Peter Alsop writes wonderful songs from his home base in southern California. And although ‘human relationships’ is a term which has been so overused, Peter’s approach to the subject is like a breath of fresh air. There is not an ounce of triteness or self-indulgence.· in his work. He deals insightfully and honestly with a child’s feelings about death, about sexuality, about the things we do to each other, and about old people. He is also incredibly funny; his sense of play shines on a song with a sing-along chorus about masturbation, and a ditty called Chickens for Peace for the antinuclear war movement. He writes for kids as well as for adults, and he uses his ability as a songwriter to deal with subjects like sexual abuse in a way that empowers children rather than frightening them. As well he has written such timeless classics for the younger set as I am a Pizza and Yecch. Peter Alsop is not to be missed – there aren’t many like him.
We have long wanted to feature some music from the Philippines at this Festival. Before the downfall of the Marcos dictatorship and even before awareness of the transformation occurring in the Philippines was at a peak, we had been working at it. With all that was going on, we were sure there would be some great songwriters and performers there. When one of our friends who was involved in Philippine support work was planning a trip there in the spring of 1985, we chipped in a few bucks towards travel costs and said, “Find us something for the Festival.” Our investment generated a return beyond our wildest dreams in the form of some tapes by a fellow named Joey Ayala. When we got translations of the songs, which were sung in Pilapino, we were simply stunned. Here was a writer whose songs would put him in the first rank in any country, in any language. Living in the city of Davao on the southern island of Mindanao, Joey Ayala is a poet as well as a songwriter. He has done a rock opera in Pilipino and a Pilipino version of West Side Story. Though influenced by all kinds of American pop, Joey’s music is also based in the indigenous culture of the Philippines. His song are about his country, about the land, about the people and the struggle that is unfolding there. Joey met Joji Benitez, with whom he will be performing, “in the middle of a banana plantation” in 1973. Joey writes, “Joji and I will share with you the little we have contributed to our country’s store of music, together with a few songs of the unauthored past and from the revolutionary Tin Pan Alley.
Newfoundland, with its treasure trove of traditional music, has a reputation for producing some of the best musicians anywhere. But it is so faraway we rarely get a chance to hear them. So when a member of Barkin’ Kettle, a group unknown to us, wandered in with their fine sounding tape and told us that somehow they were going to put together a tour to bring them to this Festival, we were delighted. Barkin’ Kettle plays old music drawn from that enormous body of Irish, English and Scottish tunes brought over by people who settled the island. These instrumental tunes and songs have survived in Newfoundland, but have often been forgotten in their countries of origin. Barkin’ Kettle also perform new songs about their home and contemporary conditions. And they do it well. Because Canada is so big that Newfoundland is much closer to Ireland than to Vancouver, and Vancouver is nearer to Mexico City than to St. John’s, it is always a treat to welcome performers from the distant and exotic east coast. So welcome Barkin’ Kettle: Jeannie Hewson on vocals and guitar; Brian Murphy on vocals, bouzouki, fiddle and bodhran; Wanda Crocker on fiddle and mandolin, and Boyd Norman on vocals and electric bass.
African culture has had a profound impact on the world, especially in the realm of popular music. In the United States it was the foundation for blues, jazz and rock-and-roll. In the Caribbean it produced ‘salsa’ and a bunch of other musical forms. And in Brazil, an undiluted African-based musical culture has survived better than in most other places. African music is near the soul of the sophisticated ‘bossa nova’ and the riotous ‘samba’. Batucaje keeps the dances, songs and rhythms of the Afro-Brazilian culture alive – they even use languages which have nearly ceased to exist in Africa. Lately, New York, which is going through a Brazilian stage, has helped launch these rhythms across the American continent to San Francisco where Batucaje is based. Composed mainly of Brazilian expatriates, Batucaje delivers music that is both powerful, infectious and quite different than any other. Theirs is an integrated music combining dance, vocals and instrumentals. If you still think Sergio Mendes and The Girl from Impanema are representative of Brazilian culture, you are in for the surprise of your life. Batucaje is Jose Lorenzo, Jacqueline Barnes, Kristin Makita, Victoria Tukeva, Henry Flood, Benny Duarte, Val Serrante, Marcos Santos, Marcelo Pereira and ‘Preguica’ Olivera.
Heather Bishop & Tracy Riley
It seems like eons ago when Heather Bishop was our stage manager at the first Vancouver Folk Music Festival in 1978. Back then she used to sing a few songs as a sideline to various other things she was doing. But since then she has developed into one of the best performers in the country, singing everything from political ‘message’ songs to R&B favorites, to, increasingly, songs for kids. Heather has a powerful voice that works well singing just about everything. Lately, her repertoire has come to feature more and more of her own songs which has revealed yet another talent – that of a writer. That’s in addition to her singing, musicianship and her impressive abilities as a visual artist and carpenter. Because of her passionate approach and her wide ranging skills, Heather is a joy to have at festivals. Accompanying her this year will be Tracy Riley, another exciting artist in her own right; performing on guitar and bass as well as helping on vocals. Together, they are a powerhouse.
Roy Bookbinder lives in an old Airstream mobile home in which he travels each year to a couple of hundred gigs, performing what he calls “hillbilly blues”. When we first met Roy a number of years ago, we knew him as an excellent blues singer, steeped in the classic rural blues tradition of Reverend Gary Davis, Pink Anderson and the like. But recently Roy has tried to break out of that stereotype, “Blues and folk music are words that hold back your career. Hillbilly blues gives it more of a direction.” As a white blues singer, Roy looks to the models of Jimmy Rogers, Hank Williams and even Elvis Presley, all of whom began as blues singers. And Roy’s blues roots are not the ‘shouters and honkers’, but more of the Black, southern entertainers. A lot of the material is comedy which was a big part of the blues in the 1920’s. A great guitarist, Roy also tells a spellbinding story and is a good singer with a repertoire ranging from Jimmy Rogers’ standards to some very obscure pre-World War II blues and country tunes. It’s good to have the ‘Travellin’ Man’ back this way again.
Bob Bossin & Dennis Nichol
Most of the Canadian musicians and writers who were part of the folk scene in the late 1960s and early’ 70s have long since gone in to computer programming or carpentry, leaving the field to a younger generation. Bob Bossin is one of the few of that earlier generation who has remained active. That doesn’t mean Bob is some kind of dinosaur or relic, but it is to underline his talent. For well over 15 years Bob has been writing great songs about Canada and collecting other people’s songs from here and there. He has sang across this country and the United States and toured with Stringband in Scotland and the Soviet Union. And now Bob has turned to writing theatrical productions. Festival goers will get a chance to see his antinuclear show called Bossin’s Home Remedies for Nuclear War. One of Bob’s strong suits is his ability to work fast – as kill that is of the essence for a topical songwriter. A powerful song came out of the confrontation between Native people and the lumber companies on Meares Island while the issue was still in the press. Then a benefit concert with Peter Seeger and Arlo Guthrie for EXPO evictees, inspired Bob to rewrite a song by American songwriter Charlie King, reflecting the situation on Vancouver’s downtown eastside. Making such contributions, not waiting for the muse to strike, is what makes a genuine people’s songwriter. And that’s not to say that Bob’s songs fade away after an event. With his trusty side-kick Dennis Nichol, an excellent bass player who dabbles in salsa as well as folk music and other things, Bob returns to the Festival in the city which is now home base for both men.
We first heard Greg Brown’s name from Brian Bowers, six or seven years ago. Brian sang Four Wet Pigs which we thought was outstanding. We were told that it came from some guy who lives in Iowa and doesn’t really perform much. A couple of years ago, word came that Greg Brown, “yeah, the guy who wrote that song about the pigs”, was touring and doing festivals. We wanted him immediately but had to wait a year as he was busy with Garrison Keillor’s radio show, A Prairie Home Companion. Greg Brown is an original; he sounds original and he writes original. He delivers his intriguing songs with a low-key approach that holds your attention like a vise. Greg’s songwriting was influenced by his rural Iowa surroundings but was refined by such experiences as being a Las Vegas songwriter, who churned out whatever was ordered. Lately, his tunes have been recorded by Willy Nelson and Santana, and he still appears regularly on A Prairie Home Companion. But for us, what is most important is that we’re finally going to hear the guy who wrote the song about the pigs.
Bob Brozman is an unlikely sort of figure surrounded by an even more unlikely collection of instruments, most of them steel guitars. He looks like an academic, but to that he is entitled. He studied music and ethnomusicology and has become a leading authority on the development of Hawaiian music, amassing one of the world’s largest collections of Hawaiian 78s. Unlike many ethnomusicologists, though, Bob Brozman not only collects music and guitars; he can play like few others. He pounds his guitars like drums, whips them up behind his head and spins them in the air between licks. His vocals are equally pyrotechnic – ranging from yodels to wild scat singing. He performs material from blues to Hawaiian on a selection of antique, nickel-plated National guitars, mandolin and ukulele. Records never seem to do Bob Brozman complete justice – he really has to be seen to be believed, and, happily, at this Festival you’re going to get a chance to do that.
