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

When I became the Artistic Director of Summerfolk eight years ago, it was all very new to me. I’d been a performing songwriter for most of my life. I played hundreds of folk festivals around the world though and I thought I might have some insight I could bring to the table. Still, on the Friday morning of the festival, I was a bundle of nerves.


I got a call from my good friend, Mitch Podolak who had started the Winnipeg Folk Festival and had a hand in the creation of the Calgary, Edmonton and Vancouver Folk Festivals. He even provided some guidance to Summerfolk in its early years. His message for me was simple — I had done everything I was supposed to at this point and that my job for the rest of the weekend was to stand back and let the volunteers show me how the festival was run. Best advice ever.


So here we are, It’s Friday morning, there’s a festival coming and there is no stopping it. People have been lining up all morning at Kelso Beach. At four-thirty this afternoon the gates open and Summerfolk44 begins. For the past week, the site has been built, the artisans have arrived, the performers are checking into the hotel and the food vendors are cooking up their specials. Sound crews have set up the 6 stages. Everything is ready to go


Still, things are a little busy around here at the moment, so please forgive me if my article is a little different this week.


Some of the hard-hardest working people in the past month have been our summer staff, Hanna, Skylar and Caitlin. I wanted to find out what they were looking forward to at this year’s festival, so here are their picks…

L to R: Hanna, Skylar, Caitlin

Hanna (Volunteer Managing Coordinator) is looking forward to Alysha Brilla. And who wouldn’t? Alysha has travelled an amazing road as an artist, from label bound to completely independent. Along the way, it freed her up to express the things she has wanted to say politically.


Hanna has also flagged the No Nukes, Just Dukes workshop on Saturday morning with Union Duke and Sammy Duke. Both are high energy and highly entertaining and the workshop is sure to blow the top off the Down by the River tent.


Skylar (Social Media Coordinator and Assistant to the Artistic Director) casts yet one more vote for Union Duke, anywhere they can catch them if I am not running them ragged. They are also looking forward to Summerfolk veteran, Garnet Rogers who is Summerfolk royalty and a national treasure —  a writer of epic songs and a master interpreter of others’ work.


Caitlin (General Manager’s Assistant) is looking forward to the Artisan’s Village. With over 40 one of a kind artisans, there is a lot to look at. I tried to find out if there was anything in particular in the Artisan’s Village that she was looking for, but she said that she just loves to “window shop” and she likes to take it all in. Musically, she is looking forward to Gangstagrass who will close out our Amphitheatre stage on Saturday. A lot of people are also looking forward to the pairing of them with Union Duke at the Summerfolk Farewell at nine on Sunday night in the Down by the Bay tent. She is also looking forward to the West Coast band, Carmanah. Their dreamy melodies and solid lyrics are going to win them a lot of fans. They will open the Main Stage tonight at 5:50 and will be about all weekend.


That’s a great place to start. Let me add these… Kathleen Edwards will be closing out the Amphitheatre stage this evening from ten to eleven, but there are two more hours of dancing to be had at the Down by the Bay tent from eleven to midnight with Union Duke and The Paperboys. Other Amphitheatre acts not to be missed are Gangstagrass, William Prince and The Once.

There are amazing workshop sessions all weekend. You won’t want to miss Songs from a Hat, our yearly audience versus the pros’ session in the Down by the Bay tent on Saturday afternoon. You might want to take in some Eastern European dance on our Down by the River stage as well.


All weekend long there are children’s crafts, and displays, concerts and the colourful children’s parade on Sunday afternoon. There are crafts to buy, craft demos to attend, some open stage slots, a wine bar with live music during the day and a live stream of the Amphitheatre stage in the evenings. There is food, libations, a beautiful lake to swim in and more music that you can stick in your ears.


I can hear the pipes, it’s time to roll. We’ll see you at Summerfolk44. For information, check out summerfolk.org


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