Vancouver Folk Music Festival
Trip Start Jan 19, 2006
28Trip End Nov 24, 2006
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Basically the Folk Music Fest is a massive annual festival that takes place in a super picturesque location in Vancouver. It is right on the beach with views of mountains, marina, and downtown. What an address!! So, 25, 000 people over the course of the weekend pile into the Jericho Beach Park and wander around the 6 stages. It's like any big day out or womad festival - but basically with world music. It's called the folk music fest, but it's not all banjos and ukuleles. It's in it's 29th year and many of the volunteers and festival go-ers - have been to every one of them!
I was approached by the Operations Manager to see if I wanted to become one of the committee coordinators, which meant my job would be to pull together a village of non-profit organizations. My role basically meant taking applications, figuring out how much space we had, choosing which organizations fit with the festivals theme, which organizations fit with the various bands message, and all the little things that went along with organizing the little community area, setting up the site, and being around all weekend to make sure they were all doing ok.
Anyhoo, the event was this past weekend, and all went reasonably well. Luckily I was super organized and made sure everything went smooth. The organizations were all pretty much a bunch of whingers, but we all survived.
It was very amusing when the gates opened at 9.30 each morning you would hear all the hundreds of people lining up outside cheering and then you would hear the stampede! Everyone lining up would sprint to the main stage area where they would stake out their territory with their blankets and chairs! It was hilarious. Apparently it has become known as the Birkenstock marathon. Heheh! All hippies! There is a rule that anyone more than 3 inches off the ground would be pulled out of the audience area - and off to the side, so everyone brings their "Folk Music Festival Chairs" (they sell them there) which are low off the ground. (I think I was the only one without one!)
The bands tho... were definitely worth checking out. I'm no folk music fan, by any stretch, but went and had a look at a few of the artists and was very pleasantly surprised. Most of the sessions were collaborative. Apparently that is a folk fest 'thing'. Not many bands get their own gig, they sit up on stage with 2 or 3 other performers who would not usually play together - and take it in turns to sing a song - then they usually have the other performers join in and 'jam' with them. It's a pretty cool concept. There was an awesome collaboration between 4 chicks last night. 1 from Nunuvut, Denmark, New Zealand and Latin America. It was very cool seeing them all jam with their completely different styles.
Here are my picks - if you're interested in checking them out: (Craig - this is mainly for your benefit!)
These guys were for sure my favourites. I saw them first, and they were young - folky, but super funky. Sang some really old school songs, but put so much energy into them. They were great. One of the members is a grandson of Pete Seeger. - so has some pretty amazing Christmas gatherings as you could imagine.
The New City Ramblers
I hadn't heard of these guys, but they are Seeger family members, one is Mike Seeger and I'm not sure who the other is. Had a chance to see them play with the Mammals later on - which was great. Quite the family affair! There were all sorts of harps, ukuleles, banjos, guitars, drums, bass, one of them even played the spoons! (they really aren't used enough these days) - it was a lot of fun. Rumour has it these 'ramblers' influenced peeps like Jonie Mitchell and Bob Dylan etc etc. They've been playing for 49 years, and still have it! Not old sounding at all.
Kelly Joe Phelps
This guy is very mellow country. Has the softest voice, and great storytelling songs. A great cd for a mellow sunny afternoon. A young Ray Wylie Hubbard.
This chick actually made my jaw drop. The cutest most petite little young Inuit girl from Nunavut with the softest voice. She is a traditional throat singer, and was softly trying to explain how the sounds come from her vocal chords - not from her mouth. She explained that each sound has a traditional meaning (such as the sounds of the dogs, sound of sleds on the snow etc) but she has 'mixed it up' by having a guy on stage with her, who mixes her sounds live. That's quite amazing in itself. So she makes her sounds and he grabs them and puts them on a loop, while she sings the next bit over the top. Really amazing!