The music of this New Orleans piano player and singer totally knocked us out. It seems that we were kind of late in discovering Henry Butler because he has played with such jazz and R&B notables as Cannonball Adderley, Al Green, Pat Metheny, Charlie Haden and others. And he has won a number of awards for his piano talents. Henry was born and raised in New Orleans home to some of the world’s best piano players from Jelly Roll Morton on down. Henry started his formal training at the age of eight while attending the Louisiana State School for the Blind. He explains, “Being blind, I had to develop my own techniques for mastering the keyboard. So I listened to everything. That may help explain my personal style of playing.” Although classically trained at school, away from class he widened his scope by playing in jazz, bee-bop and R&B bands. Although he has a Master’s degree in vocal music and has spent a lot of time in academic situations, there is is nothing institutional about Henry’s playing. He is a master of traditional New Orleans piano in the style of Tuts Washington or Professor Longhair, is great at all kinds of R&B and has a style like no other.
The California Cajun Orchestra
A cajun orchestra from California may seem a non sequitur, but there are a lot of folks from Louisiana who moved west and traded the Gulf Coast for the San Francisco Bay. This orchestra features Danny Poullard from Eunice, Louisiana in the heart of cajun country. His first language is French and he grew up surrounded by that wonderful music played regularly by his father and uncles for house dances. Accompanying Danny in the band are some of our tried and true favourite musicians – all of them with a passion for cajun music. They have played together since 1982 in the California Cajun Orchestra. Suzy Rothfield’s interest in the music was first sparked by the Belfa Brothers (perhaps the best cajun band around); she ended up getting a grant to go to Louisiana to study with master fiddler Dewey Belfa. Eric Thompson is well known as a guitar player and in this band is also a fine second fiddler. Alan Senauke grew up in New York City, has been half of the Fiction Brothers as well as a member of the Blue Flame Stringband, and editor of Sing-Out magazine for three years. Beth Weil, another well known west coast folkie, has worked with everyone from Kate Wolf to Rose Maddox. The driving beat of the button accordion, fiddles and guitar, the plaintive French vocals, the irresistible dance rhythms of two-steps, waltzes, and zydeco numbers have earned the band a solid following in their home ground, the San Francisco area. Now Vancouver audiences will have a chance to hear their danceable, listenable and altogether wonderful music.
A number of years ago the Flying Karamazov Brothers came to us with a kind of odd, but intriguing idea. They were going to get together a bunch of people – “new vaudevillians”; jugglers, fire eaters, singers, spoon players, bubble blowers and the like – combine them with some new age pitchmen with a better approach to issues like health and technology, and take the show on the road. Would we be interested in having them at the Festival? Well, it sounded interesting, so we said sure. And since 1982 the ever changing Chautauqua show has been the only thing we present each year at the Festival. Because there are always new people in it, we’re never quite sure what to expect. Some of the people who have appeared in the show have become increasingly well known: the Karamazov Brothers recently juggled their way onto movie screens across the continent along with Avner the Eccentric in the Jewel of the Nile. But whether they are obscure street artists or legends in their own minds, the various participants in the Chautauqua show somehow reunite and go out on tour for a few weeks every summer. And be ready for surprises; this is a show of experimentation, and intense creativity. Sometimes things work and sometimes they don’t, but it is always a show that breaks new ground. Chautauqua ’86 is composed of up to 50 performers including Hot Feet Band, The Kamikaze Ground Crew! Fighting Instruments of Karma Marching Band, Girls Who Wear Glasses and many, many more.
Michael Cooney is sometimes billed as a ‘one-man folk festival’. This is neither a bad nor a hyperbolic description. He can play just about everything and has songs by just about everyone from just about everywhere. Concertina, yup; guitar, sure; banjo, ‘course; fiddle, why not?; penny whistle, uh-huh. He does sea shanties, prison songs from Black American field recordings of the 1930’s, a contemporary song by Kate McGarrigle and Appalachian instrumental tunes. You might think somebody who does this much diverse material would, almost of necessity, do it superficially. But this is not the case with Michael Cooney. Perhaps Michael’s best talent is his ability to make the songs real, to establish them in a context. A part of the North American folk scene since the early 1960’s, Michael has been involved in organizing folk festivals, giving lectures and concerts from tiny clubs to the hallowed halls of Harvard, where he sings and lectures for the Department of Folklore and Mythology. Originally from California, he grew up in Arizona and now lives in Toronto. For years people would ask us why we hadn’t brought Michael Cooney to the Festival. Finally, we have managed to fill that gap.
Alexander Eppler Group
Alex Eppler has played a big role in introducing some wonderful music from eastern Europe to this Festival when every couple of years he shows up with some friends and puts on a terrific show. This year Alex returns with what we suspect is his first love, the balalaika. Alex began playing the balalaika as a boy when his mother, originally from Irkutsk in Siberia, gave him a primitive version of today’s instrument. How so much music can be made out of an instrument with three strings and less than three octaves has always mystified us, but Alex does it. He makes the thing sing, dance, and sit up and beg. With Alex this year will be Kymbal Dykes, an exceptional classical guitarist who has numerous awards and symphony credits to his name as well as being a noted jazz performer. The third member of the trio is Misha Schneiderman who, before immigrating to the United States, was the Soviet Union’s foremost bayan virtuoso. The bayan is the Russian accordion, considered to be the most sophisticated instrument of its genre. Together, these three excellent musicians perform Russian music, from the slow delicate tunes that reach to the bottom of your soul to the flashy quick stuff.
David Essig is a composer and musician who has earned an international reputation for his songwriting, his traditional bluegrass repertoire, and his country and rural blues music. He is, as well, increasingly recognized as a Canadian leader in the new acoustic music movement. Lately, as a result of a long sojourn in Asia, David has taken up the Kayakum (Korean harp) which he will play for us this year along with acoustic guitar and other instruments. Born in the United States, David has lived in Canada for over 15 years where in addition to his work as a performer, he has also produced a number of albums and hosted a national country music program on CBC radio. David is one of the few Canadian musicians who has seriously attempted to create jazzy avant- garde compositions based on his knowledge of traditional music.
Archie Fisher is an exceptional Scottish singer and songwriter who seems equally at ease with 200 year old traditional songs and songs written by today’s Scottish authors. He also writes his own songs, speaking about the changes the modern world has had on Scottish life – about the death of small fishing towns and other issues that affect local people. He pens fine love songs and sings with a confidence in his material that is usually found in performers many years older. We have been listening to Archie Fisher’s albums for years and we are committed fans. Last year he made an extensive North American tour with Garnet Rogers and happily, he is beginning to get the audience he deserves over here.
There are some people we’ve gotten really attached to over the years of running this Festival. For some reason or another, these people make the event just a little bit special. For us Stefan Grossman is one such person. Every couple of years he comes back for what we hope, is a long series of visits to this shindig. Stefan is a guitar player “par excellence”, but he is also a teacher. Now he doesn’t just teach people how to play the guitar, but if you are interested in getting the lesson of your lifetime bring yours along. In all his performances you learn something about music and maybe about life. Stefan carries on the tradition and imparts a ‘way of knowledge’ passed on to him by a generation of wonderful creative human beings: Black men who lived in the south and created a style of music and body of songs that influenced an entire generation – men with names like Skip James, Son House, Mississippi John Hurt, Fred McDowell and Reverend Gary Davis. In the early 1960s growing up in New York, Stefan first met these people on albums, then in the flesh to become part of that tradition. He still plays the blues about as well as they can be played. But he has also branched out writing songs and creating instrumental mini-masterpieces on his guitar as well as covering the range from Celtic to Charlie Mingus. In addition to performing, Stefan Grossman teaches and writes about guitar from his home base near Rome. With sometime musical partner, John Renbourn, or by himself, Stefan is someone to listen to.
Although bluegrass music was born in the American southwest, some of its better exponents live on the west coast. For nearly 20 years, High Country has been the west coast’s premier bluegrass band. Formed by Butch Waller in 1968, the band is based in the San Francisco Bay area. The band’s close harmony singing and tightly-knit instrumental work, featuring banjo, fiddle, mandolin, guitar and bass make for exciting, dynamic and innovative music in the classic bluegrass mold. The music ranges from breakdowns, to blues, to gospel numbers. Our local bluegrass friends were delighted that we had booked High Country, and vouched for their reputation as being the best on the coast. In the age of new grass, jazz grass and new acoustic ‘what-have-you’, get ready for something off the true vine. Butch Wailer, the band’s leader, plays a strong bluesy ‘style of mandolin and sings lead and baritone as well as writing many of the band’s songs and instrumentals; Larry Cohea handles the banjo with energy and precision as well as singing lead and tenor; Jack Leiderman is the band’s fiddler as well as playing harmony mandolin and singing bass on the gospel quartets; Steve Pottier is a solid dynamic bass player as well as turning out innovative lead guitar work; Alan Senauke, well known around folk music festivals as a member of the Fiction Brothers and the Blue Flame Stringband, can sing any part as well as provide powerful rhythm and lead guitar.
