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

By James Keelaghan

The only thing that keeps me going in the winter is the thought of summer. There used to be a time when I embraced winter, but that time is long gone. It was Winnipeg’s fault. No winter anywhere gives you bragging rights like a Winnipeg winter, and I have 10 of them under my belt.

From November to April this year, it was like Winnipeg had set up an Ontario branch office.  The only thing that kept me from snapping was the thought of Summerfolk.

I was putting the finishing touches on the lineup for the festival. The space heater was desperately trying to keep my backyard office warm. I was trying to keep focused on the fact that at some point the weather would be warm again. There was going to be a time when we would be able to be outdoors without 15 layers of clothes.

I imagined myself in the Down by the Bay tent with a bag of kettle corn, a glass of beer and some Senegalese music.

I thought about strolling between the artisans’ booths, wondering what treasure my family would buy this year. 

I wondered what crafts my boys were going to show off on the Sunday, having my morning coffee while listening to great songs and great players.

That’s what got me through the winter.

It is only a few weeks until the festival and my anticipation is getting even keener. Back in the winter, all the performers were discreet individuals. Now they are being grouped in workshops and arranged in concerts.The schedule is almost finished and I wonder how the workshop combinations are going to unfold. 

The beauty of a folk festival is that it is more than the sum of its parts. The combinations of musicians and themes bring out unexpected energies. As an audience member the excitement is knowing that what you are seeing and hearing is truly unique. It will only happen that one time — in the here and now.

I’ve put the musicians together on paper, but it’s the musicians themselves that will make the magic happen. 

Nothing prepared me for the creative energy of last year’s workshop Escarpment Blues with Sarah Harmer, Rose Cousins, Stephen Fearing and Nick Sherman. I know there will be workshops as great as that this year, but it’s all a bit of a surprise.

I think that’s part of why people want to be at festivals. They want to be in the right place at the right time. They want to be able to turn to a friend and say, “ Do you remember when…”

An event like Summerfolk lets us know that we can gather in our thousands to enjoy each others company and celebrate what makes us human at the same time trying to reduce our carbon footprint.

Every now and again it is a great idea to turn off the news, put away the paper, turn off the radio and listen to music in real time, to share an experience that isn’t mediated by Facebook, or Instagram. Festivals are a social network come to life — your 3,000 friends and you sharing a moment together.

All this happens because over 700 people volunteer to make it happen.They build stages, put up tents, shuttle performers and run sound stages. They contribute over 10,000 hours of labour to make the weekend happen.

For more than two generations, people have been gathering at Kelso Beach Park on the 3rd weekend of August to celebrate what we know to be true — music makes the world a better place. 

It makes our lives richer, tells stories, makes us move and moves us. We know that a weekend listening to music, even in the rain (if it comes to that), is better than driving Hwy 6 in January.

On behalf of the volunteers, the board and staff of the Georgian Bay Folk Society, I’d like invite you to join us at Summerfolk44. Summerfolk happens August 16, 17, 18 at Kelso Beach Park. Information on performers, artisans, food vendors and tickets can be found at or by calling us a 519-371-2995. If you want to experience Summerfolk from the inside, we are still looking for a few volunteers.

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