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
My Da was James Keelaghan. I’m not sure if my parents ever regretted choosing to give me the same name, but it took chapters of nicknames to distinguish between the two of us. I am still called Seamus or Jimmy or Jim. I was Little Jim and he was Big Jim. Later he was Old Jim and I was Young Jim.
There came a point in my musical career where I had to decide what I was going to be called. What was going to go before Keelaghan?
If I had been Afie Jurvanen of Barrie, Ontario, I would have gone for something completely different. Afie is better known as Bahamas—just Bahamas.
He chose to go for a stage name for a number of reasons, but largely because he wanted the music to speak for itself without having to get into a lot of personal detail in interviews. The personal detail, as much as he wants to tell, is in the songs. You won’t even find a bio on his site. His body of work is his biography.
The name conjures up clear Caribbean skies and a wide-open view. His songs deliver the vision––uncluttered personal moments set in a sparse expanse that stands out in relief. Built on self-assured, catchy melodies and stripped down lyrics, the songs have strong verbs and short sentences.
Over the span of his four CDs, Afie has resisted recording with heavy-handed production. Even when he stretches the bounds of what he’s creating, like the hip-hop-esque track Bad Boys Need Love Too on his latest CD Earthtone, there is a lot of space with nothing distracting from the melody and the lyrics.
He made his mark as a sideman playing guitar with Feist, Amy Millan and Great Lake Swimmers, among others. Many of those performers also appeared on his debut CD, Pink Strat, released in 2009. The CD went on to get a nomination for Best Roots and Traditional CD at the Juno Awards.
Every CD since then has garnered nominations and awards. While enjoying commercial success, Bahamas seems to have done it with a minimum of fan fare. There is something understated about the way that his career has walked from success to success. With YouTube videos having millions of views and 2.3 million monthly listeners to his Spotify playlist, he is easily outpacing some of his flashier peers. Bahamas is on Taylor Swift’s Apple Music playlist, for heaven’s sake. Not that he would ever brag about that. At his core he is a humble man with a tempered ambition.
Bahamas bridges the gap between folk and pop music. He’s not been shy about using the word folk, realizing that he takes his place in a lineage of singer-songwriters who have been moving the genre forward. As a crossover artist, he appeals to a wide audience with performances that are intimate and immediate—engaging, laid back and conversational. The man you see on stage is the man that you would meet in the Home Hardware.
Bahamas is pop without pretence––nothing flashy, just excellent musicianship and great care in presentation.
His band reflects his desire to play with the best and his deep connection to the music scene in Canada. Christine Bougie is an amazing guitar and lap steel player with four solo CDs to her credit. Atmospheric and ethereal, her playing is a perfect fit for Bahamas’ sound. Vocalist, Felicity Williams, blends seamlessly with Bahamas voice in a way that you only find with the tightest of family bands.
Winnipeg born drummer, Jason Tait, has been an integral part of The Weakerthans and has contributed drum tracks to Broken Social Scene and the FemBots. Darcy Yates, on bass, served with Fred Eaglesmith, the Great Lake Swimmers and Jason Collett. That’s a pretty deep bench.
I have wanted to get Bahamas to Summerfolk for quite some time and I’m excited that he and the band will be joining us this year.
Bahamas will be the last act on the Amphitheatre stage at the festival on Sunday night, August 19th from 7:45 to 9:00PM. The closing party follows from 9:00-11:00PM at the Down by the Bay tent.
Schedules, ticket information, performers bios and more can be found at summerfolk.org. We’ll see you at Kelso Beach Park August 17th to 19th.