The development of contemporary Nicaraguan music is inseparable from the Sandinista revolution that triumphed in July 1979. Groups, that before the revolution performed either apolitical music or music of protest against the Somoza regime, found themselves faced with the challenge and opportunity of creating a new culture out of the old. One of the groups that has risen to that task is Igni Tawanka. Founded at the University of Managua in 1978, the group spent its first year performing protest music, playing almost exclusively acoustic instruments that could be moved easily and quickly in case they had to escape from authorities. Since then the group has developed as part of the new Nicaragua. After the revolution, artists were called upon to develop a national cultural identity. In Nicaragua there are many influences to draw from. From the ‘salsa’ style music found on Nicaragua’s east coast to the European based music of Western Nicaragua, to the music of the indigenous Moskito people – Igni Tawanka has integrated all this into their music. The group can move from hot, jazzy instrumental tunes to political songs about the current campaigns of the Nicaraguan government to defend the revolution and improve the living standards there. And Igni Tawanka is very much a part of the Latin American New Song Movement; a force which has created new voices by the fusion of traditional musical forms with jazz and popular music. Coming from a country that is constantly lied about by the most powerful press, radio and television networks in the world, makes Igni Tawanka’s presence here an excellent opportunity for them to speak to us about what is happening in their country. The group is comprised of Melvin Ramon Vasquez Zeladon, Francisco Sedar Cisneros Rocha, Gilberto Ramon Flores Gonzales, Julio Mario Vasquez Gutierrez, Alvaro Ernesto Juancarlos Montenegro and Marvin Martin Rodriquez Gonzales.
We’ve had a number of performers at the Festival whose medium of expression has been the spoken word. But we’ve never had one like Joolz. Growing up in an army family in England, she was educated at a small private girls’ school and at 19 was married and living with a biker-husband who was in a gang bearing the predictable name of ‘Satan’s Slaves’. During this period she worked at various jobs, including nightclub bouncer, tarot reader and gas station attendant. After leaving the biker, she began to write for the first time since childhood and developed a unique stage style. It’s difficult to describe what she does: standup comedy; poetry, one-woman show; storyteller?? None of these phrases really capture her style. She’s worked with rock bands, as a soloist, and has made some records, always featuring Joolz talking. She talks about lots of things – like being young and broke in England today, about drugs, about politics, about sex. It’s real, it’s funny, it’s threatening, and it’s moving enough that we brought her here from England to speak for herself. There’s a tendency for a certain kind of complacency to take over – even at this Festival. We think that Joolz will shake things up.
Most people don’t know anything about Finnish music; a few people have heard the name Sibelius (look at the classical music section if you haven’t). Others say “polkas, right”, while still others figure it must be melancholy songs and accordions. By bringing Karelia to this Festival, we’re going to prove there is much more to it than that. Finnish music has a wide variety of styles that express all the emotions that can be communicated by music. Within the tradition are ancient songs and tunes, and indigenous folk instruments such as the lantele, the jouhiko and the touhihuilu. Many of the past musical geniuses of Suomi (Finland’s name -for itself) have incorporated the influences and musical styles of other cultures (primarily European and American) into their own folk and classical traditions: What has resulted is a Finnish musical literature deeply rooted in folk heritage that can also be readily heard and enjoyed by the rest of the world. In the past six years Karelia has recorded four albums that celebrate the soul of the Suomi people in an original and contemporary manner. These exemplary musicians use the old instruments as well as synthesizers and saxophones to perform and interpret their musical heritage. One of the members of the group is Seppo “Baron” Paakkunainen who has won numerous awards for his various symphonic, jazz and folk compositions and performances. He’ll be joined by Esa Kotilainen, Matti Kontio, Eerik Siikasaari and Jukka Wasama. We first heard Karelia when a tape distributed out of Texas landed in our mailbox. After playing it about five times in the course of a day, we were fans. But how were we going to get them from Finland to Jericho Beach Park? We soon found we weren’t the only ones impressed by Karelia, and after a lot of convoluted work by a number of people in different parts of North America, Karelia’s visit here and to a few other cities was a reality.
Taiko music is rooted in the history of farming and fishing communities in Japan. The big drums were used to ward off evil spirits, give thanks to the gods for bountiful harvests or to bring rain in a drought. As the traditional fabric of Japan’s society was eroded by western influences. taiko drumming came very close to dying out. In recent years, however, it has experienced a revival as young urban Japanese learn to express themselves through the ancient form. Groups have also developed in several North American cities where many sansei (third generation descendants of Japanese immigrants), looking for some means to express their ancient heritage, became interested in the art. Katari Taiko was formed in Vancouver in 1979. The group is a collective who identify their goals as the development of a form of Asian-Canadian culture that incorporates the following elements: discipline, physical strength and grace, non-sexism, musical creativity and a blend of Asian and western rhythms. In addition to traditional pieces, members of Katari Taiko are now composing their own works using the wide variety of drums that make up a taiko ensemble. We find the group unique and powerful, and increasingly interesting as it develops its own collective creativity. The present group is comprised of Marie Berg, Joyce Chong, Harold Gent, John Greenaway, Linda Hoffman, Connie Kadota, Eileen Kage, Diane Nishii, Mayumi Takasaki, Jan Woo, Clo Laurencelle, Naomi Shikaze, Les Murata, Sumi Imamoto.
The Kentucky Warblers
One of the more arduous tasks of putting together a folk music festival is listening to several hundred audition tapes. There are times when it all begins to sound the same. So there we were, half way into it: tapes scattered everywhere, it’s late, too much coffee has been drunk. We put on yet another tape. Suddenly the air clears, the rain stops, the sun comes out, the hallelujah chorus sounds! We had just heard The Kentucky Warblers for the first time. This was country music the way it should sound: beautiful harmonies, full of emotion, as real as life itself, straight from the heart – gospel tunes, prison songs, love songs – it was wonderful. We must have Suzanne Edmundson and Carol Elizabeth Jones, known collectively as the Kentucky Warblers at this Festival. Suzanne Edmundson was part of the Hot Mud Family for 12 years, a well known old-timey and bluegrass band. Carol Jones played with groups we had never heard of, with names like The Gem Sisters and The Dixie Crystals. Suzanne and Carol together are one of the best things we have heard in a long time. They even have restored our faith in unpretentious, unmarked, little audition tapes.
Ladies Against Women
What can you say about a group that pickets feminist meetings with signs that say ‘Born to Clean’, chanting “out of the streets, into the kitchens”; whose newsletter is called ‘The National Embroiderer’ or that bills their shows as “an evening of consciousness lowering” and has a membership card that must be countersigned by a man? Ladies Against Women attended the Republican national convention a few years ago,and representatives emerging from their prayer breakfast were able to feast their eyes on a pie, specially decorated with the slogan “white sugar, white flour, white-power”. They founded the ‘National Association for the Advancement of Rich People’ and ‘Another Mother for World Domination’. Ladies Against Women is a project of the Plutonium Players, a theatre company writing and performing satire, based in Berkeley since 1977. In this period of the great move to the right, with organizations like the Moral Majority and Real Women (an organization in Canada that is lobbying the government to do some very nasty things to women’s rights), Ladies Against Women gives them back their own. They also make you laugh and worry about how fine the line is between parody and reality. Lately, Plutonium Players have been working on a new show, and Ladies Against Women had been put on ice for the time being. However, we begged and pleaded that in Vancouver, with its large womens movement and high level of feminist consciousness, they were needed, and happily they agreed to grace our Festival with their presence.
Just when we were starting to get bored to tears, the folk grapevine started to whisper that there was indeed a whole new generation of creative songwriters with distinct musical styles out there. Christine Lavin is one of these writers. With a guitar and her voice, Christine has become really popular in our office, and we think she is going to be a hit in this town. Her songs range from being hysterically funny to quietly powerful. She deals with relationships in the 1980s and life among the yuppies in a very amusing ‘fashion. An old asparagus inspired her to write Damaged Goods – a song that says a lot about the lives of all of us who have heard it. But her songs are not self indulgent, they instead look out at the world and say something about it. Though originally part of a group of writers around the Fast Folk, a New York recording magazine, Christine Lavin is now reaching wider audiences. We predict that she is going to be around for quite a while.
