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

At Summerfolk, we’re a little like those spirits in A Christmas Carol — you know, when the spirit of Christmas Present says to Ebenezer, “Mortal! We Spirits of Christmas do not live only one day of our year. We live the whole three-hundred and sixty-five.

While the warming weather and the longer days may finally be making your head turn to thoughts of festivals, to sitting on the grass in the sun and listening to music — we’ve been planning and thinking about it for months!

Any given festival year, more than 18 months before, there are grants to apply for, budgets to make, sponsorships to seek. There are porta-potties, sound equipment, fencing and tents to book. There are conferences to attend with showcases where we can see prospective performers.

I usually draw up a wish list of acts that I think would fit with our festival. Suggestions from our audience, our volunteers and other Artistic Directors mix and mingle and can run into hundreds of names. Then the calls and emails begin. The wish list gets whittled down depending on what the artistic budget is, what the performers’ schedules are and where we might have opportunities to share with other festivals that happen on or close to our weekend. The result is that the wish list looks different from the final lineup. Sometimes, if a performer isn’t available for that year’s festival, I’ll make a commitment to book them for the next year.

While that’s going on with the performers, other committees are going through applications for vendors to create our food village and beyond and other vendors for our one-of-a-kind artisans’ village — it is the Summerfolk Music and Crafts Festival, after all!

While all that sounds like a lot of work — and it is — it’s also a joy. We are working to put together a program that will delight your ears, crafts that will delight your eyes and food that will tickle your tastebuds.

For the next 12 weeks, I’ll be giving you a preview of this year’s festival.

It’s Summerfolk’s 44th year, which makes it one of the most venerable of the formidable Canadian folk festival scene. Over three days, August 16, 17, 18, we will present more than 40 acts on six stages. Eighty or more separate performances and workshops ensure that you will be able to get up close and personal with the music you love. It also means that you’ll be able to discover some of the best music you’ve never heard of. Our audience tells us how much they love to make a new discovery. That’s why I like to rotate the roster so there are always groups here for their first time.

Let me point out three to you:


Image: William Prince

If you would close your eyes and listen to William Prince, you’d probably be convinced that you were listening to somebody in their 50s or 60s — a seasoned performer by the sound of his voice, a master of simplicity by listening to the lyrics. Opening your eyes, you might be surprised to see the cherubic face of this 33-year-old performer from the Peguis First Nation in Manitoba. He’s had quite a year opening a string of shows for Neil Young and playing at some of the more famous festivals on the planet.

On another note, you wouldn’t think there could be a place where hip-hop and bluegrass meet, but there is.

Image: Gangstagrass

Gangstagrass has toured internationally, blowing minds on main stages from SXSW (South by Southwest, a Music Festival in Austin, Texas) to Grey Fox Bluegrass Festival (in the Catskill Mountains of New York), with a live stage act taking full advantage of the improvisational aspects of both hip-hop and bluegrass. With two emcees R-Son and Dolio The Sleuth trading verses, Dan Whitener on Banjo, Landry McMeans on dobro, and Rench on guitar, and frequent three-part harmonies, Gangstagrass is going to blow your socks off too.

The members of BLISK (pictured above) hail from Canada, Ukraine, Poland and Kazakhstan. They are a synthesis of polyphonic Eastern European and Balkan song, dance and movement backed by hypnotic percussion. It’s a musical journey travelling through Ukraine, Poland, Macedonia, Serbia and beyond. The group was brought together by a deep love and respect for these ancient songs and dances, bringing the tunes to life in the modern world through unique staging and arrangements. It’s sinuous and seductive.

All this is possible because Summerfolk and Owen Sound have a reputation for hospitality and excellence in production. That reputation is earned by the 700 volunteers, some of whom have been with us for every year. They know their jobs. The comment I hear most often from performers is how amazing the volunteers are. From the instrument shuttle crew that moves instruments from the backstage lockup to the workshop and main stages, to the hospitality crews who make sure that all are fed and water and the retail crews who sell CDs, T-shirts and the mementos that our audience takes home from the fest to the crews who handle the trash and the site set up and our newest crew that is working hard to green our festival and make it more environmentally friendly.

I’ve got spreadsheets open and I’m polishing the schedule. We’re going to show you a very good time.

The Summerfolk Music and Crafts Festival happens at Kelso Beach Park in beautiful Owen Sound Ontario August 16, 17, 19. You can find information and purchase tickets at

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