Essays

A page for the long-winded posts that don’t seem to fit on the main blog… Brew a cup of tea and pack a snack, you might be here a while…

 


 

It comes but once a year…

For a lot of Vancouverites, the Vancouver Folk Music Festival is better than Christmas. For starters, the weather is (usually) better and the days are oh so much longer. But the main reason the folks gather in Jericho Beach Park each July is for the music.

The Vancouver Folk Music Festival is legendary and the 35th annual festival lived up to the reputation. I don’t even know where to start, it was such an epic weekend, but I suppose the beginning is as good a place as any.

Sunday night Main Stage panorama

 

What is Folk Fest?

The Vancouver Folk Music Festival (VFMF) is three-day festival featuring, you guessed it, folk music from around the globe, performed in a beautiful outdoor venue. The first annual VFMF took place in Stanley Park one rainy weekend in August 1978. The following year the festival moved to Jericho Beach Park and it’s been going strong there ever since, with attendance averaging around 30,000 annually. These are the most colourful, open-minded, spirited people you’ll meet all year.

 

I’ve been attending the festival since I was an infant, thanks to my folkie parents, my dad in particular. He was in the park for that very first festival and has been to every single VFMF since then (except for last year when they were out of town on a road trip across Canada, attending other folk music festivals along the way, of course). They took my eldest brother to the second annual VFMF in a mud suit when he was just one year old and they reminisce about carting us kids to Jericho in apple boxes, wagons, and strollers; backpacks stuffed with bathing suits and towels or rain gear and tarps, depending on the weather. My brothers and I attended sporadically throughout our teen years but I’ve felt a stronger connection to the festival in recent years since they’ve partnered with my favourite local radio station, 100.5 The Peak, and more “mainstream” headliners have started performing on the main stages. As Veda Hille sang in her brilliant Memory Project tribute to the VFMF on Sunday night, it is a “ritual.”

Sights from around the park

Sights from around the park

 

Why You Should Go

If you’ve never been to Folk Fest, you’ve been missing out. Our very own Jericho Beach Park is transformed into an oasis of peace, love, music, and dancing for three wonderful days. Thanks to the efforts of 1500+ volunteers, the rest of us get to just show up and enjoy the workshops and concerts.

There are seven stages around the park for daytime concerts and workshops. At the workshops, a few performers gather on a small stage for an hour or so and do their thing. The artistic directors of the festival give each workshop a theme like “I-5 meets 99” (featuring artists from Seattle and Vancouver), “Joyful Sounds” (Sunday morning gospel), or “This is What Solidarity Sounds Like” (featuring the superlative Ani DiFranco). The artists usually take turns performing songs, but the real magic happens when there’s spontaneous collaboration and the whole stage erupts into a frenzy of riffs, solos, and harmonies. You won’t hear anything like it anywhere else.

Folk Fest Weather

Two very different experiences at Stage 3: a sunny scorcher of a Saturday and thunder-showers on Sunday morning.

 

Making the Most of the Weekend

Planning Ahead for the Main Stage

On Friday, Saturday, and Sunday nights, the main stages are the place to be from 5pm to 11pm. Up until a few years ago, there was only one main stage for the evening performances but they’ve been expanding and this year there were three!

In order to have a great spot to watch the evening concerts at the big (original) main stage, it pays to show up early in the day. Best case scenario, you’re there when the gates open around 9am and make the run-walk to the main stage with the other early birds to claim your territory with a tarp or blanket. (This was once referred to as the “Birkenstock 500” but organizers now try to discourage folks from running and clamoring to the front of the stage as folks have been injured in the past. Thanks to my mom and dad for being our stage-rushers this weekend and securing us some awesome real estate for all three nights!

Daytime

As for the daytime workshops (10am to 5pm), just be aware that it’s impossible to see everything. But if you have a plan and are prepared to walk around a bit, you can see and hear a heck of a lot.

Around 60-70 performers come from all over the world to play at the VFMF each year and I’m usually only familiar with a handful of them. I generally take the following approach to making sure I see the best of the best:

  1. Make a note of familiar artists when the festival lineup is announced and plan to be at their daytime workshops and main stage performances.
  2. Ask my mom, dad, and other folkie friends who they are excited to see and make a point of checking a few of them out.
  3. Buy a program and bring a pen. Read about the artists and make notes about who looks interesting.
  4. When I’m at a loss or feeling adventurous, I just wander around the park until I hear something I like, then I set up my chair and get comfortable or drop my gear and dance with the other folkies.
  5. If the sun or rain is too much to handle (if you arrive at 9am and plan to stay till the bitter end, it can be a long day!), find some shade at Stage 2 or 3 and kick back for a quick nap.

 

Non-Musical Highlights from 2012

I’ll begin with the non-musical moments, and work my way up to the good stuff.

Introducing a Friend to Folk Fest

It is always a treat to bring someone who has never been before to their first Folk Fest. This year my friend K was my folkie buddy for the weekend. She had to be up for work at an ungodly hour every morning but she was a trooper and came to meet me at the beach each night. We dined, we danced, we made memories. Safe to say, we had an amazing weekend and she will be back next year.

Folk Fest Skies

Folk Fest Skies

 

My Dad: A VFMF Legend

First Annual VFMF Program

From dad’s collection, the first ever VFMF Program

As I mentioned, my dad has been to the VFMF every year, with one exception. During a set change at the main stage on Saturday night, the emcee (Grant Lawrence from CBC Radio 1 and 3) was quizzing the audience with Folk Fest trivia. Here’s how it went down…

Grant Lawrence: “Who was the emcee at the first ever VFMF?”