The Little Mountain Band
Sometimes it seems like the supreme compliment for a Vancouver group when somebody says, “They’re good; where are they from?” If a group is really good it is too often assumed that they must be from elsewhere. But, The Little Mountain Band is indeed from Vancouver and they are indeed excellent. We suspect they are the best traditional bluegrass band in the area – they’ve got the harmonies and also some pretty hot instrumental skills. What’s more, their repertoire transcends the list of bluegrass standards. Of course The Little Mountain Band can do Bill Monroe tunes just fine, but they also incorporate the songs of Si Kahn and even a version of Tom Lehrer’s The Wild West is Where I Want to Be. The members of The Little Mountain Band are mainstays of the local bluegrass scene, and if you like what you hear, you can find them at the Anza Hall where they and other bluegrass aficianados meet regularly. Pursuing careers from bus driver to entomologist to mathematics teacher during their daylight hours, The Little Mountain Band fell together by a love of bluegrass music and the joy of performing. Please welcome Kitty King on bass; Dave Lidstone on guitar; Don Dirksen on banjo and Rob McGregor playing mandolin.
Limousin is part of the central region of France, an area that possesses a great wealth of folk traditions and instruments. Lo Jai, an ensemble of musicians who perform traditional Limousin folk music come mostly from a classical music background. But they have joined the European movement of research and performance of traditional music. The members of Lo Jai define themselves as musiciens-chercheurs (musicians-searchers). The instruments they use are, for the most part, very old: the hurdy-gurdy of medieval religious origins; the bagpipes introduced in France in the 16th century; the stringed-tabor of the Beam which accompanies three-hole flutes; fifes, flutes and oboes of the Renaissance type, and finally, the violin and the accordion which are the most essential instruments of French folk music. The repertoire of Lo Jai includes popular dances and songs still sung in langue d’oc, the medieval language of the southern half of France, kept alive .by troubadours and still found today in the Limousin. Years ago we heard Lo Jai’s record and were entranced by the sounds. The individual members of Lo Jai kept popping up in all kinds of wonderful recordings of French traditional music. At past Festivals we’ve presented some very good contemporary French folk groups – this year we plunge into the heart of the tradition with Guy Bertrand, Pierre Imbert, Eric Montbel and Christian Oller performing as Lo Jai.
Celso & Carlinhos Machado
Brazil, it has been said, is not a country, but a continent. As the fourth largest country in the world, Brazil contains a wide variety of cultures, from the almost undiluted Africans songs and ancesi in the northeast, to the indigenous music of the natives in the Amazon region, to the cowboy songs of the far south. From these various influences have evolved a musical fusion that is uniquely Brazilian, combining European and African traits, probably best known in North America as the’ bossa nova’ or the ‘samba’. The guitar is probably the instrument most associated with Brazilian music, and we’re proud to present a couple of that country’s finest guitar players who will perform Brazilian music for the first time at this Festival. Celso Machado was born in the state of Sao Paulo, and as a child studied classical guitar. In the early 1970s he began to work in nightclubs, often as an accompanist to well known Brazilian singers. He has performed widely throughout Brazil and in Europe, and has recorded several albums devoted to the distinctive style of the Brazilian guitar. His material ranges from pieces that became well known in North America in the 1960s and 70s, to others that are rarely heard outside of Brazil. He also performs his own intriguing compositions. Accompanying him will be his brother Carlinhos whose background is fairly similar. Together they produce music full of complicated rhythms and intricate design. We can think of no better introduction to this exceptional body of music.
Ross McRae and Lorraine Helgerson
Ross and Lorraine have something very special in common: they were both actually born in Vancouver. For a number of years they have been part of the local folk music scene, with their song of Vancouver and B.C. as well as other topical songs, women’s songs in Lorraine’s case, and British traditional and Celtic tunes. For some time they were part of Threesome Reel, a fixture at many rallies and other cultural events around Vancouver and the Pacific Northwest. Ross grew up as a member of a pipe band and in addition to singing, performs on guitar, banjo, tin whistle, button accordion and Northumbrian small pipes. Lorraine, surrounded by traditional music all her life, thanks to her Norwegian uncles, performs with Ross on vocals and the bodhram. We are proud to have them join our exceptionally strong contingent of local performers at this year’s Festival.
We first became acquainted with the work of Malcolm Daiglish and Grey Larsen from a couple of albums on the obscure (in Canada) June Appal label. We were immediately taken by their renditions of Celtic and Appalachian music. Over the years they joined a list of people whom we hoped to eventually present at the Festival. In the meantime the duo became a trio with the addition of Peter Sutherland. And the music began to change, keeping its traditional base, but becoming more freewheeling as they broke new ground with original renditions of traditional tunes and with material they had created. Malcolm plays the hammer dulcimer while Grey leans towards the flute and concertina; Peter Sutherland is an amazing fiddle player. Though they also sing and their vocal arrangements are nothing to sneeze at, mainly they are an instrumental group who draw from a wide variety of world influences, from Norwegian fiddling to Celtic and eastern European. We find that a lot of new acoustic music lacks substance, but the bedrock of traditional tunes that these fellows have played so long keeps their music vital and passionate.
We have long wanted to bring Cuban performers to the Festival. Cuba has played an important role in changing the political and cultural reality of Latin America over the last quarter century, and we think that Cuban musicians have something to say to us. And Cuba has some fantastic groups based on the rich musical heritage brought over from Africa by slaves who were forced into Cuba as recently as the last century. Cuba also has the Spanish descended folksongs of the white Cuban population. These two musical forces have combined to produce a very distinctive style of music which, since the revolution, has fuelled the development of the nueva trova songwriters who have won huge audiences throughout Europe and Latin America. Grupo Moncada is very much a part of all of this. Based in Cuba, they’ve been around. since 1972 and currently have eight members, six of whom have been with the group since the beginning. They ‘play over 40 instruments from guitar to accordion to all kinds of percussion instruments. With a repertoire ranging from slave chants to love ballads to the works of young Cuban songwriters such as Silvio Rodriguez and Pablo Milanes, they have toured widely, including a number of performances in the United States. They have also recorded a number of albums. We can think of no better group to introduce the music and culture of Cuba to this Festival. Please welcome Augusto Hernandez, Julian Fernandez, Jorge Gomez, Juan Gomez, Jose Alberto Himely, Tomas Rivero, Jose Antonio Rodriquez and Pedro Trujillo.
Bill Morrissey is one of the new generation of songwriters and like many of these writers he is based in the eastern United States. He lives in Boston, having recently moved from New Hampshire. In the tradition of novelists like Thomas Wolfe and poets like Carl Sandburg, these songwriters write about ordinary people in an extraordinarily insightful way. One of his best known songs, Small Town on the River, captures in five verses life for working class people in small New England factory towns. He sings about working in Texas and about missing New Hampshire; he sings about having fun on Saturday night and about all those things that rarely, if ever, get talked about in songs that are played on the radio. In many ways he is a regional songwriter, but his material still touches you no matter where you are.
Charlie Murphy & Jami Sieber
Bertholt Brecht once wrote in the song The Three Penny Opera that “human beings stay alive through bestial acts”. Charlie Murphy and Jami Sieber have described some of what they do as music about “staying human in these times”, an anecdote perhaps to Brecht’s somewhat pessimistic vision. Charlie Murphy has been a professional musician for eight years, moving from being a fairly standard sort of progressive folk singer to an increasingly exciting lyricist and musician, working with other musicians to create intricate accompaniment for his fine songs. Five years ago Charlie Murphy teamed up with cellist Jami Sieber. Jami comes from a classical tradition and is an exceptionally interesting composer herself. Together they perform songs that address both personal and global issues – from AIDS to the extermination of so-called witches in the middle ages, to Nicaragua. Their songs hit hard and at the same time empower with an optimism and a confidence that is not often found in the ‘protest’ repertoire. Recently they’ve been working with a band, and will be accompanied here by Steve Jones on percussion; Arturo Peal on bass; and Stephan Jacob on keyboards.
No, not that musical ride; we wouldn’t let those barn burners on the site – besides, they’re too messy. This Musical Ride is a hot Vancouver string band which has been cutting its teeth playing the city’s burgeoning old-timey and dance scene over the last few years. They play Celtic music, Appalachian tunes, New England marches and assorted ditties. When we decided to do some big participatory dances – circles, squares, contras and the like – we figured we better get the best old-time dancing band in town. The group includes Bob McNevin, a Prince Edward Island native and ace player and builder of banjos; multi-instrumentalist David Marshall from Louisiana, a versatile fiddler, mandolin, piano and guitar player, and third member Katrin Sermat on piano and guitar. Warren Argo will come along to call the dances.
Peter Ostoushko & Tim Hennessy
When we first heard Peter Ostroushko with Robin and Linda Williams we simply could not believe it. Here was this unassuming guy who played fiddle and mandolin like nobody’s business. Ever since then we’ve joined his legions of fans. Peter has played with everybody from Chet Atkins to Bob Dylan. Peter was born, raised and still lives in the old ethnic neighbourhood of northeast Minneapolis where he was brought up on a good diet of eastern European music and food. He started playing guitar at the age of ten, graduating to fiddle and mandolin. He’s done a lot of work in theatre and as a back-up musician on everything from Bob Dylan’s Blood on the Tracks album to jingles about Hormel sausages. Currently, Peter is pursuing a solo career and is also on staff of A Prairie Home Companion radio show. His music reflects everything from his Ukrainian roots to his Irish sympathies. With Peter is Tim Hennessy, another member of the Minneapolis folk mafia. Tim is a guitar specialist and a hot flat and finger picker.
On to Ottawa Trek
In the spring of 1935 the relief camp workers, tired of low pay, isolation and brutal treatment, struck and converged upon Vancouver. Here the On to Ottawa Trek was organized to call attention to massive unemployment and inadequate social services and hopefully to pressure the government to take action in the darkest days of the Depression. It ended in Regina, under a hail of RCMP bullets and truncheons. The memory of the On to Ottawa Trek has lived on in the labour movement, and many of the participants have also lived on in flesh and blood. Last year a number of them got together, inspired both by the 50th anniversary of the Trek and by the haunting spectre of massive unemployment that has particularly affected Canada’s youth. This year, the 100th anniversary of May Day, we contacted some younger labour militants and folk singers and asked them to present some of the original Trekkers. We think this programme will stand as an important piece of aural history – one that has something to say about conditions 50 years ago and the situation faced by well over a million people in this country today. Co-ordinated by Tom Hawken, a well known local folk singer and one of the organizers of last year’s 50th anniversary, the presentation combines memories, anecdotes and songs. On the programme is Bobbie Jackson, a surviving Trekker who worked in the wood industry and with tow boats, and is now retired and living in Powell River; and Jean Evans-Sheils, co-author of Work and Wages, a book on Vancouver’s labour history, and daughter of Arthur “Slim” Evans, the leader of the On to Ottawa Trek. Vancouver musician Steve Gidora will accompany the group on guitar and mandolin.
U. Utah Phillips
Utah Phillips is one of those great figures that the United States turns out frequently enough to almost make you forgive them for Ronald Reagan. Firmly a product of the American west, Phillips is half anarcho-syndicalist and half poet like most of the best writers that part of the country has produced; writers such as Gary Snyder and Ken Kesey. Most people probably know Utah Phillips as a singer of labour songs, and in that area he is one of the best. He knows songs about miners, loggers, farm workers and about the great strikes of the first third of the century. He is a living and breathing connection to the western labour tradition that changed the world, but did not succeed in transforming it. But he is also a writer of great insight and sensitivity. He writes about kids, old people, love; songs you wouldn’t expect from Utah Phillips the ‘wobbly’. Further, he is a raconteur in the tradition of Will Rogers or Mark Twain – we would just as soon listen to Utah talk as sing. He’s one of the few people who really knows how to tell a joke, taking his time, building you up and then suckering you with the punch line. Now living in Spokane, Washington, Utah has slowed down a hectic performing schedule these last f~w years to write and to ponder.
Michael Pratt, Lynn McGown and Barry Truter
For years Lynn McGown and Michael Pratt have been mainstays of the Vancouver Folk Song Society, a group dedicated to preserving and developing folk music in this city. Originally from Birmingham, England, Michael comes from an Irish family with a singing mother and fiddling father. With a rich repertoire of traditional ballads, love songs and songs about work and workers, Michael accompanies himself on the fiddle or duet concertina. Lynn McGown was born in Montreal and grew up in a family where Quebec cultural traditions were still alive and flourishing. Lynn sings both traditional Quebecois material and new songs from the women’s movement. She is also a master clogger who beats out the rhythm as she sings or to accompany fiddle tunes. With the addition of Barry Truter on guitar, this accomplished trio sing songs of British Columbia, political songs, women’s songs, songs about Canada in both French and English, do very nicely at harmonies and lots of other things besides.
Ida Guillory was born in the town that lots of people have heard of in songs, but very few have been to: Lake Charles, Louisiana. She grew up there in the 1930s in an environment noted for its traditional music within a family that included a host of musicians. As a child Ida practised on a hand-me-down accordion her mother brought home. In 1947 the family moved to San Francisco where Ida performed as an accordionist at various Creole social functions before setting aside the accordion for marriage. Three teenagers later, Ida dusted off the instrument and began to practise. One thing led to another and, all of a sudden, Ida turned pro with The Bon Temps Zydeco Band. The music she plays is zydeco, a fusion of Black and cajun music with a good dose of R & B. It came out of the Louisiana swamps where descendants of Black slaves and French Canadian expatriates lived together for decades. (Zydeco is a corruption of the French word for green beans and the name of a traditional Acadian song brought to Louisiana by the French settlers from Canada.) Queen Ida and The Bon Temps Zydeco Band are some of the genre’s leading practitioners. If you’ve heard zydeco music, you know what you are in for; if you haven’t, you are about to be converted.
Chris Rawlings has been around for a long time and in this business that means you have to be both good and multitalented. In fact Chris does so many things well that it’s easy to think there is more than one of him. He’s probably best known as a singer/ songwriter who used to be very much part of the Montreal folk music scene, but he’s also released an album of Canadian recorder quartets. In 1981 he wrote songs and music for five National Film Board filmstrips on Canadian labour history, chronicling events like the Regina massacre and people like Vancouver Island’s own Ginger Goodwin (“a worker’s friend”). Chris is equally at home in English and French with traditional songs and his own contemporary compositions, love songs and songs for kids, and oh yes, he can sing The Rime of the Ancient Mariner in its entirety. (This takes 50 minutes, so don’t get him started unless you’ve got some time.) Chris has performed from the Queen Charlotte Islands to Bulgaria. Accompanying Chris this year is Christophe Obermeir who plays fiddle, guitar and cello as well as helping out on vocals. Christophe hails from Massawippi, Quebec, and is based in Montreal where he works with folks like Gilles Losier and Chris Crilly as well as Chris Rawlings.
Frankly, string bands are a ‘dime-a-dozen’ in the American south and for the Festival to bring one all the way to Vancouver means they have to be special. We think that Reel World is. The four women who make up the group have many of the assets that we look for in a string band: they are hot players with great voices who produce spectacular harmonies. They also have a repertoire of traditional songs and instrumental tunes that we like. However, what makes Reel World extra special for us is, as well as their musical association with the “old south”, they are also part of the “new south”. They are a politically conscious group who sing about women coal miners and the changing role of women, generally. They sing songs of working-class struggle and social change, some traditional, many contemporary, blending the wonderful music of Appalachia with lyrics that address topical issues. It is truly a remarkable thing to hear political songs sung with such marvellous voices. Based in Lexington, Kentucky, members of Reel World are doing something that we have really never come across before. The group is comprised of Rev Futrell, Karen Jones, Sue Masser and Sharon Ruble.
John Renbourn has been around for a long time as a soloist, with Pentangle and with his own eclectic ensemble, the John Renbourn group. And while some musicians who have been in the folk scene as long as John tend to get tired and rely on the old stuff, John has kept growing. His music is as fresh and dynamic today as when we first heard him 20 years ago. John is simply one of the most exceptional finger-style guitarists in the world. He creates a stylistic fusion of British folk music with elements of country blues, modern jazz, ragtime, classical, middle Eastern and pre-Renaissance music. As a singer John covers a lot of different material, ranging from American folk songs and blues to spectacular versions of those wonderful long English ballads. Listen to his Lord Franklin and you feel like you actually know Franklin. John has been to the Vancouver Festival a couple of times before, and we always look forward to his return. Whether by himself or performing with musical compadre, Stefan Grossman, as he will occasionally, this elder statesman of folk music is still full of surprises.
The Righteous Mothers
The Righteous Mothers are five women from Seattle, and, like many performers of folk music, they have other careers by day. One is a social worker, another a research analyst, one works as a paralegal, and two are attorneys. However, unlike many musicians whose day and nighttime careers are maintained in total separation, the daytime work of the members of The Righteous Mothers enriches their original songs. The topics they touch on include domestic violence, racism, relationships, aging and ice-cream. Yes, ice-cream. Perhaps nobody has sung as passionately about ice-cream as The Righteous Mothers. And sing they do. They are close harmony specialists who accompany themselves on piano, violin, acoustic guitar, electric bass and rhythm instruments. As the old country music advertisement goes, they sing “true stories of real life”. Over the past few years they have sung at rallies and concerts, for Geraldine Ferraro and the Seattle Seahawks. These women are what keeps folk music alive, connected as an organic part of the world, unlike most pop music which is the product of fantasy. The Righteous Mothers have long come to this Festival as members of the audience; this year we’re pleased to welcome them as performers. They are Clare Grausz, Marla Elliott, Molly Staley, Wendy Davis-Crocker, Anne Quirk and Lisa Brodoff.
Sally Rogers and Howie Bursen
Over the years we have been listening to Sally Rogers she has developed into a really superb singer of traditional and contemporary songs. Lately she has teamed up with Howie Bursen. Together they perform well chosen songs and tunes with a naturalness that always comes through. An article about Sally Rogers in Sing-out magazine probably says it best “She shows what a good singer can do with a song worth singing”. She sings acappella or accompanies herself on guitar, banjo or dulcimer. Her songs are, more often than not, simple songs about real things and real people. And for both her traditional and contemporary materials she looks beyond the already familiar. She was the first person we heard sing a wonderful song, Farmer in Florida, by a songwriter named Kitty Donohue. Howard Bursen has a Ph.D. in philosophy and has worked for the last ten years as a winemaker in Connecticut. His attachment to music, however, predates either of these pursuits. He is a superb banjo player whose voice combines well with Sally’s. Together they are a strong partnership that, like a good wine, is ageing well and showing unlimited promise for the future.
For 10 years Garnet Rogers traveled and performed with his brother Stan. Since Stan’s tragic death in 1983, Garnet has continued as a strong solo performer. For those who wondered if Garnet would be able to establish his own personality after having been so long associated with Stan, the answer is an unequivocal yes. Garnet has a wonderful voice and accompanies himself on guitar and violin. He also has the ability to find excellent songs; if you don’t write songs, discovering great ones is a rare talent. Equally rare is his ability to make the songs his own in a special way; each song carries a mark which is indelibly Garnet’s. He is also beginning to show himself as an able composer of tunes on the guitar. For Vancouver audiences who have not yet had an opportunity to hear Garnet Rogers as a solo performer we think you are in for a treat.
We’d been listening to John O’Connor’s fine songs for a number of years and were getting revved up to hire him for this year’s Festival (at long last, John might say), when we got a tape featuring a group that he was working with. And what a great group it is. Their songs range from Bread and Roses, a wonderful song that came out of the Lawrence, Massachusetts textile stike of 1912 – to one of our favourites, a song of the United Front written in the early 1930s by Bertholt Brecht. They also do songs about contemporary issues written by John O’Connor and others. The group came together in 1984 when an antinuclear march in Tacoma, Washington needed some performers. After that they performed for rallies of one sort and another, and began to develop their magnificent repertoire. Shays’ Rebellion brings to life songs that make up the historic memory of the battles fought by the working class. They know sad songs, funny songs, songs to raise your spirits, songs to make you angry, songs that tell the stories of some of the great fights for human progress. The group is based in Seattle and is composed of Susan Lewis, a woman with many years of experience in music, dance, and theatre; Tim Hall, a multi-instrumentalist with a large collection of traditional -and contemporary songs from all over the English-speaking world; Janet Stecher who was a member of an acappella trio, the Belles of Hoboken, where she met Susan Lewis; and John O’Connor who has been singing labour songs and writing for over 15 years.
We don’t know why Newfoundland has such great theatre: maybe it is the island’s relative isolation coupled with its rich tradition. But it is from a background of impressive theatre contributions that Sheila’s Brush comes. Their name comes from local folklore that says if it snows the day before St. Patrick’s Day, a bad spring will follow. If, on the other hand, it snows the day after St. Patrick’s Day, the spring will be a good one. The term ‘Sheila’s brush’ refers to a light fall of snow. The group was started as a musical project by Phil Dinn and Val Ryan in 1979. They were soon joined by Mercedes Barry, Frank Barry and Geoff Panting, and began writing shows using music, theatre and dance based on the folklore aural traditions of Newfoundland. Their shows weave fantasy, magic and reality, treading a fine line between normality and the bizarre. Together with Flip Janes and Agnes Walsh, they perform for adults and children alike. One of the best parts of their extensive repertoire is their exuberant renditions of ‘Jack Tales’. These classic adventures are performed everywhere from the Black American south, to England where they originated and have delighted audiences for hundreds of years. The group’s most recent show is The King of Ashes. In a year when we’ve got both a number of artists from Newfoundland and a variety of theatre groups, we are proud to welcome Sheila’s Brush.
Sileas (pronounced sheelis) is Mary MacMaster and Patsy Seddon. Together they are a wonderful duo who perform traditional Scottish music which we really like. And although Sileas are both strong as singers, they particularly shine as a harp duo; one of the few we’ve ever heard. Patsy and Mary met while studying for honour degrees in Celtic studies in Scottish history at Edinburgh University. They were both involved with the seven-piece all women group Sprangeen. Patsy, one of Scotland’s leading harpers, plays the Scottish harp or clarsach, while Mary is the only Scottish performer of the metal-strung harp. The combination of wire and gut-strung harps gives Sileas an incomparable sound. In addition to being talented instrumentalists, Patsy and Mary sing in Gaelic and Scots. Together, solo, accompanied and unaccompanied, their repertoire ranges from strongly rhythmic walking songs and laments, to compositions by women. We think Sileas will give us a sense of a very different kind of Scottish music, and we’re happy they are able to join us this year.
There are a lot of ways to change the world. In 1980 Fred Small left his job as staff attorney at the Conservation Law Foundation in New England to pursue a full time music career. But songwriting and law were long twice actions for Fred – he wrote his first song in 1974 on the morning of his first law examination. There are not many singing lawyers, especially ones who were Phi Betta Kappa at Yale; and with that background you may expect a topical songwriter in the tradition of Woody Guthrie, Malvina Reynolds and Tom Paxton. There is of course a similarity between jobs of a lawyer and a songwriter- you have to know how to tell your story simply in a way that reaches people immediately. And that is something that Fred Small knows how to do. His songs are serious and funny. He does a send-up of Reaganomics called Walk on the Supply Side, to the Lou Reed tune; a beautiful song about just what you think called Father’s Song; one of the better songs to come out of the peace movement called Cranes over Hiroshima; and songs about ordinary people, the kind of people who often inspire the best material in the hands of a skilful writer. In the last ten years there has emerged a bonanza of exceptionally talented songwriters – those who are writing the kinds of songs we need in these troubled times. We think Fred Small is one of the best.
Jorge Strunz, Ardeshir Farah and Ciro Hurtado
Without a doubt the acoustic guitar is one of the most popular instruments around. At this Festival we’ll hear it played by dozens of guitarists, performing a wide variety of music. But we have never presented anything quite like the music by Jorge Strunz, Ardeshir Farah and Ciro Hurtado. Theirs is a rare combination of tropical and Asian influences, combined with jazz. Only diverse musical backgrounds could create such a special musical blend. Jorge Strunz is from Costa Rico and lived in various parts of Latin America before basing himself in Los Angeles. He’s involved both musically and philosophically in the new song movement, has played in many Latin jazz ensembles and was schooled in flamenco and classical guitar while a child. Ardeshir Farah began studying the guitar at age 12 in his native Iran. Trained as an architect, Ardeshir has recorded and performed with many famous Persian artists. Ciro Hurtado, a Peruvian guitar player, has joined the duo of Jorge Strunz and Ardeshir Farah for this Festival. How Jorge and Ardeshir got together we don’t know, but in 1980 they recorded their first album which knocked us out. Their music has an Asian and Latin American flair and an emotional intensity that most fusion music never seems to capture. They play traditional tunes arranged in their own fashion, plus lots of originals, combining their musical virtuosity.
Sweet Honey in the Rock
Sweet Honey in the Rock began as part of a vocal workshop of the Washington, D.C. Black Repertory Theatre Company in November 1973. But that was really only when the group got its name. Its origins go back further to the Freedom Singers, a vocal group who came out of the civil rights movement in the 1950s and ’60s; and further back to the Black churches that produced so many great singers and transformed American music; and back before that, to the slave songs; and before that, to Africa and the great civilizations looted of their citizens who toiled away their lives in the American south. All that history comes together in Sweet Honey in the Rock. They sing fiercely of being fighters – taking their ever growing audiences through the historic struggle that is the Black American experience. Perhaps one of their greatest strengths is that they are, in the technical sense of the term, amateurs. They lead lives not of musicians, but of workers in a variety of fields. Bernice Johnson Reagon, who developed the concept and provides much of the leadership of Sweet Honey in the Rock, works for the Smithsonian Institute in the Black Studies Program; Evelyn Harris works as an administrative assistant for a women’s cultural organization; Ysaye Maria Barnwell is a speech pathologist and health care professional; Aisha Kahlil is a performing artist, teacher and choreographer, while Nitanja Bolade has worked with elements of music, dance and poetry in over a decade of extensive training, research and performance experience in African-rooted folklore. Over the years 20 Black women have lent their voices to Sweet Honey in the Rock. The group has performed all over the United States, at cultural and political events, as well as traveling to Japan, facilitating the production of a cultural festival to close the U.N. Decade for Women Conference in Nairobi, Kenya, and participated in events sponsored by the new song movement’ in Mexico City and Equador. They’ve recently released two albums, including an album of sacred songs. The group doesn’t travel much and we’re always honoured and delighted when Sweet Honey in the Rock will join us at this Festival.
Many years ago we first heard Bonnie Lockhart, one of the founding members of Swing-shift, in a folky-political ensemble called The Red Star Singers. Swingshift is basically a jazz group, although the content of many of their songs has more in common with the concerns of the folk music crowd. Theirs is that rare and exciting combination of really good music with strong progressive content. The sounds of Swingshift cover a wide range, from solid, danceable rhythm and blues, to haunting and delicate five-part acappella harmonies, but always returning to the group’s musical centre in jazz. And the jazz is solid and tasteful, whether it’s a standard like Mongo Santa-maria’s Afro Blue or Miles Davis’ Nardis or one of the originals by the group’s talented composers. Their combined musicianship enables them to communicate their politics with ease and power, whether singing about the struggles of black women in South Africa or celebrating gay pride. The quintet is composed of Bonnie Lockhart on piano; Susan Colson on bass; Naomi Schapiro playing flute and alto sax; Danielle Dowers on drums; and Inge Hoogerhuis on lead vocals. Six years of performing and touring have taken them to dozens of west coast and Midwest cities from Vancouver to Detroit. In 1984 Swing-shift traveled to Nicaragua for an enthusiastically received twenty-one concert tour. Returning to the United States, the group spent their most recent concert season touring rural California with a multimedia show inspired by the music and experiences of the Nicaraguan visit. We think Swingshift is one of the exciting things happening in contemporary music. They combine instrumental virtuosity with lyrics about things that need to be said.
New England based singer and songwriter Marcia Taylor is no stranger to this Festival. Appearing in 1983 and 1985 with the topical-folk-cabaret group Bright Morning Star, she’s back this year with her own original songs, accomplished guitar style and great voice. The material is humorous, up-to-the-minute and heartfelt; her style ranges from folk and blues to country and swing. Growing up in a US Air Force family, Marcia spent her childhood and adolescence moving every two to four years, living in the USSR, Germany, Canada and throughout the United States. Her singing career was launched in a church choir at the tender age of nine, and continued with a Bachelor of Music degree in classical guitar. She’s been writing songs and performing as a soloist since 1975, and in 1980 joined Bright Morning Star. Now living in Boston, Marcia Taylor works as a community activist and teacher of guitar and voice.
Phil & Hilda Thomas
Phil Thomas is one of Vancouver’s cultural treasures: almost single-handedly he has collected enormous numbers of songs from around British Columbia and has been responsible for taking them into the province’s schools. Born in Victoria, Phil was influenced by the injustices of the Great Depression and by folk music he heard in Ireland during and after the Second World War. He became interested in the power and images in folk music and, as a school teacher, started looking for songs about local history and experiences to share with children in his Pender Harbour classroom. He has added over 500 items to the Sound Archives of B.C. and published a book, Songs of the Pacific Northwest, which is widely regarded as the best available on the subject. Phil performs regularly with his wife, Hilda Thomas. They both play guitar and sing and were two of the four original founders of the Vancouver Folk Song society in 1959. As part of our Centennial programme, we wanted to present some of the rarely heard songs that speak about Vancouver and the land around it. We think Phil and Hilda’s presentation will give a view of the 100 years of history of the city and the province that all the tame, self-congratulatory pap usually produced for these events ignores.
It is almost a cliche that most of the best Black singers who emerge in the United States got their start singing in church. That’s why we had always wanted to have a real gospel group at the Festival, but had never really known how to go about it. A few years ago in Seattle, Charlie Murphy, a singer/songwriter appearing at this year’s Festival, began doing some work with Total Experience Gospel Choir. We heard some of it and thought, “They’re the ones.” Since then we’ve had the opportunity to hear them in live performance and we still get excited just remembering the experience. Pat Wright, leader of the group, has drawn its 20 members from Seattle’s Black community as part of her work with the church there. Most of the singers are young, many barely in their teens, but they are involved in their community and very aware of their role in carrying on a tradition rooted in Black history. They sing freedom songs and material which reflects the role of religion as a pillar of strength in the Black American population. And they do it phenomenally well. We’ve yet to see them perform where the audience was not up and clapping after a few songs. It’s an honor and a pleasure to bring Total Experience Gospel Choir to this Festival as an introduction to a popular art form that is rarely seen in these parts.
Lucie Blue Tremblay
One of the ways this Festival is able to grow artistically is through a network of informers – people who keep their eyes and ears open for folks of whom we haven’t heard and who probably haven’t heard of us. When one of our most trusted informers, from south of the border, was asked what good music she had heard lately, she said “Lucie Blue Tremblay, but of course you probably already know about her, she’s from Montreal.” Given the way this country works we can unfortunately more familiar with what is happening in San Francisco than Montreal, so we had not heard of Lucie Blue Tremblay. That’s even though she had swept the honours at the 16th annual Song Festival in Granby, Quebec in 1984, picking up the Singer/Songwriter Award, the Press Award And the Public Award. She was also a big hit at last summer’s Canadian Women’s Music and Cultural Festival in Winnipeg. Very rare for a Canadian performer, Lucie writes in both English and French, and seems equally at home with both. As a writer and singer she ranges from painful songs about incest, and life in prison, to songs of romance with a light and humorous touch. She can also whistle in a way that is unequaled. Her influences seem as diverse as the new Quebec pop music and the American women’s music scene. She puts it all together in a way that makes her one of the most interesting new Canadian voices we ye come across in a long time.
Peter Paul Van Camp
Peter Paul Van Camp is one of this country’s underrated treasures. A performing poet who moved to our fair land from Coshocton, Ohio, Peter Paul makes his home in Winnipeg. He has stunned audiences everywhere with his rendition of Casey at the Bat and with his own poetic efforts such as Dairy Products, perhaps the greatest celebration ever put on paper about the milkman and his products. Peter Paul Van Camp sent us his own biography which we reproduce here: “Salubrious living certainly repays the efforts it requires,” confides poet Peter Paul Van Camp, who in the past year has taken to married life ‘like a pencil to scribbling’. “Oh, you may talk of carousal and your wild oats, but give me a homely conscience, and corn to shuck with the Mrs. standing by!” Partisans of the folk circuit may well say ‘hurrah!’ to learn that the poet and Mrs. Van Camp are expecting their very first this summer. “A child, in fact,” the happy couple surmises. That gives you an idea. It has been years since Peter Paul Van Camp graced our Festival in 1978 and we have looked forward since then to his return. This year fate has smiled upon us.
Dave Van Ronk
Legendary is a term, which, more often than not, is applied to either the dead or to who’s who are no longer what they once were. But, anyone who has listened to Dave Van Honk over the last 25 years knows that he just keeps getting better. As a guitar player tackling the toughest ragtime compositions by Scott Joplin or Jelly Roll Morton, and writing a few of his own, Dave has mastered the art of playing less, making every note count. His voice has a range that makes his rendition of a Texas prison song like Old Hannah seem like an opera. Although it is trite to say someone can sing the phone book and make it sound interesting, Van Ronk strings together the names of a few dozen cities in New Jersey and it sounds great. Dave’s material ranges from the blues, which he is probably best known for, to compositions by Bertholt Brecht and contemporary writers, to his own sensitive songs. It’s all infused with an encyclopedic knowledge of American music, a sense of humour and a bit of self-parody thrown in for good measure. We began by saying this man is not a legend. He is instead a consummate artist at the height of his powers, still growing, re-interpreting old material and finding new things to say in new ways.
Vancouver’s Punjabi community numbers tens of thousands and for most of us, it is vastly misunderstood. The press too often gives the impression of a community seething with terrorists. As part of this year’s Centennial and labor programming, we invited the Punjabi cultural organization (who provided us with some wonderful dancers two years ago) to help us break down the barrier of ignorance that separates the majority of us from the reality of the Punjabi experience in British Columbia. Vancouver Sath, a non-profit organization, was formed by local Punjabi writers and artists in early 1983. One of their objectives was to create and promote theatre and literature about the community’s problems in Canada. Since March 1984, Sath has produced seven Punjabi plays, four of which were written by Sath members and are concerned with contemporary Canadian life. They have also written and performed poems and’ songs about various aspects of the community and published a number of analytical articles written collectively by Sath members for the local Punjabi press. The play Picket Line is based on recent struggles waged by Fraser Valley farmworkers who are treated like slaves in this society. A majority of these workers are Punjabis and in many cases they are directly exploited by Punjabi farmers and contractors. The play depicts the efforts of women farmworkers to form a union at a mushroom farm. Originally written in Punjabi by Sadhu Binning and Sukhwant Hundal, Picket Line has been seen by more than 1200 people in B.C. Cast for this English performance, with translation assistance by David Jackson, includes Pindy Gill, Anju Hundal, Bhavna Bhangoo, Sukhwant Hundal, Makhan Tat, Amanpal Sara, Nick Sihota and Sital Dkillon. the play is produced and directed by Sath collective members Sadhu Binning, Sukhwant Hundal, Mukhan Tut, Paul Binning and Amanpal Sara. Legendary is a term, which, more often than not, is applied to either the dead or to whose who are no longer what they once were. But, anyone who has listened to Dave Van Honk over the last 25 years knows that he just keeps getting better. As a guitar player tackling the toughest ragtime compositions by Scott Joplin or Jelly Roll Morton, and writing a few of his own, Dave has mastered the art of playing less, making every note count. His voice has a range that makes his rendition of a Texas prison song like Old Hannah seem like an opera. Although it is trite to say someone can sing the phone book and make it sound interesting, Van Ronk strings together the names of a few dozen cities in New Jersey and it sounds great. Dave’s material ranges from the blues, which he is probably best known for, to compositions by Bertholt Brecht and contemporary writers, to his own sensitive songs. It’s all infused with an encyclopedic knowledge of American music, a sense of humour and a bit of self-parody thrown in for good measure. We began by saying this man is not a legend. He is instead a consummate artist at the height of his powers, still growing, re-interpreting old material and finding new things to say in new ways.
Baxter Wareham hails from Arnold’s Cove in Newfoundland. Baxter is a multi-instrumentalist who plays guitar, four-string banjo, tin whistle and, most important, Newfoundland’s favourite instrument, the button accordion. He’s also a fine singer with a rich repertoire of both instrumental tunes and songs drawn from the distinct body of Newfoundland culture. With his brother Wilf, a member of the Breakwater Boys, Baxter has been part of the highly acclaimed Newfoundland folk scene that has preserved and carried on the island’s traditional culture. Like many great traditional performers, Baxter has made his living outside of music, spending many summers as a sailor and fisherman, and later becoming the vice principal of the school in Arnold’s Cove which has collected much of the material he performs.
We are stone cold We Three fans and have been ever since we first heard them. Based in Seattle, these three women are masters of that particular American music style that was performed by groups with the word ‘sisters’ after their name. However, We Three have taken that 1940s jazz/pop vocalizing and used it as a toy, a tool and a weapon. Songs like Give Me My Body Back, Don’t Move In and others are as powerful as any that have come out of the women’s movement. They do political material in a way that is to the point, but infused with enough humour that you don’t feel the knife slide in. They are also able to combine their voices in original harmonies and intriguing rhythms which are as unexpected as they are impressive. All three write songs and, in fact, their whole repertoire is just about one hundred per cent original – delivered with technical virtuosity and brilliant theatrics. We count ourselves lucky to live close to Seattle so we never have togo long without a ‘hit’ from this trio. It’s been several years since their first visit to the Festival when they took the audience by surprise, and we welcome back Sarah Favret, B. Sue Johnson and Kim Scanlon as We Three.
Nancy White & Doug Wilde
Nancy White does enough things well to be her own conglomerate. We first heard her as a satirist on the CBC. Then we met another Nancy White who sang Latin American nueva cancion material with a passion and sense of the music that very few non-Latin Americans can muster. Next we heard Nancy White as a serious songwriter. We can’t quite decide which one we like the best, but we’re sure looking forward to hearing all of Nancy White’s voices again. Born in Prince Edward Island and trained as an actress, Nancy captures this country as well as anyone. Nancy began singing when she moved to Toronto in 1970 and started writing topical songs for CBC Sunday Morning in 1976, doing a three year stint the first time. Her CBC exposure both introduced her to a huge audience and pigeon-holed her as a satirical/comedic songwriter. And although she remains the best satirist in the country, there is a lot more to Nancy than that. She is a political writer without being a pamphleteer. Perhaps the first North American writer to be really influenced by what was happening in Latin America, Nancy has made several trips to Nicaragua and is active in supporting the Sandinista revolution. But that is in some ways another pigeon-hole. Fundamentally, Nancy White is an extremely talented writer and performer who can operate in a number of genres. Lately, motherhood has come her way and she’s doing far less performing than before, so we are real happy she’s decided to come back to our Festival. We’re doubly happy that Doug Wilde, her partner in life as well as music, is able to be with her. Doug is an exceptional piano player and composer who creates a musical foundation which acts as a catalyst for Nancy’s lyrics. The end result is great songs.
Chris Whiteley & Caitlin Hanford
It seems that certain kinds of music lend themselves to particular styles of presentation. For example, country music has produced a large number of duets: from the Delmor Brothers to the present, there have been dozens of pairs who have expressed the music in this way. Chris Whiteley and Caitlin Hanford perform contemporary country music in the tradition of great male/female two part harmonies. Theirs is a special blend of original compositions, classic country duets, western swing and rock-a-billy. Although they are currently one of the best things happening in Canadian country music, it was only recently that they adopted their duet style. Chris began playing professionally over 15 years ago as a member of Toronto’s The Original Sloth Band which emphasized blues and jazz. Caitlin Hanford was born in Kansas (oddly enough so was Chris); she grew up in Seattle, then moved to Canada where she worked in a country folk duo with Montreal-based singer/songwriter Linda Morrison. Chris is exceptional on a number of instruments including guitar, harmonica and trumpet. With Caitlin on rhythm guitar, the two of them have an unusual gift for harmony which gives them a special sound. Much of their material is written by Chris who has penned such great tunes as Take your Time and Do It Right which has been covered by a number of other performers. They will be accompanied by their band: John Sheard, John Adames and Dennis Pendrith.
Whole Loaf Theatre
Whole Loaf Theatre has come a long way since we used to see them performing in parks in Vancouver well over ten years ago. In 1976 they moved to Toronto where they have written and produced fifteen original shows and toured this country as well as the United States and Europe. Sara Barker and David Anderson describe themselves as “modern ‘everyman’s’ theatre, a theatre which waylays those who pass endlessly from one appointment to another, a theatre which becomes for its audience a time to reflect and laugh and talk back, a theatre of compelling stories and vivid images, an inclusive theatre which is truly interesting to adults and children.” They use a rich vocabulary of comedic style, acting, dramatic song, narration, puppetry, music, and which inspires enthusiastic participation. They do a wonderful thing called The Judy Show where Judy leaves Punch and travels to Megalopolis in search of her inheritance, then finds herself at war with the “American Dream Machine Sound familiar? They also do ‘moritaten’, a medieval descendant of a narrative song illustrated on a large banner which depicts scenes from the song. Most of you will say you have never heard of moritaten. But they were traditional fairground forms common before the days of radio and T.V. The moritat, Von Micki Messer, better known by its English name Mac the Knife, is one that Whole Loaf Theatre does. But they also perform The Real Sleeping Beauty, and lots more fascinating stuff besides. Sara and David will be joined by their young daughter, Rosa Barker Anderson.
Cris Williamson has been such an important factor in the development of what has been called ‘women’s music’ that sometimes her talents as a writer and performer become buried in the folklore associated with her name. But we consider her to be one of the finest songwriters and an exceptionally talented performer. Several of her songs have become anthems and that, we think, is the supreme compliment in her line of work. Although many first heard Cris Williamson with the release of The Changer and the Changed on Olivia Records (which she co-founded in 1975), her recording and singing career go back to the mid-sixties. Born in the Black Hills of South Dakota and the daughter of a forest ranger, Cris spent much of her childhood in the wilderness of Wyoming and Colorado where she gained a deep reverence for life and nature. An old wind-up victrola and family sing-alongs started her career. By the time she entered university in Denver, Cris had taken up the guitar and recorded three albums. in 1969 she graduated with a BA in English and headed west to pursue a career in music, releasing an album on Ampex in 1971 just before it went out of business. In 1973 an off-the-cuff remark about forming a women’s record label led to the founding of Olivia Records which has not only released Cris’ recordings, but also has become a vehicle for many other performers and has changed what thousands of people listen to. Cris’ songs range from science fiction fantasies for children to songs about the land, love songs, even an album of Christmas music. One of the most powerful songs we’ve heard in a decade is her Grandmother’s Land about the flight to Canada by Native people threatened with genocide in the 1880s. For year’s we’ve wanted to present Cris at the Festival, and this year we’ve managed to do it. Cris will be accompanied by Tret Fure, able accompanist on vocals and guitar, and no mean writer and performer herself, and by exceptional bass player Carrie Barton.
Wives’ Tales Story Tellers
Storytelling is increasingly being recognized as a legitimate adult cultural form in this country. For years storytelling has been a big part of traditional cultures in many societies and, frankly, we’re just as happy to listen to a great story as we are to listen to a great song. And Wives’ Tales Storytellers tell great stories. A partnership of two long-time friends who are both actresses, Nan Gregory and Melanie Ray, formed a duo a couple of years ago and have not stopped talking since. Their stories are drawn from a wide variety of sources. They have some fascinating tales from the Caribbean and a wonderful collection of stories about the history of Vancouver which they’ve been telling around the city during this centennial year. They particularly enjoy creating material which reflects and validates the experiences and struggles of women. They perform in hospitals, for seniors, for youngsters in schools, in restaurants for eaters, and this year here at the Festival.