So, she starts her song - and it shocked the life out of me! These throat sounds kind of sounds like gruff - like she's clearing her throat. I took a little vid - I'll attach it - see if you can hear it. It's not at all what I imagined this little soft spoken girl was going to come out with. Not something that I would play at home - but a real incredible thing to see. She had so much stage presence that she exploded!
This guy is a Canadian, some funny songs, some serious songs, interesting voice. One of my favs.
She is a Canadian from Ontario who I guess has started to make an impression. She has one Juno awards (the Canadian Aria) and was incredibly popular at the festival. She is kinda rocky - and has a fabulous voice. Worth checking out. I guess she'll be the next big thing out of Canada. She's popular with the 'trendy' folk.
This chick is from Aetoeroa (sorry Luce, not sure how to spell it) in NZ. She a Maori singer with a voice to die for. Not my style of music, but I went back to see her a second time, coz her voice was so great.
This chick packs a punch. She's an African American from the heart of Texas, with a voice to knock your socks off. She sang some gospel, some folk, some country. Fantastic. Could watch her again and again.
She's an old school classic Canadian songwriter who was very well received by the older folk at the festival. She had a great voice, but again not particularly my style. She collaborated with Tanya the throat singer but seemed a bit too conservative to improvise her with - so just sat there. It was a shame. Her music was a bit lovey/spiritual. Not my favourite, but definitely worth a mention on the list.
This guy was hilarious! From New Mexico and somehow has a really big Vancouver following. He's got some real wacky songs, and has a wiry voice. Not what I would call folky, but I saw him 3 times and he packed out his stages every time with people all singing the words to his songs. Young / old - they all loved him.
He's an old school dude. I'm not sure if he's Canadian or American, but he's been around the block! He'd probably be in his or 80s and would have more records than I have had hot dinners. He was lots of fun, very folky country, but definitely worth checking out. I had lunch at his table in the backstage area on one of the days and listened to him tell stories. He's quite political for an oldie, with a real funny sense of humour... Particularly in his song for his grandson about his pee pee. Funny ol' guy!
Ray Wylie Hubbard
An old school Texan who has been around the block and half way back again. Very perfect for a folk music festival. (Maybe in his 60s). Of course that was until he sang this random song about Snake Farms. Really strange! He's classic country folk - acoustic guitar, strong American accent in his songs, etc... He was great. I enjoyed him.
There was also an Aussie band called Ganga Giri - which everyone rocked out to on the mainstage. They were the headliners for Sat night. Didg and beats basically. Not unlike most of the bands up in Darwin. Funky, but not really my scene.
The festival itself is quite an operation. Very political, environmental and socially aware. (just my kinda festival) - although it has become known as the "Dyke Festival" by some!
Every person (all 25 000) that buys a meal, has to rent a plate for $2. Once you finish, you take your plate to one of the many plate refund stations and get your $2 back. This has reduced the rubbish in a huge way.
You couldn't get a drink in the backstage area unless you brought your own cup - or you could go out into the general area and buy a plastic cup for $2 or a souvenir cup for $6.
There are recycling stations, which are all monitored - and people tell you where your trash goes. Plastic cutlery/compost/plates etc... then it is all sorted by probably the most dedicated volunteers of all - where they sort all the rubbish into different areas.
The whole festival is staffed with volunteers. There are probably 10 people who work at the office to coordinate it and get paid for it. The rest of the 600 odd people looking official are volunteers. There is a bike lock-up area with a team of bike monitors (encouraging people to ride instead of drive), a signer on stage for every performance to translate the lyrics to all the deaf festival goers, there is a dedicated handicapped entrance, all volunteers get free tix for the weekend, a free program, are fed twice a day, free juice/coffee/tea - apparently they even get free massage (but I didn't get the memo), and generally get very much looked after.
So it was a pretty amazing event to be a part of. I would never have heard of any of these musicians if it wasn't for the festival - so all of my long nights leading up to, and long days over the weekend were worth it!