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

Last year, I was involved in a project conceived of by my good friend, Beppe Gambetta. Beppe is from Genoa and he wanted to do a show based on the works of Fabrizio de André. I know I’m not supposed to do comparisons like this, but he was Italy’s Leonard Cohen or Bob Dylan. A whole generation knew his music.  Beppe asked me and Felix Meyer to translate some of Fabrizio’s music into English and German, respectively. 

 

It was like playing some sort of twisted word game. When the lyrics were translated straight across, sure, you would have the literal meaning, but it didn’t rhyme. The rhythm of the word didn’t match that of the music. To make it all work, the ideal was to create an approximation of what Fabrizio wrote while still saying what he meant. I learned a lot of things in the weeks we worked on it but two stand out.

First, it’s really easy to rhyme in Italian — all those regular endings! 

C’è una donna che semina il grano

Volta la carta si vede il villano

Il villano che zappa la terra

Volta la carta viene la guerra

I could write a hundred songs a week with endings like that! It’s unfair.

Second — there are many ways to tell a story.

 

We’ll be joined at Summerfolk by two of Canada’s finest writers, but they write from vastly different traditions.

 

Kathleen Edward’s life is an open book. In most cases, that would not be an exciting prospect. But in Kathleen’s case, it’s a good read. A bit of a page-turner, you never know how it’s going to turn out, but it’ll be good.

 

She’s impishly iconoclastic. After four critically acclaimed CD’s, she decided to stop letting the music industry rule her and she opened a coffee shop in Stittsville, ON named “Quitters”. Really, if she would have left it at “opened a coffee shop in Stittsville”, we’d have got the point. The “Quitters” was a very Edwardian flourish. When she’s serious, she’s dead serious, but the first person she’ll poke fun at is herself.

 

Her canon is autobiographical — cataloguing heartache, urban confusion, breakups and seductions — the things that make up the substance of all our lives. Kathleen manages to do that without making it sound like a confessional. She does it all with a sarcastic eye, taking the situation, but not herself, too seriously. That’s how she can sing “I’m moving to America” three times with utmost conviction and then tag it with, “it’s an empty threat”, and make it work.

 

Though she has been on hiatus, there is a fifth CD in the works and we’re hoping some of the new songs make their way into her set.

 

If Kathleen’s songs are soundtracks, Maria Dunn’s are movies.

Someday in the future, at Summerfolk244 perhaps, someone will get up on stage and sing a Maria Dunn song and say it’s traditional. I can think of several tunes that would be in the running, but the odds on favourite in my family would be, “Can you Blame the Poor Miner”. My son knew it by heart when he was nine.

 

The characters in Maria’s songs are drawn from history and from the contemporary struggles, resilience and grace of ordinary people. Like listening to any good storyteller, you come away from her concerts knowing more than when you went in.

 

She is firmly in the “show don’t tell” school of songwriting and storytelling, singing about social justice for sure, but the calls to action come from making you empathize with the experience of others, rather than shouting declamatory phrases. She wants you to hear the story and then decide where you stand. She’s not going to direct you to your spot.

 

For the past few years, Dunn’s “go to” band has been Solon and Jeremiah McDade and their sister, Shannon Johnson. They will be with her at this year’s Summerfolk. Their impeccable playing compliments her sure melodies, supports her lark-like voice and provides echos of her celtic roots. 

 

You can catch Main Stage sets from Maria Dunn and Kathleen Edwards at the Amphitheatre on the Friday night of this year’s Summerfolk Music and Crafts Festival. Join us on August 16, 17, 18 at Kelso Beach Park in Owen Sound for three days of music, crafts, food and comraderie. You’ll find all the information you need to know and more at summerfolk.org.