Summerfolk doesn’t live for just three days. It’s a year’s worth of work. It’s May, but the performers have been booked, the food vendors and artisans selected, tents and port-a-potties ordered and the sound system reserved. Some grant applications and sponsorship deals are worked on 18 months before the current festival.
Every month, the Summerfolk committee meets to propose and discuss ideas and to work out logistics. We ask ourselves a lot of questions. Did we place this or that tent properly last year? What happens if we move that fence 5 feet? Is there enough power to do what we want? Do we want the tent sides with the rings so we can close the sides more quickly if it rains?
Right about now, the committee heads start reaching out to the over 700 volunteers who staff the various crews—construction, electrical, staging, trash and more.
All of that is done for a singular purpose—so that we can come together for three days and enjoy life. Music and food and art make life better. Sure we relax and soak up the sun, have a glass of wine or a beer but we also feed our minds. I sometimes walk away from a stage at Summerfolk shaking my head at the intricacy of something I heard, or a line from a song stuck in my head, or when I hear a type of music I’ve never heard before.
Myself, I’m deep into the scheduling of the festival. Over the past few months, I’ve whittled down hundreds of applications and sent out hundreds of offers. My wish list at the start of this process is seldom the same as the final list of performers because of several factors—fees versus our budget, availability just to name two.
Now that the list is done, I’m scheduling the festival I’m figuring out when each act is going to get their performance time. I’m thinking about the combination of performers for each workshop. A songwriter’s circle with Sarah Harmer, Stephen Fearing and Rose Cousins seems like a natural—as does a workshop with the Kubasonics and Polky Village Band. That’s two out of the sixty daytime slots taken care of!
Eighty-five days until Summerfolk.
You may have noticed I haven’t been saying eighty-five sleeps. There’s a good reason for that. As Summerfolk approaches, sleep time falls off as a square of the distance from today’s date to August 17. But time just keeps on rolling.
We’re excited about the program we’ve put together for you, from perennial children’s entertainer, Fred Penner to the incredibly soulful Tanika Charles. From a stilt-walking Maracatu band, Tallbeat, to the fresh sound of The Lifers–from the Welsh trad sensation Calan to the ever so modern Bahamas—musically there will be a lot to delight your ears. A children’s area, our signature wine bar, over 40 artisans, fantastic food–we really can’t wait.
But we have to.
Eighty-five days until Summerfolk. You can find information and links to tickets, as ever, at summerfolk.org. You’ll find us at Kelso Beach Park 17th, 18th and 19th. We look forward to showing you a good time.