Here we are, getting ready for the Ontario Council of Folk Festivals conference again. Kingston this time; another year gone since Guelph, and two years since Sudbury, and three years after where was it? Oh, yes, Ottawa.
Time to think about next year. Which artists do I have to “sell” to presenters? If you’re a presenter, which artists are you interested in already, and which ones will you discover this weekend?
Ah, but to hell with that! What about LAST summer, when it was hot and sunny and all was semi-well with the world? I’ll bet you’ve got some terrific festival memories – but for what it’s worth, here are a few of mine, in no particular order, except the totally random order in which they popped into my mind as I typed:
* Loreena McKennitt at the Edmonton Festival. Even at the top of the hill, which is usually a party, there was complete silence and attention. Who would have thought that this artist had not performed a full show in seven years? And the new songs are SO touching.
* Oh Susanna at the Stewart Park Festival. Who knew that, later that night, she gave birth to Salvador, two months prematurely? And let me cheerfully add that the baby is fine, has more hair than you can imagine, and is strong and healthy and looks like his dad.
* Sarah Harmer at Mariposa. After a massive deluge which incapacitated the main stage, a hard-working crew managed the impossible – and set it all up in the beer tent! Sarah delivered under trying circumstances, and won the audience. As did the Arrogant Works and Serena Ryder.
* John Prine at Edmonton. I’ve known John since 1970, when he and Steve Goodman made their debuts at Mariposa; he did the best set at Edmonton I’ve ever heard from him. Alas, he was one of the too-many artists at Edmonton who performed what Randi Fratkin calls “fly-by sets.” They fly in, hide backstage, do their sets, are spirited away to a different and more upscale hotel, and leave the next day. No workshops, no schmoozing with other performers – and no chance for folk like me to say hi!
* Eliza Gilkyson at Falcon Ridge. American festivals are VERY different from ours, but just as much fun. And Eliza was brilliant, as those who saw her at OCFF last year know full well. Of all the American singer-songwriters, she has the specific goods on George “Blame Me” Bush (oh, we will, we will). And who knew that this woman could possibly become such a pertinent, tough-edged songwriter after her earlier “new age” recordings?
* Michael Johnston at Stewart Park and at City Roots City Wide in Toronto. Charming, funny and fey. Another OCFF discovery last year who’s developing as a major talent faster than anyone could believe. He also has a terrific song to sing to audiences if he has to adlib and the show’s starting late without a sound check.
* Serena Ryder at Pride in Toronto. I hadn’t seen her perform in six months. Who knew such a strong talent could improve so radically? She killed the audience, and her endless tours in Australia have given her even more on-stage confidence. Which, thank God, has not translated into cockiness.
* Mel Brown at the Smith’s Falls Blues Festival. Interviewing him for local cable TV, he delivered an impassioned speech urging young people not to smoke. Too late, alas, for this veteran bluesman, who may be hooked up to a rolling oxygen cart, but can sing and play as well as he ever did.
* Karla Anderson at Edmonton. Oh, I know, you’ve never heard of her. But she’s an alt.country winner with a great voice and terrific songs. Right up there in my “discovery list” with Winnipeg’s Romi Mayes!
* Fruit in the Festival Quiz Wrycraft and I did at Falcon Ridge. These women are SO funny, so energetic, so open to their audiences, and they have such a good time. They can also drink me under the table. They still haven’t written a song that remains in my memory for more than 30 seconds, but who cares?
I’m sure every lots of music fans can match and better this list. Alas, I didn’t go to the festivals in Ottawa (damn, missed Kalen Porter), Lunenberg, Vancouver, Canmore, Vancouver Island, Winnipeg or Calgary, and I also missed Hillside and Blue Skies, and my annual visits to Owen Sound have been curtailed by a board member there who says I would only attend “over his dead body.”
The folk festival circuit remains a vital part of the summer life that allows us to face the dreary, damp, cold, snowy months we are about to experience.
Remember the summer.
And plan for an even better one in 2006!