My dad: “Peter Gzowski!” (We were too far back from the stage for him to hear us.)

Audience near the stage: various incorrect guesses.

My dad: (louder) “Peter Gzowski!”

Audience near the stage: more incorrect guesses.

The crowd of folks around our blanket: (very loud) “Peter Gzowski!!!”

We eventually caught his attention and I ran up to the stage, nimbly hopping around blankets, chairs, and bodies, to collect my dad’s prize: a CBC Radio 1 shirt, size Youth Large. It definitely won’t fit my dad and probably won’t fit me either, but he knew that bit of trivia because he is one of the original Vancouver folkies and he deserves the recognition. Having attended for so many years—in the burning sun, pouring rain, in sickness and in health, etc.—is quite an accomplishment and I’m sure only a small group of diehards have earned that badge. Lots of folks cheered and smiled as I made my way back to our blanket and I was pretty proud to have shared that moment with all of them.

Meeting Artists Face-to-Face

Another awesome part of the VFMF is the fact that many performers wander around during the day to hear other performances and see the sights. As such, I was able to walk right up to two performers who blew me away and tell them just that. The first was Jonathan Russell from The Head and the Heart and the second was Daniel McBurnie from Good for Grapes. It just feels good to be able to tell someone how good their music makes you feel.

The Happy Couple

I’ll let the photos tell the story:

Congratulations to the Happy Couple

A final memorable non-musical moment: Seems these newlyweds weren’t expecting a huge folk music festival to interfere with their wedding photos. Luckily, the volunteers decided to let them come in, escorted, to get the shots. What an experience on your wedding day!

 

Musical Highlights from the 35th Annual Vancouver Folk Music Festival

Okay, okay, I’ll get to the good stuff now, finally!

Of the shows I saw this weekend, these were huge highlights for me and, if I do say so myself, you should check them out:

Established Artists Who Delivered

  1. The Head and the Heart
    This newish band from Seattle has a bright sound, dynamic melodies, and amazing harmonies. I couldn’t agree more with their website: “The strength of Josiah, Jon and Charity’s vocal harmonies on the album makes it feel like these three were born to pour their voices together, as the band’s songs revel in jaunty bass lines with ebullient handclaps peppering the best moments…this is an album for people who unabashedly sing and drum along on the steering wheel”. I am one proudly one of those people. Though she doesn’t sing on all the tracks, Charity’s solos on Saturday night were heart-stoppingly good.
  2.  

  3. Hey Rosetta
    A bunch of good Canadian kids from St. John’s with heaps of musical talent and a brilliant poet for a songwriter. With enough band members to comprise a small orchestra, their sound is beautifully layered. They penned the most memorable anthem from the 2010 Vancouver Olympic Games, “Red Heart,” but their catalogue is full of gems. I try not to miss a show when they come to town.
  4.  

  5. Dan Mangan
    Vancouver’s own delivered once again at the VFMF, this time closing the main stage on Friday night and leading a couple workshops on Saturday and Sunday. With his gravelly voice, strong lyrics, and adorable beard, (not to mention the nine-piece band that backs him up) he’s a home-town favourite, for sure.

 

Delightful New Discoveries

  1. Good for Grapes
    If you love the full, sweeping sound of Mumford and Sons, but always wished there was a daughter in the bunch, you’ll thoroughly enjoy this Vancouver band. These boys (and one girl) are young, and it shows in their boundless energy on stage. Percussion radiates from their bones and the crowd couldn’t resist the beat. Apparently, and not surprisingly, their star is rising fast, so get out to see them at their next local show.
  2.  

  3. Dala
    This duo from Ontario met in a high school music class and started singing together in 2002. Theirs are another pair of voices that were just meant to be together. Beautiful harmonies, catchy piano riffs, sweet lyrics, and funny banter on stage made for a lovely concert in the park on Sunday afternoon.
  4.  

  5. Bombolessé
    When I heard the words “Brazillian samba,” I made a note in my program and made sure I was back at Stage 3 for Bombolessé’s evening concert on Saturday night. Their intense energy and irresistible rhythm tumbled off the stage and, as their website advertises, they got the “dancers thinking and thinkers dancing,” while singing in French, Portuguese, Spanish and Creole and busting a move on stage.

 

Honourable Mentions

In no particular order… Man, the two coasts sure produce some amazing music.

  1. River City Extension (NJ)
  2. The Barr Brothers (QC/RI)
  3. Amelia Curran (NF)
  4. e.s.l. (BC)
  5. The Cave Singers (WA)
  6. The Once (NF)
  7. Wake Owl (BC)
  8. Royal Wood (ON)
  9. Veda Hille (BC)

 

Lantern Parade

Lantern Parade

 

And then the Lantern Parade…

At the end of each evening, a procession of lanterns floats gracefully around the park during the last performance before guiding the folks out the gates. After a touching finale on Sunday, led by Vancouver’s own exceptionally talented Veda Hille and her Memory Choir, the Folk Fest wrapped up for another year. We enjoyed a lot of sun, endured a little rain, and had our socks knocked off by incredible musicians from around the world.

Thanks for taking the time to read this long-winded post! It was such a big weekend and there was so much to share (and I didn’t even talk about the food)! I hope you’ll join me and the rest of the folks down at Jericho Beach next year 🙂

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One Response to “Essays”

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  1. It comes but once a year… « Like a loose balloon… - July 30, 2012

    […] Essays […]

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