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 has been a lot of ink spilt on the cultural effects of Canadian geography.
There’s an irrefutable fact though — the hardest place to tour out of in this country is the West Coast. You have to add two days to every tour because the time zones work against you. There is no way you can fly in on gig day if you are playing Toronto, or sometimes even Winnipeg. On the other end of the tour, you have to build in a whole day to get you home.
If you are driving the tour and heading as far east as you can, the first two and a half weeks of the tour are sparse gigs separated by vast distances before you reach the gig-rich, lavishly-peopled east. Even if you manage to put together a tour that covers expenses and lets each band member walk away with some cash, long drives are the main cause of band breakup.
All of which makes me excited about having some West Coast acts at this year’s Summerfolk, including Carmanah and The Paperboys. Both bands have overcome that geographic barrier. One is young, just at the start of their national career, while the other has been a going concern for over a quarter of a century.
Despite that geographic boundary, the road has become a familiar friend for Victoria’s Carmanah following the release of their first commercial album Speak In Rhythms in 2018. Two songs went to number one on CBC’s Top 20 chart. The album introduced audiences to Carmanah’s sound — overflowing with emotion, after-hours cool, and vintage grooves. They take their name from the beautiful Carmanah Valley on the west coast of Vancouver Island. It’s a place of mists, moss-covered Sitka spruce giants and eerily quiet forest that sweeps right down to the water’s edge.
Listening to Carmanah is like listening to that landscape. Lead singer, Laura Mitic, has a voice like a long, deep wave. The band creates interesting, fluid arrangements with great dynamics. It’s equal parts mystical, contemporary and classic. Sometimes it’s pop, sometimes it’s folk, sometimes it’s jazz, but the style always serves the song. There is a deep reverence for humanity and the earth in the lyrics.
Their CD is definitely road trip material — the type of album I would have put on repeat for the long drives of my youth from Calgary to Vancouver. You can try it on the drive from Owen Sound to Tobermory if you’d like, especially if you’re going there for a sneak preview of Carmanah on board the Chi-Cheemaun ferry for a dinner cruise on August 15th. All the info can be found on http://www.ontarioferries.com/en/ms-chi-cheemaun-en.
While the members of Carmanah were still in the cradle, The Paperboys were already breaking that geographical barrier and are celebrating their twenty-fifth anniversary this year. That’s twenty-five years touring the world with their freewheeling blend of influences. A set of music will blend Celtic and Mexican son jarocho, brass bands and Canadian roots. Their latest CD, Score, is full of these signature sounds — Spanish-language songs that reflect Landa’s Mexican heritage, explosive brass lines from their extended 8-piece ensemble, Celtic fiddle and pennywhistle blazing through an old reel, English Language rock songs with strong pop influences, and a kind of melting pot sound that reflects the diversity of the band’s home city, Vancouver.
They have a deep respect for all those traditions but don’t feel bound by them. In their own words, they feel free to mess around and create something different. It makes them hard to classify. They have been called Cajun slamgrass or worldbeat? Whatever it is, it works. The Paperboys have a Juno Award, two Juno nominations, two West Coast Music Awards, released nine albums and have played at some of the most prestigious festivals worldwide.
The Paperboys has been the life’s work of Tom Landa. The band was formed in 1992 when Landa first moved to Vancouver. As a teen living in Ontario, he was influenced by the music coming out of Vancouver in the late eighties, early nineties — bands like The Grapes of Wrath, 54-40 and Spirit of the West. He packed his bags and went to Vancouver solely based on the music scene.
The Paperboys have always operated as independents. They formed their own label, their own management and booking agency, created their own festivals, and forged their own path. In a way that bodes well for another 25 years. The recent upheaval in the music industry as a whole means that groups like the Paperboys, with an intimate connection to their fans and in-house skills have a better chance at prospering.
New artists or seasoned veterans, they are all welcome at Summerfolk.
You’ll be able to see both these West Coast acts, and others, at the Summerfolk Music and Crafts Festival, August 16, 17, 18 on the shores of Georgian Bay at Kelso Beach Park. All the information you need for buying tickets, learning more about the performers, artisans, food vendors, going green and more can be found at summerfolk.org