August 16th – 18th, 2024

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

Gigs make a difference. I can’t repeat that enough.

The only way a musician becomes a better musician is by playing. The only way a musician becomes a better performer is by performing. Regular gigs paid my way through university. Granted, I was living in a 300 square foot house with no central heating, but between the music and some other part time work, I made my way. The club gigs were about learning––learning enough repertoire to fill an evening and how to plan a set of music.


Playing a festival gig teaches a whole different set of skills—how to play to a larger audience, how to pace a set that is 40 minutes rather than 60 minutes long and how to gracefully share the stage with other performers.


Festivals are also about forming relationships that are fundamental to growth as a musician. A couple of articles ago, I mentioned how Stephen Fearing and I met at the Jasper Folk Festival and how important we were to one another in the early days. Those kinds of relationships are forged at festivals. A band finds itself in a workshop with another band and discovers that they have a common vocabulary. Offstage, they share experiences, learning that music truly is a community––not something that only happens in isolation.


The Youth Discoveries Program is one of Summerfolk’s oldest initiatives. It’s been running for over ten years, an ever-evolving program that gives young performers a festival experience. It grew out of the hard work of former Artistic Director, Richard Knechtel, and long time volunteer, Jerry Walsh. They felt that young performers were falling through the cracks and that it was for difficult for a new performer to catch the attention of an Artistic Director. Youth Discoveries was the solution. Over the past few years, committee members including Tara MacKenzie, Coco Love Alcorn, and Rob Elder—locals who know the value of community and the value of experience—have continued that work. From its beginnings, with preliminaries in Owen Sound and Paisley, the Discoveries series has widened the creative net. We now hold showcases as far afield as Toronto, London, Kitchener-Waterloo, and Clarksburg, looking for young performers who are ready to step up onto the big stage.


The Youth Discoveries has given formative experiences to some of the regions finest musicians––Ben Turcotte, Cody Zevenbergen, Andrew Nunno, Missy Bauman, Benjamin Dakota Rogers, Sydney Riley, and Brontae Hunter are just a few of the Discoveries winners who have continued on their musical path.


You have a chance to preview two of this year’s Youth Discoveries winners in Owen Sound today at the Owen Sound Summer Streetfest. Basset will be performing from 12:00-12:45 pm, Emily Gilbart from 4:45-5:30 pm on the stage located at Second Avenue East & 9th Street in downtown Owen Sound.


Basset is Sam Clark, with brothers Aaron and Noah Philipp-Muller. Playing mandolin, fiddle, guitar, and cello, they are part chamber orchestra, part newgrass––accomplished musicians weaving intricate arrangements. Layered over the instruments, is the haunting resonant vibrato of Yasmine Shelton. Together, they move from dark and moody to bright and catchy melodies with ease. It’s rare to find a band this young that has such a range. They shone at the preliminaries and, at the finals, were a clear favourite of both the audience and the judges.


They came together in 2016 as students of Victoria College at the University of Toronto, a hub of creative energy that introduced them to Toronto’s vibrant small-time arts scene. They’ve used the energy to good effect.


At the finals this year, Emily Gilbart, a young singer-songwriter from Mono, Ontario, took the air out the Roxy Theatre with her first note. Tall and self-assured, I think we were all expecting a willowy voice. But that first note—it was as if it came up out of her feet––so low, so very low. It was as if she had channelled the earth. Everybody in the theatre leaned back as we all gasped collectively.


Emily’s voice is not restricted to that earth tone and she uses it to good effect. At ten, she began singing and playing guitar and has been at it ever since. Playing open mic nights at local cafés and restaurants, she would end up getting regular paid gigs at some of those venues. For the past 3 years, Emily has been a scholarship recipient at the Orangeville & District Music Festival for her original compositions. In 2017, two of her songs made the semi-finals in the Under 18 category of the Canadian Songwriting Competition, and her song ‘Lovesick Lullaby’ was a finalist.  Not surprisingly, she is currently working on her first album.


Twelve minutes at a Youth Discoveries showcase is not a lot of time to sum up what you do, but Emily Gilbart and Basset certainly did!


You can get a preview of Basset and Emily Gilbert today at the Owen Sound Summer Streetfest–not to mention a 2013 Youth Discoveries winner– Jayden Grahlman– and Richard Knechtel as Dickie Bird. See even more of this year’s Youth Discoveries winners at the Summerfolk Music and Craft Festival, Kelso Beach Park, August 17,18 and 19. Find all the info at

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *