New Acoustic Music Congress
In the beginning was the Dawg. This is not a reference to some obscure religious cult but rather to Dave Grisman. If any one group can be said to have started the new acoustic music trend, it was Grisman’s quintet of the late 70’s. Starting from bluegrass, the group fused jazz, country, bits of old-timey, the odd piece of rock, and even a little classical into a synthesis which, while based in the folk idiom, took acoustic string band music somewhere entirely new. Three members of the New Acoustic Music Congress are alumni of this founding entity. Darol Anger, wizard of the fiddle, Mike Marshall, guitarist and mandolin player extraordinaire and Todd Phillips, extraordinary bass player and mandolin player, all worked with Grisman through the late 70’s and early 80’s. They have joined with Barbara Higbie, an impressive fiddler/piano player, to create a group of enormous versatility and skill. Most of the group’s compositions are original, although they do perform everything from Bach to bluegrass to the Beatles. Improvisation is a very important part of everything they do. For those who have seen Mike, Darol and Barbara at previous Festivals we are sure that this is one of the components of this year’s Festival that you are looking forward to. For those of you that have yet to experience them, you’re in for a real treat
This year Festival goers will be introduced to the power, passion and beauty of dub poetry, and we are privileged to have that introduction made by Lillian Allen, Canada’s premier practitioner. Dub poetry is an extension of the African approach to poetry with a heavy emphasis on the rhythmic life of the word. It developed simultaneously in Jamaica and England in the late 1970’s and is now reaching increasingly large audiences. Lillian Allen’s poems articulate the position of being a black immigrant woman struggling in the Canadian metropole. Her work is a serious reflection of love, oppression, hard times and fighting back. She was born in Jamaica and much of her life story typifies the reality of tens of thousands of immigrants from “The Islands”. Her first work in Canada was as a babysitter ($15.00 per week; 5:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m.). She graduated to working for minimum wage in a bookbinding factory and then as a domestic in New York. In the mid 70’s she began to study and has since developed into an accomplished poet. We think that she is going to add something brand new to this year’s Festival.
Dan Ar Bras
We’ve wanted to have Dan Ar Bras at this Festival for years. Ever since we began hearing this amazing guitar player on Alan Stivell’s records, on anthologies of fiddle tunes performed on guitar, on the recorded work of almost anyone who was exciting in the French folk/rock scene in the 70’s or on his own solo albums, we have wanted to bring him to Vancouver. Finally, we have the chance. Dan Ar Bras is from Brittany and is known as one of the leading practitioners of the revival of Celtic music. He, along with a number of other French musicians, breathe new life into traditional tunes. Coming from a generation that has been profoundly influenced by the rock music of the 60’s, Dan joins the power of the rock idiom with the traditional music forms of Celtic and French culture. He also has begun to compose tunes and write songs which extend the possibilities of the traditional repertoire. In Europe, Dan Ar Bras is well known to anyone who has an appreciation of contemporary folk music. In North America he is a bit of a cult figure. His name has appeared on some great records and he has been often heard of, but rarely heard. We think guitar lovers are about to be swept off their feet by this important musician.
The last twenty years have seen the development of large audiences for traditional music from the British Isles. However, until fairly recently, Wales and Welsh music was a relatively unknown quantity. People used to think that the only thing Welsh people did was to sing in choirs of 200 or 300 people, especially if they were coal miners. Well Ar Log (On Hire in Welsh) certainly turned our heads around. On their first visit here in 1982 the group astonished us with the beauty, complexity and sheer uniqueness of traditional Welsh music and song, not to mention a clog dance performed with a broom (which is impossible to describe, let alone perform). One of the most exciting aspects of Ar Log is the triple harp, the quintessential Welsh instrument. The group has added an accordion player, Stephen Rees, to the talents of Dafydd Roberts, Gwyndaf Roberts, Geraint Glynne Davies and Graham Pritchard. With harp, flutes, violins, mandolin, guitar and voice, Ar Log performs music that is both powerful and haunting. Frankly, we didn’t know if we’d ever get a chance to see them again and are honoured that they have chosen to return to Vancouver.
Avner The Eccentric
A police record is usually an impediment to making a living. However, anyone who has an entry in the records of the Paris police with a charge of “buffoonery in public” is all right in our books. Avner Eisenberg comes from Atlanta, Georgia. Although he wanted to be a doctor, his parents forced him into performing on the streets. Since the late 60’s, Avner has developed his juggling abilities and, in particular, his talents as a mime extraordinaire. He has delighted audiences the world over. A few years ago Avner was present at the Vancouver Folk Music Festival as part of the Chattaqua show which the Flying Karamazov Brothers brought here. Some of you might remember his performance on the main stage that year when his talents as a mime silenced a howling mob of 10,000 and then brought them to their feet for a standing ovation. Very simply, Avner the Eccentric is one of the leaders of the New Vaudeville movement which has resuscitated the various arts and crafts of that genre. You’ll have to see him for yourself and we are delighted that he is back.
Tony Bird and Morris Goldberg
Tony Bird has become familiar to Vancouver audiences since we brought him here for the first time in 1979. His unique vocal style and strange combination of musical influences has built for him a large group of fans. Tony comes from Malawi in South Africa and, though it has been well over a decade since he lived in Africa, he remains profoundly influenced by its music, culture and politics. His approach has been influenced by American country music, British and American rock and folk music, and African popular music. That’s quite a stew! All this provides a foundation for Tony’s great talent as a songwriter, whether it be love songs, the songs which passionately attack the oppression of South Africa or songs which describe the beauty of the African countryside. Tony is a major talent. This year we are lucky that Morris Goldberg is returning to Vancouver to accompany Tony. On pennywhistle or saxophone Morris, a great jazz player who is himself from South Africa, matches Tony’s tunes and lyrics and extends them. Both Tony and Morris are virtuosos in their chosen fields and together they produce a musical partnership which is wonderful. It’s great to have them back.
Ken Bloom and Julian Kytasty
What can you say about Ken Bloom? He plays everything and every kind of music. It was an open question for years whether the guitar, clarinet, Northumbrian small pipes, zither or ? would end up being his true musical love. Well, after abandoning the wandering life of the itinerant folk musician and settling down in New York, Ken is returning for a long overdue visit, this time with the Ukrainian bandura. Ken has been building, teaching and playing bandura for quite a while now and, although he has not abandoned the myriad of other things he does, this instrument will be the centerpiece of his performances here. Now that doesn’t mean you won’t still be able to hear all those hokey and absurd country songs performed on the concert zither, or the guitar pyrotechnics that got him gigs with people like Linda Ronstadt, Dave Bromberg and Steve Goodman. Ken may still tap on the wealth of material he garnered playing in Turkish wedding orchestras while putting himself through law school. The man is diverse – let’s leave it at that. Accompanying Ken at this year’s Festival will be Julian Kytasty, a premier bandura player in his own right. We can only await the great Ukrainian musical feast that they are going to serve.
Martin Carthy has been to Vancouver before as a solo performer and as a member of the Watersons (the superb family singers from Yorkshire). He is returning this year as a member of Brass Monkey, an amalgam of some of the finest musicians on the English folk scene today. In addition to Martin, Brass Monkey is John Kirkpatrick (anglo concertina button accordian, melodeon, vocals) who has performed solo and with his wife Sue Harris, Steeleye Span, the Albion Country Band and Richard Thompson; Howard Evans (trumpet, flugelhorn) of Home Service and the National Theater (he’s even on the Star Wars soundtracks); Martin Brinsford (mouth harp, drum, saxophone) from the Old Swan Band; and Richard Cheetham (trombone). It’s difficult to describe the sort of music Brass Monkey plays. Some have termed it a cross between English traditional music and Junior Walker and the Allstars. Folk songs with horns? Brass band music with words? Suffice it to say that Brass Monkey has an approach which is like no other, whether it’s instrumental pieces or traditional or contemporary songs, and we are lucky to be able to have them at the Festival.
By and large blues can be divided into two general styles. Country blues, which reached its zenith in the pre-World War II period, and urban blues, which developed after the War with its locus in Chicago. Jim Brewer defies any easy categorization in either style. He is part of that generation whose careers spanned both eras and whose music carries some of the best aspects of both. Born in 1920 in South Mississippi, the cradle of the blues, he has spent his entire adult life in Chicago. Although his style is rooted in the country his playing is clearly influenced by Chicago blues. He has developed a type of blues which is a blend of country, urban and his own particular style. This makes his music some of the most exciting blues around. He spent most of his career as a street singer in Chicago which, given his loss of sight at an early age, was one of his few options. His repertoire includes original tunes, gospel tunes, and some great tunes by other blues musicians from both the country and urban styles. Jim Brewer is truly the living blues and we are glad that we have the opportunity to bring him to Vancouver.
If it had not been for the work of young blues aficionados who sought out the music and the musicians, much great blues music would have been lost. In many ways, the “re-discovery” of the majority of the blues performers at this Festival is due to people like Andy Cohen. Andy lives in Ohio and has been playing the blues for years. In fact, he was one of the performers at the first Vancouver Folk Music Festival. He is a graduate of the now infamous Cambridge folk singing revival of the early and mid 60’s. Andy is a masterful guitar player and is also quite adept at a wide variety of piano styles. He is also a great blues singer. We appreciate Andy’s work in helping to put together the blues program at this year’s Festival and are looking forward to hearing how he has developed as a performer since he was last here.
Comhaltas Ceoltóiri Éireann
Comhaltas Ceoltóiri Éireann It’s a pleasure to note that the revival and interest in Celtic music, and particularly Irish music, has not been limited to listening. Largely through the efforts of the Comhaltas Ceoltóiri Éireann, hundreds of new adherents have started to perform Irish music over the last few years. Comhaltas was founded in 1951 in Ireland to promote Irish music, song, language and dance which was in danger of vanishing, due to oppression and heavy emigration. The founders sought to revive their culture through activities such as the Old House Ceilidh classes, competitions and collecting music from older performers. They also set up branches in most townsand counties in Ireland. Today Comhaltas has over 400 branches in all of Ireland’s 32 counties and in England, Scotland, France, the U.S., Canada and Australia. Last year the local branch of Comhaltas performed some of their best traditional Irish music for the Festival. Because the Ceilidh was such a success, we asked them to do it again. These musicians are not professionals in the sense that they do not perform music for a living. By day they are machinists, social workers and even an RCMP officer, but in the evening and on weekends they carry on the rich musical traditions of their Irish origins. We are happy to welcome representatives of the Comhaltas back to the Festival. This year you will be able to hear Gerry Bradley (fiddle), Michael Browne (fiddle Kevin Dooley (flute, tin whistle, singer), Jeffrey Kelly (flute, tin whistle), Des Kerr (piano accordian), Johnny McAffrey (piano accordian), Sean Murphy (flute, tin whistle, warpipes, singer) Thomas Standevan (Uileann Pipes, flute, tin whistle, fiddle, warpipes), and Keith Maillard (Uileann Pipes, tin whistle).
Charlotte Cormier and Donald Deschênes
While doing some research on Acadian folk culture we met Charlotte and Donald in Moncton, N.B. It was colder than a banker’s heart, but Charlotte and Donald made us feel right at home and warmed us with hospitality and a real love for traditional Acadian culture. When we left they handed us a tape and said they would love to come to the Festival if we thought that would be a good idea. Well, obviously we did. While we have had a number of singers from Quebec, Acadia has been somewhat neglected. We can’t think of a better person to turn that around than Charlotte Cormier. She comes from Moncton where she founded the Folklore Archives at the Centre of Acadian Studies at the University of Moncton and which she directed for eight years. She has produced radio programs and published a collection of Acadian traditional songs. Most important to us is that not only does Charlotte study the beast, she can also perform the material. Donald specializes in folk music from the Gaspe peninsula of Quebec and he has been singing Gaspesian folk songs for almost ten years. In addition, he is the French editor for the Canadian Folk Music Society journal. For the last couple of years he has also been performing with Charlotte Cormier as a vocalist and guitarist. The music which Charlotte and Donald perform is part of that great body of traditional culture which has survived (and is once again beginning to be appreciated by a larger audience), despite being buried under the weight of the English dominance of culture in Canada. We are proud to be able to welcome them to Vancouver, and to help celebrate the 100th anniversary of the Acadian flag and the rebirth of the Acadian nation.
David “Honeyboy” Edwards Blues Band
‘Honeyboy’ Edwards is one of the last active members of a great generation of blues players who emerged from the Mississippi delta. Born in Shaw, Mississippi in 1915 he first learned to play music from his father, but soon began traveling with Big Joe Williams. Later he worked and traveled with Robert Johnson, perhaps the best known of all delta blues players and a true music legend. In 1942 he was recorded by Alan Lomax. In the late 1940’s, Edwards moved north to Helena. Arkansas and then to Memphis where he worked with Big Walter Hornton, Sunny Land Slim and Howlin’ Wolf. In 1953 Honeyboy moved to Chicago where he has remained ever since. He spent many years playing in various taverns and on the street. In the 60’s and 70’s he came to national and international attention, touring Europe and Japan. Today he remains one of the few active blues musicians left whose blues are rooted in the early years of the idiom. It is an honour to be able to include him as part of this year’s Festival. In Vancouver he will be performing as a soloist and with a band composed of Michael Frank and Frank Frost.
We’ve never heard anything quite like what Ellipsis plays. They describe it as a combination of art music, American and Celtic folk music, classical music and elements of popular music. That doesn’t say much, does it? Suffice it to say that Paul Smith on banjo and fiddle, Robert Kotta on mandolin and guitar, and William Pint on guitar, mandolin and vocals, take a repertoire of traditional tunes and develop it using avant garde classical techniques. A lot of these ideas come from composers such as Steve Reich and Philip Glass, names which may be familiar to some of you. This approach allows the group to take sea chanties, traditional fiddle tunes, or Vivaldi’s Concerto in D for Lute, Two Violins and Continuo, and turn it all into music that is exciting and accessible as well as challenging and innovative. You’ll really have to hear them for yourselves, ’cause like we said at the beginning, we’ve never heard anything quite like what Ellipsis plays. We think you’re going to like it.
The Alexander Eppler Group
Alexander Eppler has been to the Festival twice before. Each time he has astonished us with the music that he and the musicians he brings with him have performed. In the past it has been mainly Russian and Bulgarian, however, this year Alexander is coming to share the joys of Rumanian music with us. Can this follow his infamous “redgrass” band of previous years? Well, Alexander seems to think so. He figures this is the hottest thing he has brought yet. Alexander is a master musician. His studies in eastern Europe have given him a spectacular grasp of the music of that area. In previous years we have heard him perform on balalaika and kaval (Bulgarian flute). This year Alexander is going to bring his cimbalom, which is like a hammered dulcimer with glandular difficulties. We’ve wanted a cimbalom player at this Festival for years. Accompanying Alexander will be Stuart Brotman, Sandra Layman, Maimon Miller and Cathy Whitesides. With fiddles and various other things they promise to tear the joint up with the joy and power of the music of Rumania. Hold on to your hats kids – here we go!
People keep on making comparisons between Ferron and Bob Dylan and Leonard Cohen. We really wish they wouldn’t. First because, as the saying goes, comparisons are odious and secondly because we don’t think that there is anyone you can compare Ferron to adequately. She is a songwriter whose approach is different from anyone we have ever heard. Basically, Ferron is a poet who expresses her poetry through songs. The lyrics are tough, honest, uncompromising and beautiful. Her phrases take you unaware and let you observe from a perspective which is quite simply hers and hers alone. When Ferron first appeared at the Festival back in 1979 she was one of Vancouver’s best kept secrets – a local songwriter who astonished many of the other performers at the Festival. She is now considered to be a world class songwriter. This spring she released her fourth album, Shadows on a Dime. With a four-star review in Rolling Stone and having just completed a wildly successful American tour, we are happy to welcome Ferron home to the audience that was lucky enough to hear her first. We are sure that this Festival is going to be a return in triumph for her.
The Fiddle Puppets
Clogging is a Southern Appalachian folk dance that is a blend of Scottish, English, African and American Indian folk dances. The Fiddle Puppets are four experienced dancers who are dedicated to the preservation and development of clogging. They are Rodney and Eileen Sutton, Bev Stiver and Eddie Carson. Rodney, Eileen and Eddie were founding members of the road team of the Green Grass Cloggers, the group whose innovations and teachings virtually started the current uprising of clogging enthusiasts nationwide. Bev danced with the Cub Hill Cloggers of Baltimore, Maryland for several years. She has also toured Pennyslvania and New England, performing and teaching in public schools. We think the Fiddle Puppets are some of the most interesting clog dancers we’ve seen. Whether as a group or as individuals, they make clogging into an exciting and unexpected art form. They are particularly adept at demonstrating the various components that have produced clogging. They are also great at teaching it to an audience of both children and adults. So get ready to enjoy the Fiddle Puppets and get ready to dance along with them. (Our medical committee may do a brisk business in ankle bandages this year.)
Every year when we write the workshop schedule for the Festival we list the various skills of the performers. Cathy Fink usually has more entries than almost anybody else. Too many in fact allow us to present them all. Kids’ music, women’s music, work songs, old-timey banjo, fiddle, country songs . . . the list goes on. Cathy has developed into one of the best and most versatile performers of old-timey and country music. She is funny, she is a great instrumentalist and she is able to perform a wide variety of material brilliantly. Originally from Baltimore, she spent a long time in Montreal and Winnipeg and has toured Canada with her musical partner, Duck Donald. A few years ago, Cathy returned to the United States and set up shop in Washington, D.C. Typically she has gotten involved in numerous activities – from learning the accordion to working with traditional musicians like Patsy Montana and Ola Belle Reed, and from becoming one of the best children’s performers, to organizing concerts to developing a powerful repertoire of work songs, which deal mainly with women. We feel that she is just about the most exciting solo performer who comes out of the old-timey music scene. It is always a joy to bring her to Vancouver.
Cilia Fisher and Artie Trezise
In general Scottish music has been represented at the Festival primarily by instrumental groups and secondarily by songs. This year we are happy to present something different in the form of Cilia Fisher and Artie Trezise. Although they accompany themselves on various instruments, fundamentally they communicate with their voices. They have a huge and varied repertoire of traditional Scottish tunes as well as many contemporary songs. Recently Cilia recorded an album of songs dealing with fishing, particularly the aspirations and fears of Scots fisherfolk. We found the music exceptional. Cilia and Artie are also in the forefront of the children’s music scene in Scotland. We were delighted when we discovered this because kids’ music is going through a big growth here in Canada. Their repertoire of songs for children is all the more wonderful, as it is largely unknown to North American audiences. We are glad to be able to introduce them to you.
The Robin Flower Band
Robin flower first performed at the Festival in 1980 as a guitar player in Holly Near’s band and since then has returned with her own group. Every time we get to see her we are impressed by the development of her music. Robin began as a bluegrass player but has consistently had a strong commitment to women’s music, political music and, increasingly, her own compositions which can be categorized as New Acoustic music. In fact, a recent issue of Frets magazine mentioned her group as the only women’s band playing this innovative style. She manages, in a way which few others have, to integrate old-timey, bluegrass, contemporary songs, her own compositions, and more into an organic whole. Robin is a master of guitar, fiddle and mandolin and is one of the pioneers among the increasing number of strong women instrumentalists in the folk music scene. It is refreshing to find someone who bridges so many different styles and is at home in all of them. Accompanying Robin at this Festival will be Beth Marlis, Crystal Reeves and Carol Sackatt.
Michael Frank lives in Chicago where, amongst other things, he is a social worker, a record company owner and producer, and a blues harmonica player. His Earwig record label has captured great performances of a number of blues artists who otherwise might never have been recorded. He has been playing the blues since the late 60’s and since the mid 70’s has been working on a fairly regular basis with the ‘Honeyboy’ Edwards Blues Band.
Frank Frost knows the blues. He had one of the best starts possible; when he was 13 years old he fetched harmonicas from the store for Howlin’ Wolf and in return Wolf snuck Frank into the club. By the time he was seventeen he was playing professionally with drummer Sam Carr in St. Louis, and later with Sonny Boy Williams. Frank began on the harmonica and later picked up the piano and organ. For years he played in clubs and honky-tonks throughout the south. In the 50’s he recorded on the legendary SUN record label. Since then Frank Frost has toured widely across the United States and has spent some time in Europe. Frank is known among blues aficionados as one of the great but relatively unknown treasures of the blues scene. We can’t wait to reveal him to the audiences at the Festival.
Last year, having heard wonderful things about Vasilios Gaitanos from a friend of ours in Chicago, we brought him to the Festival. We were surprised. He was, in fact, much better than what we had heard. However, Vasilios kept telling us that we really had to hear him with his band so we figured, what the heck, we’re sports, right? We’ve brought Vasilios back with three of the finest Greek musicians. Vasilios comes from the islands of Sifnos and Crete and, like many Greeks, he became a sailor as a young man. In 1970 Vasilios came to the United States where he began to study piano. Later he joined the orchestra of Mikis Theodorakis where he remained for four years touring the world with this great Greek composer. Since 1974 he has been living in Chicago where he is part of the lively Greek music scene. His songs include the work of many great contemporary Greek songwriters and range from passionate songs about Greece to stirring political anthems. One of the most interesting piano players we’ve heard, Vasilios is also a gifted singer. He is bringing with him George Papadatos, a drummer who has worked with Vasilios since 1974, Alex Galas, one of the finest bousouki players anywhere, and Lucas Charizopoulos.
Girls Who Wear Glasses
Although we had seen both Jan and Rebo before, it was only at a San Francisco vaudeville show that we got a glimpse of what they can really do. It was great! Make sure you don’t miss their stirring version of “Roach Love”. It knocked us out. Girls Who Wear Glasses are Rebo Flordigan and Jan Luby, two seasoned songwriter/performers who have combined their talents to tour the west coast vaudeville circuit. Number three out of four children in a musical family, Rebo was forced into intense musical training at the tender age of five. Despite this cruel treatment, her love for music flourished. Before leaving her beloved home state of Minnesota in 1980, Rebo played with several jazz, rock and soul groups at ALL of the hot spots in Minneapolis. Jan was born on the road to vaudeville parents (a comedy juggler and an acrobat/dancer) who schlepped her and two siblings around in a trailer until settling in Coney Island (N.Y.) when she was seven. Because of this her musical roots are a mix of vaudeville/cabaret and the soul and motown of that N.Y. ghetto, which, luckily, stayed intact when she uprooted to make her escape to the west coast. Together, as Girls Who Wear Glasses (yes, borrowed from that famed Dorothy Parker couplet), they mix shades of soul, jazz, comedy and cabaret, and insist on making spectacles of themselves. Their music is full of vision with the focus on fun.
Good Ol’ Persons
The first thing that caught our fancy about the Good Ol’ Persons was their name. This was back in the 70’s, mind you, when women were particularly active in the bluegrass scene. The band has been playing country music in the Bay area around San Francisco since 1975. They play traditional bluegrass as well as their own songs and instrumental compositions. The band features Kathy Kallick on guitar, Paul Shelasky on fiddle, Bethany Raine on bass, Sally Van Meter on dobro and banjo, and John Reischman on mandolin. Kathy, an extremely underrated songwriter, writes intelligent songs in the bluegrass idiom. Paul is a great fiddler/mandolin player and John Reischman is known as one of the best innovative performers among contemporary mandolin players. You can hear him on some of Tony Rice’s records. Sally Van Meter is one of the few women dobro players we’ve ever heard; Bethany Raine is a great singer as well as an outstanding bass player. The band has already become extremely popular in the west coast country and bluegrass scene and is bound to make lots of new fans this year.
Grant Street String Band
We first met Laurie Lewis when she was playing with Holly Near at the Festival in 1980. Since then she has started her own band, the Grant Street String Band. When we heard their record we were knocked off our electric perch. I mean, it was just so good. Since we decided to feature a lot of west coast bluegrass and old-timey players this year, we knew we had to include the Grant Street String Band. They do great renditions of old-timey fiddle tunes and have a repertoire of great country classics from the Louvin Brothers, Bill Monroe and others. Instrumentally they are a band of virtuoso players and we’re sure you are going to be impressed. The Grant Street String Band is Laurie Lewis on fiddle and vocals, Beth Weil on vocals and bass, Greg Townsend on guitar, Tom Bekeny on mandolin and Avram Siegal on banjo.
Mitch Greenhill & Mayne Smith
Mitch Greenhill is best known as an artist’s agent in folk music and as a record producer (Doc Watson’s latest, Robin Flower’s latest, the San Francisco Mime Troupe. Yes, it’s true), not as a performer. However, his guitar playing stretches back to the dawn of the folk boom in the 60’s and he is also a singer. Mayne Smith is a gentleman and a scholar as well as a great dobro player and singer. Together they have been musical partners for over a decade. The fact that Mitch lives in L.A. and Mayne in the San Francisco area may explain why they don’t tour much. However, lately they have been playing in Europe. Between the two of them they have an extensive and eclectic knowledge of folk music – country music, blues, jazz and more. It is difficult to pin a label on them, a fact they probably enjoy. The best description may be one reviewer’s, who called it “vernacular music”. We figure they are going to be just what the doctor ordered.
In North America one is constantly running into folks who are essentially unheard of beyond their own communities. George Gritzbach is such a person. We’ve been big fans ever since we heard his second album (we heard it before we heard his first), and were knocked out by his songwriting. Later, we heard the first album and were equally knocked out by his guitar playing. George is originally from the southern United States and now lives in Cape Cod. He has a genuine feel for blues, ragtime, jazz and a wicked sense of humour which expresses itself in his songwriting. His blues reflect the fact that he spent a year being tutored by Rev. Gary Davis. We are really happy that we’ll finally get a chance to hear George in person.
Guazapa is the name of a volcano a few dozen miles from the capital of El Salvador, San Salvador. It is in one of the zones controlled by the guerilla armies of the F.M.L.N., the organization that brings together El Salvador’s freedom fighters. Guazapa is also a word which has come to represent courage and perseverence. Grupo Guazapa consists of four Salvadoreans and two Mexicans who sing revolutionary songs from and about El Salvador and its civil war. They are presently based in Mexico where they play an active part in building solidarity with the forces fighting against the American-backed terrorist regime. They perform on a variety of instruments and reflect the rich cultural heritage of Central America. Their songs are both an inspiration and a testimony to the heroism of the people of El Salvador in their fight for liberty. In that spirit, we welcome them to Vancouver. Grupo Guazapa is Maria Laura Arias de Azhar, Juan Daniel Vargas Frescas, Gonzalo Rodriques Gonzales, Carlos Efrain Moreno, Hugo Rolando Preza Ramirez and Jose Orlando Betancurt Rojas.
For almost 20 years, John Hammond has been one of the best of the second generation blues revivalists. He may also be the best known of all the young, urban performers. John’s father recorded many of the blues greats from the 30’s and 40’s, and John grew up steeped in the rich blues tradition. His voice, his guitar, his harmonica – in fact, his whole approach to the music – have allowed him to become incorporated into that tradition which stretches back to the turn of the century. John is partly responsible for helping the blues survive as a living art form. He has travelled and worked with many of the best of the blues artists, and has toured widely in North America and throughout the world. His albums have made blues accessible to thousands. We are glad that John is able to spend a little time with us at this Festival. With so many of the first generation blues performers at the Festival this year, we are happy to be able to have John.
John Dee Holeman & ‘Fris’ Holloway
Although blues is often identified with Mississippi, North Carolina has its own rich and distinct blues tradition. Two of the best exponents of this style of playing are John Dee Holeman and Quentin ‘Fris’ Holloway. John began playing guitar at the age of 14, while Fris began to learn piano at the age of 6. As well as being talented musicians, both are accomplished buck dancers who are able to show off their footwork either to instrumental accompaniment or the sounds of handslaps on the body – “patting juba”. Piedmont style buck dancing is a form that is not often encountered these days. John and Fris’ instrumental, dancing and singing skills provide an enormous amount of variety and we are glad to have Piedmont blues represented at this Festival.
Kansas City Red
Kansas City Red (Arthur Lee Stevenson) is one of the best blues drummers around. He started off in Mississippi in the mid 1940’s playing drums and singing with Robert Nighthawk. Since then he has lead a number of Chicago-style blues bands featuring such blues giants as Jimmy Reed, Albert King, Earl Hooker and Big Walter Hornton. From time to time he has worked with Honeyboy Edwards and will be joining him and the Honeyboy Edwards Blues Band at the Festival. We are happy to welcome Kansas City Red for his first visit.
Last year at the Festival Kin Lalat sang about the situation in their homeland, Guatemala. Their songs expressed both the horrors of the brutal military dictatorship which continues to oppress and massacre the people of Guatemala, and the optimism and courage of the resistance movement. Since Central America continues to be the focus of revolutionary struggles in this hemisphere we felt it would be valuable to bring them back. Kin Lalat is composed of five young Guatemalan singers and musicians who use their music to fight against the Guatemalan dictatorship. Driven into exile, they now live in Nicaragua. Their songwriting and tours to various countries are intended to inform people about Guatemala and to build solidarity with their struggle. To listen to Kin Lalat is to listen to an heroic people and to learn about the joys, sorrows and the reality of their lives. We think the music of Kin Lalat accurately exemplifies the political nature of folk music. Recently they have returned from an extensive tour of Europe where they have recorded their second album. Kin Lalat are Hector Danilo Cardona, Luis Enrique Castellanos, Arnulfo Leopoldo Garcia, Otto Luis Medina, and Nicolas Miguel Sisay. We welcome them to Vancouver.
Back in 1979, a group of young men looking like they just walked off the set of Fiddler on the Roof, proceeded to devastate everyone at the Festival with a loud, brassy blast of Jewish Klezmer music. Founded in 1975, their music has developed from a repertoire of mainly Yiddish tunes to include a great deal of early jazz. Its foundation is the strange Jewish music formed in the early years of the century. There is no way to pigeon-hole exactly what the group is doing. One critic describes their sound as “the vodka-soaked sound of a steam calliope gone mad”. Just as Jewish music assimilated many different influences in North America, since their early years The Klezmorim have developed in a variety of directions. Klezmorim (which translates as itinerent musicians) come from a wide variety of musical backgrounds – jazz, rock, classical and streetcorner music. The present group is composed of David Julian Gray (clarinets, piano, vocals), Lev Liberman (soprano and alto saxophones), Kevin Linscott (trombone), Stephen Saxon (trumpet and cornet), Tom Stamper (percussion), and Donald Thornton (tuba). In 1984 as in 1979 The Klezmorim are going to knock your socks off. Welcome back guys, it’s been a long time.
Lao Deum Folk Ensemble
Each year the Festival prides itself on introducing hitherto unknown styles of music. This year one of our first is the music and dance of Laos, with an ensemble based in Portland and headed by Mr. Lang Rangsith. Because there were no schools for Laotian music in Laos, Mr. Lang began to study traditional music on his own, beginning with the “khoui” (bamboo flute), progressing to the “so-duank” (twostringed fiddle), the “khaen” (bamboo pipes), and finally the “ranat” (xylophone). Between 1938 and 1959 Mr. Lang taught traditional art and music. Following a government request he founded and directed the Lao National School of Music and Art. His group of musicians and dancers performed throughout Asia and in the Soviet Union. In the mid 70’s Mr. Lang immigrated to the United States with much of his family. In 1982 he and his grandson started a Lao music group called Lao Deum. In addition to Mr. Lang, the Lao Deum Folk Ensemble includes Mr. Bounsou Vongdeuane, Mr. Lam Somsanith, Mr. Chareundi Van-Si, and Mr. Boualy Chandravongsri who play a variety of traditional Laotian instruments, and Ms.’s Viradda Phachansitthi, Viphavanh Hornsanith, Viphanphone Homsanith, Vilaykham Homsanith and Vilavanh Homsanith who perform traditional Laotian dances. We are sure that music lovers are going to discover a whole new facet of traditional music with the Lao Deum Folk Ensemble. Make sure you don’t miss this rare opportunity.
Laughing Moon Theatre
“New Vaudeville” has been a development of the last decade. It can best be described as being the highlights of old vaudeville with a rap fit for the 80’s. For folks like us who have always been suckers for a shell game and absolutely enchanted by streetcorner magic and overblown theatrics, the new vaudeville is a delight. We’ve had a fair amount of it here over previous years, however, we’ve never seen anything quite as zany and wonderful as the Laughing Moon Theatre. After we stumbled into a small club in San Francisco and saw the Laughing Moon Theatre, we begged, we pleaded, we wheedled, and they agreed to come to Vancouver. They claim to be widely known as the only vaudeville team whose members were actually raised by armadillos in the southwestern United States. Amongst other things, they delight audiences with the hypnotizing of a fish, with instantly penetrating a sealed wooden packing crate and with pulling a several course meal Out of a gentleman’s tophat. They even poured a glass of wine out of a hat. They did so! So get ready to be amazed by Bliss and Polaris, the Laughing Moon Theatre.
Tess & Len Leblanc
We are not often impressed by unaccompanied Gaelic singing and are generally even less impressed by step-dancing. Although it may be a “faux-pas: to say so, that’s the way it is. However, Tess LeBlanc’s performance at a folk festival in Newfoundland last summer changed our minds. We were enchanted. Tess is one of those local treasures that rarely move on the folk festival circuit. Born in Moncton, New Brunswick, Tess learned both her dancing and singing at home. Most of her singing experience has been in the realm of choirs and such. She sings in English, French and Gaelic and knows songs from the Maritimes, Quebec and the British Isles. Lately she has been studying in the Folklore Department of Laval University in Quebec City. With Tess will be Len LeBlanc, her father and musical influence. Len has a repertoire of Irish, English and Scottish songs from the Maritimes, and has appeared widely with various choirs ranging from his native New Brunswick all the way to Poland. We think you’ll be impressed too.
Rita MacNeil is from Big Pond, Cape Breton, Nova Scotia, a harsh and beautiful land where there is a tradition of shooting straight. She is one of the finest songwriters in this country. A decade ago, Rita was living in Toronto and was featured at the Mariposa Folk Festival. Even then the power of her music and her voice were outstanding. She released an album at that time which may have been the first album of women’s music ever recorded in Canada. After that, Rita moved back to Nova Scotia. In the last few years she has begun to tour nationally with a band that projects beautifully the songs that Rita has written. Her music has evolved since her Mariposa days, but it has retained the same force and basic humanity. Rita McNeil is a unique, powerful songwriter and performer, and we think she will have a very strong impact on audiences at this year’s Festival. Don’t miss her. Accompanying Rita will be Ralph Dillon and Joella Fouldes.
The interest in traditional music among the generation of youth in the 1960’s was not limited to the English-speaking world. In fact, the movement which began the fusion of folk music and rock may have been more innovative in Europe than in North America. For some reason, however, European folk groups rarely gained much of an audience in North America. One of the finest and best known bands to emerge from the French folk-rock scene was Malicorne. Their music is a cause for celebration, awe and amazement. They maintain the original power and beauty of traditional tunes while blending it with rock and roll. The band broke up but has since reformed. This is the first time we have been lucky enough to have one of the top European folk bands at our Festival and we think that you will be surprised and delighted. These guys are hot! Please welcome Jean Marc Alexandre, Frank Gliksman, Gerard Lavigne, Michael LeCam, Gabriel Yacoub and Marie Yacoub.
Gwinyai & Sukutai Marimba Ensemble
Over the last five years, appreciation for African music, both traditional and contemporary, has increased dramatically. We’re pleased to present Gwinyai & Sukutai Marimba Ensemble who perform dances, songs and music from the Shona people of Zimbabwe. They live in Seattle and are based at the Langston Hughes Cultural Centre where they teach and perform. The African marimbas which they play come from Zimbabwe and are very different from the Latin American marimbas. They come in all sizes and range from a deep bass to high soprano. Combined, they produce a sound which is at once inspirational and somehow soothing with its deep resonance. The dances which accompany the music help to create an exceptional blend of sight and sound. Another joy of the group is the fact that several of the musicians are children. In addition to performing, Gwinyai & Sukutai will be teaching some of their skills. It’s great to have them with us. Welcome Sharon Corner, August Drake, Peter Gurney, Kevin Howard, Patricia Petesch, Christopher Sparks, Sheree Sparks, Janet Taylor.
It is almost unnecessary to write a biographical introduction to Brownie McGhee. For millions of people around the world, Brownie McGhee is not simply a blues musician, but the vehicle through which they were introduced to country blues. Along with Sonny Terry, his musical partner for years, Brownie McGhee came to define the blues for many people. He was born in Tennessee 70 years ago and has been performing and recording for over 50 years. He has received a National Heritage Fellowship for his contribution to American music. His blues, influenced by such early blues musicians as Blind Boy Fuller and Rev. Gary Davis, are based on the east coast style which has a somewhat softer sound than the delta blues. In addition to being a superb singer, Brownie is also an exceptionally gifted guitar player. He worked in the original production of Finnegan’s Rainbow on Broadway. We’re thrilled to have Brownie McGhee as a component of our blues program.
Ellen McIlwaine has a somewhat odd biography. In fact, it is odd enough that you begin to partly understand why her music is so distinctive. She was born in Nashville, but from the ages of two to 18 she lived with missionary parents in Kobe, Japan. In the early 60’s she attended a small religious college. By 1966 she was in New York City, having been brought north by Patrick Sky, a folk legend who ruined more than his share of the nation’s youth. Here, she met and played with Jimmy Hendrix just before he left for England. In 1967 she headed a rock group, Fear Itself. By 1969 she was performing solo and had created the guitar style which came to define her. Since then she has worked on the fringes of mainstream music, never fitting the pigeon-hole that has been assigned to her. At the same time, she has developed a loyal audience and has received public acclaim. Her most recent record, Everybody Needs It, won an award as the best independent rock album of 1982. Lately she has been spending a lot of time in Toronto working on new material which continues to draw on traditional blues. From what we’ve heard of this material, we contend that Ellen McIlwaine is still an innovative and dynamic performer. Appearing with Ellen will be one of the finest rhythm sections in Toronto – Bucky Berger of Rough Trade fame, and Terry Wilkins, bass player extraordinaire.
Grizzly Frank Metcalf & Keith Malcolm
What can you say about somebody who plays the moosebones, a jawbone or caribou hooves? We figured if he wasn’t registered as an endangered species, Greenpeace would have gotten him long ago. Grizzly Frank picked up these quaint habits in the Northwest Territories where he fled from an academic career in English literature. Ask him about Blake. He plays old-timey music on the banjo and harmonica, but is best known for accompanying himself and others on the bones. A couple of years ago Frank departed the tundra to arrive in the sunny south, here in Vancouver. He has become quite a figure in the local scene and has also begun to perform for slightly amazed audiences in various parts of the country. Keith Malcolm was born in Ottawa and has been playing traditional old-time fiddle for quite a while. He is generally acknowledged to be the best folk fiddler in Vancouver, playing with various old-time swing and square-dance bands. Together Frank and Keith perform traditional music from the British Isles, Canada and the United States. It is a particular delight to see Keith on the stage since he has volunteered for so many years behind it.
It was only after we had asked Adrian to the Festival that we discovered his credentials. We only knew that he was a poet and that two of his poems had been turned into great songs. Last year Leon Rosselson insisted that we see Adrian at the Edinburgh Festival. We’re good kids, we do what Leon tells us. We went. We were amazed, we laughed, we cried and we went back the next day and the day after that. Adrian Mitchell is a poet, playwright, novelist, lyricist and T.V. dramatist. He has been one of the prime performers in the movement to make poetry public in Britain. He has given more than a thousand readings in schools, colleges, pubs, concert halls, theatres, political rallies, folk clubs, rock concerts and prisons. He’s also given readings throughout the U.S.A., Cuba, Australia, Israel, Bulgaria, Yugoslavia, Italy, Germany and Finland. He was born in London in 1932 and worked as a reporter for several years before becoming a freelance writer. Amongst other credits, he adapted Marat/Sade for the Royal Shakespeare Company. He has written many plays and his poem about Victor Jara, the Chilean song-writer, has been turned into a song, sung by Pete Seeger and Arlo Guthrie (Chorus: “his hands were gentle, his hands were strong”). He has recently published a collection of poems, For Beauty Douglas. If you see it, buy it. If you don’t like it, we’ll buy it from you. Whatever else you do at this year’s Festival, don’t miss him.
Geof Morgan is an example of what can happen to a human being who thinks too much. He had a nice little gig going as a country singer and songwriter in Nashville, but began to question his life as he became increasingly aware of the oppression of women by men and of men by themselves, and the roles men and women are forced to play. While still in Nashville, Geof got involved in the anti-nuclear and the men’s movements. He also began to study dance. He soon defined himself as a men’s movement songwriter instead of a country singer/songwriter. Geof is one of the pioneers of this songwriting movement, a movement which we feel helps to keep folk music relevant. One of the things we like best is that his writing and performances lack the didacticism that sometimes characterizes political music and transforms it into sloganeering. Listen to a song like Goodbye John Wayne or Comes with the Plumbing and you’ll understand. Geof now lives in Bellingham. Washington. He continues to tour and record and has released his second album recently. It is wonderful to have him back.
A couple of years ago we attended a “contact” conference, a gathering where one gets to “shop around for talent”. These things are usually pretty restrained affairs, especially if you’re looking for folk music. We saw Robbie O’Neill perform part of his play “Tighten the Traces/Haul in the Reins” and were absolutely flabbergasted, just like everyone else. I mean, the thing was brilliant! Robbie created the production in 1982 and has since toured across the country, including the Vancouver East Cultural Centre last fall. It took a little doing, but Robbie has agreed to come and perform excerpts from the play. The play is about Leo Kennedy, an old man with cerebral palsy in a small Nova Scotia village. Robbie is a cofounder and current co-artistic director of the Mulgrave Road Co-op Theatre Company in Mulgrave, Nova Scotia. He has also worked with theatre groups in Toronto and Ottawa. From what we hear, he is well on his way to becoming one of this country’s finest actors. Welcome, Robbie.
Denis Pepin & Lisa Ornstein
The fiddle and the accordion are the two most important instruments in Quebecois traditional music. Thus, we thought it appropriate to bring a fiddle and accordion duo to this year’s Festival. Denis plays accordion and he plays it brilliantly. Although only in his early 20’s, he is already recognized as one of the finest button accordionists in Quebec. He is also a skilled piano player. Born in a small village 50 miles west of Quebec City in an area renowned for producing many fine traditional players, he learned the skill by watching and listening to various local musicians. He has a vast repertoire of traditional Quebecois music ranging from regional dance music to compositions by other celebrated accordion players such as Philippe Bruneau. Lisa Ornstein comes from New England and was raised in the mid-west. However, while working as a volunteer at the Library of Congress’ Archive of Folk Song, she came across Quebecois fiddling and was immediately hooked. She began playing this type of fiddle, and in 1978 moved to Quebec. Over the last five years she has been dividing her time between academic studies (she’s finishing an M.A. on a traditional fiddler from Chicoutimi) and playing music. She has toured with Barde and La Bottine Souriante and has worked with a dance troupe in Quebec City. We are glad to welcome both Denis and Lisa to Vancouver for their first performance here.
Punjabi Dance Ensemble
Although the East Indian population of Vancouver is large and significant, the music and dance of that community is rarely heard or seen by general audiences. We hope to correct that oversight. Paul Binning directs one of the finest group of Punjabi dancers in this area. The group performs a style of folk dance (called Bhangra) which is essentially a peasants’ dance and consists of movements which symbolize the various daily routines of the people from that agriculturally rich part of India. It is accompanied by drums and is performed by dancers in colourful costumes. Its origins may be in the 16th century when it was performed by the jungle people of the Punjab area (now a part of Pakistan). Today the Bhangra is a modernized version of its precursor but it still retains its traditional form and values. The dancers have been together since 1972 and have performed in most cities and towns of B.C., as well as in Montreal and parts of the United States. The group includes Paul Binning, Navinder Sahota, Narinder Sahota, Sukhvinder Lali, Sulakhan Orark, Gurmail Grewal, Kulwinder Mann, Raipal Thadi, Pritpal Chima, Devinder Hundal, and P. Lal. Let’s welcome them to their first visit to the Festival.
Yank Rachell with Peter Roller
Yank Rachell is a living country blues legend and the world’s foremost exponent of the blues mandolin. One of his songs, “She Caught the Katy” has become a blues standard. We didn’t think he was travelling and performing much any more (after performing the blues for 60 years, you deserve a rest), until a tape rolled over our desk. Yank is in great form. Well into his 70’s, he is still a consummate storyteller, mandolin player and singer. For years he worked as an itinerant musician making his first recordings back in 1929. He and Sleepy John Estes were one of the original and one of the best blues duets of the 30’s. Yank will be accompanied by Peter Roller, a scholar and performer of American music. Pete is a versatile guitar player with a strong grounding in country blues. He is able to follow Yank’s playing while at the same time making his own contribution to the musical dialogue. Yank says “He’s the only man that could second me on that old stuff since Sleepy John.”
This will be Jane’s third visit to the Vancouver Folk Music Festival and it’s still hard to get enough of her. She defines herself as a “black musician who sings about struggle”. She is an extraordinary singer and piano player who can move effortlessly from gospel, to blues, to work songs, to jazz to original compositions. One of her lesser known facets is as a great singer of children’s songs. This is in part due to the insatiable musical desires of her own children. You’ll have to hear her rendition of “Old MacDonald Had a Farm.” In addition to being a wonderful performer, Jane has been an activist and a folklorist. She is currently the cultural director of the Highlander Research & Education Center in Tennessee. We are happy that she is able to take time Out to come up here and gladden our hearts a little bit. PS. Her album is finally out!
Deborah Silverstein hails from a small town in the Allegheny mountains of western Pennsylvania, and has been singing and writing songs since her childhood. She began to perform extensively when she moved to Boston in 1973 and became a founding member of New Harmony Sisterhood, a five woman string band. That band was one of the first to blend traditional music with contemporary feminist politics. Their album, produced years ago, is still relevant. Deborah also helped produce one of the first collections of songs dealing with women, All Our Lives. Since the spring of 1982, Deborah has been focusing on a solo career. One of her songs, “Draglines,” has been performed so often and by so many people that it may even turn into a genuine folk song. We’ve admired Deborah’s work from afar for a number of years and are excited to be able to hear her in person at this year’s Festival.
For a long time we wondered whether Australia had more to offer than the Bee Gees and Helen Reddy. Eric Bogle’s songs indicated that it did, but we weren’t sure. Judy Small, however, seems to confirm that fact. In 1982 Judy was a guest of Eric Bogle’s at the Festival. At that time she was already an accomplished singer and songwriter, but she had not yet decided to enter the grind of being a full-time performer. Born in 1953 in New South Wales and a product of the 60’s folk music boom, Judy began to sing at folk clubs while attending university. She has a masters degree in psychology and has worked as a youth counsellor, a drug and alcohol counsellor and a community legal educator. Much of her material is political and deals with the reality of women’s lives. One song dealing with Greenham Common may be the best song we have heard yet about the current struggle against nuclear war. Judy defines herself as being part of the group of singers and songwriters to whom “politics is more important than the glamour or the fame, to whom social change is something to be celebrated rather than feared, and for whom music is a joy to be shared rather than just a commodity to be exploited”. Well, Judy, you picked the right Festival – welcome aboard.
Dan Smith was born one of thirteen children in Alabama. He began playing the harmonica at age 18 and played at parties, on streets, and in towns in Alabama and Georgia. Like many of us, Dan gave up playing music as he got older and he didn’t take it up again until he lost his sight at the age of 49 in an industrial accident. However, unlike most of us, when he began playing again he quickly became a master at his instruments and a singer as well. He sings many spiritual and sacred numbers and writes much of his own material. We feel lucky to be able to have Dan at the Festival.
In the last few years, Almeta Speaks has become a regular fixture of the Vancouver music scene and there may be a tendency to see her as a club artist – perhaps a little too polished for us. That tendency needs to be corrected. Almeta was born in Reidsville, North Carolina. Her early influences were church music where she started singing with her sisters, and popular black music of the day. She spent ten years performing in and about New York. A two week gig at George’s (the best jazz club in Toronto) turned into an 11 month contract and Almeta had moved to Canada. She later moved to Vancouver. Right now she is the featured attraction at the bar at the Bayshore. Almeta is a superb blues singer, a great gospel singer and an articulate exponent of the development of black music. And that’s not all. She recently gave a stunning CBC Radio performance of a body of slave tales called GRIOT. We’re very glad to have her at the Festival this year.
After all these years it is a wonder that Stringband is still together. They wonder at this themselves. Yet Stringband both continues and continues to develop in new directions. Marie-Lynn Hammond, one of the founding members lives in Toronto where she has been writing a play based on the lives of her grandmothers. This effort has also produced what may be her best song to date (you can hear it on her brand new solo album). Bob Bosson, another founding member of the band, has grown roots among the sprouts in Kitsilano on Vancouver’s chic westside. He has been working for the CBC, touring as a solo artist, and is deeply involved with anti-nuclear organizations. Stringband’s bass player, Dennis Nichol, has also moved to Vancouver where he is beginning to become a part of the west coast music scene. Recently the band has added a new fiddler, David Harris. Last summer and fall, Stringband went to Europe on a tour which included Scotland’s Edinburgh Festival and the Soviet Union. The individual talents of members of the band are prodigious, but we still think that the whole is greater than the sum of the parts, whether it be traditional Quebecois material, original compositions or a rich hoard of other folks’ songs. Stringband continue to be one of the best things this country has come up with.
Themba Tana & African Heritage
Shortly after the 1981 Festival, Themba Tana walked into our office to chat and to give us some promotional material. He had just arrived in town. The material looked interesting, so we stuck it in a file and waited for a tape. The tape was great and we invited Themba to the 1982 Folk Music Festival. Since then, Themba has been putting together a group, African Heritage, which features Sal Ferraras and Shumba St. Albert. We think they give a most exciting and extraordinary presentation of traditional African music. Themba comes from the black township of Langa outside Capetown in South Africa where opportunities for blacks are incredibly restricted because of the institutionalized racism in that country. In that sense, Themba is a rarity, having studied music in Zimbabwe and travelled collecting music throughout different countries in southern Africa. He is extremely diverse and skillful, making the music come alive. Sal is originally from Puerto Rico and brings the Afro-Caribbean approach to the group. This tradition builds beautifully on the African foundation. Lately he has received a lot of praise for his compositions for dancer Karen Jamison. Shumba (or Albert) has been one of Vancouver’s best percussionists for years. The group uses a great variety of instruments to perform the African music. Don’t miss them – they’re a rare find. P.S. Look for Themba’s brand new album.
They call Jackie Torrence “The Story Lady”. After we had heard her at the story telling festival in Jonesboro, Tennessee a couple of years ago, we knew why. She was wonderful. We were mesmerized. We’d never really appreciated how a good story teller could be; ghost stories, jacktales, all kinds of black folk tales. She can tell a story with so much style that you feel that you’re right in the middle of the scene. Jackie comes from North Carolina where she learned a lot of stories from her grandma. She began telling stories while working as a library assistant. Although much of her work is with children, she is a compelling and absorbing performer with adults. In fact, she is much too good to be wasted on kids. Make sure you get a chance to let her mesmerize you.
We used to think of Trapezoid as an old-timey string band. However, over the last few years the group’s music has begun to move in many directions. We have become more and more intrigued and impressed. Trapezoid draws on the rich heritage and tradition of Appalachian music. On top of that is layered an appreciation of jazz and classical music, the impressive songwriting and instrumentals of different members of the group, and an innovative approach to acoustic music (this approach has some parallels to the new acoustic music phenomenon). That’s a long-winded way of saying they do lots of things well. The band is composed of Paul Reisler on guitar and hammered dulcimer, Ralph Gordon on bass and cello and on his feet clogging, Lorraine Duisit on mandola, bowed psaltery (she’s also the main songwriter) and Freyda Epstein on violin. Together, or individually, they are something special and we are glad to be able to introduce them to Vancouver audiences this year.
Teresa Trull & Barbara Higbie
North Carolina must have produced more good musicians than any other state in the union. Teresa Trull grew up in Durham where she was steeped in blues gospel and R&B at an early age. She started singing gospel in her church choir and later became one of the earliest “women’s music” singer/songwriters, recording two albums on the OLIVIA label. She is versatile and doesn’t fall easily into any category. There is a bit of country in what she does, a lot of gospel, some pop, and more. Barbara Higbie has been to the Vancouver Festival previously in several different personas. First, as ace fiddler with Saheeb and the Robin Flower Band, both in the same year, and in 1983 with Barbara Danes’ band. This year she is again doing double duty – with the New Acoustic Music Alliance and as half of the duo of Teresa Trull and Barbara Higbie. Barbara is a brilliant and eclectic musician, equally at home on the piano and fiddle, and she is a composer. Together, Teresa and Barbara are dynamic. We are particularly happy to bring Teresa up for her first Festival and we welcome Barbara back as an old friend.
Valdy has become such a fixture in the Canadian music scene that one is sometimes tempted to dismiss him or forget how incredibly good he really is. Every time that we talk to somebody who has just heard Valdy for the first time, we remember that we are blessed with one of the best song-writers and that he lives “right in our own back-yard”. Valdy is a journeyman, song-writer and singer. His material ranges from songs for kids to anti-nuclear songs and from some great parodies to some very beautiful love songs. As a performer, he has an uncommon ability to reach an instant rapport with an audience. Originally from the east, Valdy has come to be one of a handful of songwriters who have created a distinct west coast style, a fusion of country, acoustic rock and good lyric writing. If you haven’t had the chance to hear him for a while, make the time over the weekend. It’s great to have him back with us.
Townes Van Zandt & Mickey White
Townes Van Zandt is an enigmatic song-writer whose songs are both simple and complex. His best known, “Poncho and Lefty” is now a country classic recorded by Willy and Merle. It’s even had a video made about it! From Texas (and now living in Austin), Townes Van Zandt is one of the finest writers from the Texas-based song-writing scene. Every time we get a chance to hear him it’s like listening to an old friend. He continues to write songs and is getting ready to record another album. Some of Townes’ material is quite apocalyptic and some of it has the best sense of place since Tom Wolfe. So far, he has been able to avoid being dragged into the role of being a pop star and we figure he is lucky. Mickey White has been playing guitar with Townes for a number of years. He is a fine guitar player and adds an ingredient that makes the two of them more than a singer and a guitar player; it sounds like you’re listening to a single person. We’ve been looking forward to having them back at the Festival.
Every year the Festival has a few surprises, not so much for you, the audience, but more for us, the Festival staff. These “finds” justify listening to all that music throughout the year (some of which is less than exciting and worthwhile). This year we think one of those prizes is We Three. Sarah Favret, Kim Scanlon and Judith Johnson, from the Seattle area, have been together since 1980. They sing a capella and write their own material, which is a blend of various musical styles, feminist consciousness, a good sense of humour and more. We think they are wonderful. We anticipate they’ll have a significant impact at the Festival.
Nancy White gets around. She bills herself as the “voice of liberal guilt” and is billed by others as a “national treasure”. She is a songwriter and singer who combines satirical and serious material and gets away with it. Nancy comes from P.E.I., was educated at Dalhousie University and began working as a journalist before becoming a full-time performer. She is a politically committed artist with a particular attachment to Latin America. This may make her the only Canadian songwriter linked to the “new song” movement in Latin America. She is also one of the few people who has written political material dealing with topical Canadian themes. She has worked in theatre and cabaret and has become a Canadian legend for the songs that she has written for CBC. Her new album Nancy White – Unexpected, and a new tape What Should I Wear to the Revolution, have been released since last year’s Festival. Nancy is one of the best things happening in music or politics in this country. Returning to Vancouver as Nancy’s accompanist is Doug Wild, an ace piano player and composer who has a wide repertoire of his own to contribute.
Robin & Linda Williams
Robin & Linda Williams are a couple of the best damned country singers we’ve ever heard. It’s hard to define exactly what makes them better and different from most other country singers, but they’ve got it. They’ve been performing together since 1973, drawing on bluegrass, old-timey, country and western, blues and white and black gospel music. Accompanying themselves on guitar, banjo and harmonica they sing their own songs and songs written by a variety of lesser known writers. They are based in Virginia and have developed a great deal of respect and appreciation from audiences and other performers over the years. If you want to hear what made country music real people’s music in the first place, you can’t do any better than listening to Robin and Linda Williams. It’s a pleasure to have them out here again.
Winston Wuttunee and Janet Dieter
Winston Wuttunee is a native performer from Saskatchewan. He is a superb songwriter, a talented children’s performer, a comedian, a country and western singer and an articulate and powerful songwriter dealing with native issues. He also does a little jigging and accompanies himself on his guitar and drum. Winston was at the first Vancouver Folk Music Festival back in 1978 and we felt the time had come to invite him back again. If you have never had a chance to listen to Winston Wuttunee, we’re sure you’ll be pleasantly surprised. Accompanying Winston at this Festival will be Janet Deiter who you can hear on one of Winston’s six records, See the Arrow.
The first Central American musicians we brought to the Festival was Yolocamba Ita. That was in 1981. Part of our purpose in bringing them was to make a small contribution to solidarity with the workers and peasants of El Salvador. Formed in 1975, Yolocamba Ita has toured Latin America, Europe and Canada. They have played at festivals, demonstrations, concerts and have seen their albums released in a number of countries. Their lyrics deal with the contemporary reality of El Salvador and are set to music based in the traditions of the country. As the war continues in El Salvador and the threat of U.S. intervention grows daily, we felt it was important to bring Yolocamba Ita back to the Festival. Yolocamba Ita is composed of active militants of the Movement for Popular Culture (MCP), an organization of Salvadorean cultural workers building support for the popular organizations of that country. Yolocamba Ita may be the most accomplished of the increasing number of anti-government groups from El Salvador. When you listen to them you are listening to the voice of a people. It’s a pleasure and an honour to welcome back Andreas Espinoza, Paulino Espinoza, Franklin Quezado, Roberto Quezado and Hector Servellon.