C.R. Avery – British Columbia
They say you can tell a lot about someone by the company they keep. On the poster for his recent Rock and Roll Bandit tour, C.R. Avery features a photo montage that includes Billie Holiday, Pablo Picasso, Louis Riel, Terry Fox, Johnny Cash and Woody Guthrie. Then there are some wonderful duo shots- Bob Dylan and Muhammad Ali, Bonnie and Clyde, Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo, and Fidel Castro and Ernest Hemmingway. A trio photo features Pierre Elliot Trudeau, John Lennon and Yoko Ono. So…what does that tell you? Diverse, Canadian, well read and captivated by twentieth century cultural mythology? Could be.
C.R. emerged in the late 1990s when lots of borders were falling – physically and metaphorically. Describing himself as an ”Outlaw Hip-Hop Harmonica Player, Beatbox Poet, Punk Piano Player, String Quartet Raconteur, Rock & Roll Matador and playwright, Mr. Avery took the stage with fearless abandon and has never left. Along the way he has learned plaudits from such iconoclasts as Tom Waits and Utah Phillips and compliments on his harmonica playing from Charlie Musselwhite, which is a bit like being told by Michelangelo that you have a handy way with a chisel.
A musical omnivore who has proven it over 15 recordings in a dozen years, Avery’s finest gift is his writing. Appropriately enough, his most recent release is Great Canadian Novel. Equally appropriately, it features a tribute to Trudeau, complimenting him on being called an “asshole” by Richard Nixon. lt opens with a blistering attack on at least one “folk singer” with a sort of Lou Reed approach and the suggestion that smoking outside the club, among other things, is preferable to listening to the individual in question. On Gangsters of the Highway the chorus is a dirge-like There ain’t no money in rock’n roll while Lemon Meringue Pie is a brilliant tribute-of-sorts to Dylan’s Leopard Skin Pill Box Hat. Mr. Avery clearly has “issues” with the entertainment industry, the American government, and many, many other things. They itch, and in his scratching, C.R. Avery has made some interesting, entertaining and powerful art.
Beats Antique – California
“Experimental electronic gypsy world music blues brostep death metal deathstep dupstep electronica goth hard core horror film Oak/and” – these are words that Beats Antique assigned to one of the cuts from their work. Got it? We don’t even know what some of those words mean! Well, perhaps a bit more detail is required.
Essentially, Beats Antique are two gentlemen from San Francisco. Oave Satori hails from Vermont and studied classical music before being drawn into the world music scene. He plays various stringed instruments including the electric saz, a Turkish lute. Tommy Cappel grew up in Virginia, where both parents are music teachers and his brother is a drummer. Tommy followed the family business by going to Boston’s Berklee College of Music for a degree in studio drumming and an immersion in jazz. There he became involved in working out African and Arabic drum patterns. Both he and Dave toured to various countries with various bands, from Bali to Nigeria to Serbia, picking up music on the way. They both ended up in California and there they met.
In 2007 they formed Beats Antique. Strings and percussion – it’s what makes the world go round. There are also turntables, samples and lots more in line with European contemporary world music ensembles. They sometimes work as a trio with belly dancer Zoe Jakes.
There will be plenty of sound and some fury as well. The approach is ‘take no prisoners.’ The influences are from pretty well everywhere on the planet and the creative ability on display testifies to the fact that these are seasoned pros. The Arab influences are profound, creating a framework for the African, jazz and other bits and pieces that make up the music of this very unantique ensemble.
Dustin Bental & Kendel Carson – British Columbia
“I can’t call myself a cowboy because I have yet to jump off a horse at full gallop to wrestle a steer to the ground like some of my buddies. That is the only thing left on my list for dying happy.” Dustin Bentall appears to be a happy man. Well, he should be. His career as a singer-songwriter is doing just fine. The son of iconic Canadian rocker Barney Bentall, Dustin was raised in North Vancouver, perhaps an unlikely locale for a devotee of the country sound, but it’s not the where so much as the what. For Dustin, it was Gram Parsons, the legendary and tragic man who brought country music to The Byrds and Emmy Lou Harris, and died young from hard living. Grievous Angel was the first time I ever sat down and listened to a record and thought, holy shit! Music can sound THAT good.”
Hard work and some life experience, including a car wreck that could have been the end, have created a songwriter whose approach is that of storytelling as opposed to confessing. Well, like all good writers, maybe there’s some autobiography in there but great songs like Crash Hard, about prison in the forties, or Draft Dodger, set in a time period about leaving your country long before Dustin was born, testify to imagination, or reportage.
While Dustin has adopted a country aesthetic, Kendel Carson was born to it. Raised on a farm in Alberta, Kendel gravitated to the violin early and to a love of trucks not long after- two mainstays of country music. A few years ago she had a hit with I Like Trucks. Before that, she learned classical violin and played with the National Youth Orchestra and Victoria Symphony. She fell in with folk music however, and that led to working with the Paperboys, among other bands. A chance meeting with veteran rock songwriter (Angel of the Morning, Wild Thing) and producer Chip Taylor, has led to a record deal and other good things. A triple threat -wonderful singer, player and songwriter- Kendel has both a solo career and partnership with Dustin Bentall.
Dan Bern – California
If you go to the official Dan Bern Lyric Archive on the man’s website, you will find lyrics to over 400 Dan Bern songs, both released and unreleased material.
Dan Bern is a songwriter. Dan Bern is a prolific songwriter. Dan Bern has written songs about almost every aspect of American life in the last 15 years or so. Dan Bern has written finely crafted songs that examine who he is, and, through that, who we are. He has also written political jingles, like Bush Must Be Defeated, that are not great poetry but do make the point in no uncertain terms. And what can you say about Alaska Highway with its opening verse: Riding down the highway with Cowboy Joe/met Leonardo DiCaprio/Leo, he’s trying to get away from The unwanted advances of Eminem/ Ems wearing drawstrings & lisping along/Saying please put me into your highway song? That’s a sampling from the “A” section.
Dan Bern is also a dynamic performer whose songs, perhaps, are only fully appreciated when sung by him in front of you. Happily, he has made some very good live recordings. Dan first made his mark on the scene in the nineties when folk music ushered in a bunch of young artists who, while inspired by the Woody Guthrie, Bob Dylan or Utah Phillips tradition, were also enamored of the energy of rock and roll and the power of poetry and stand up. Buddy Holly, Little Richard, Lenny Bruce and Richard Prior shared the shelf with more traditional folk icons. Dan was one of the ones who unselfconsciously put it all together in a new and fearless way.
Over the last few years Dan has kept himself busy. He has published a songbook, featuring 17 of those 400 songs, but with guitar tabs. He has released a new live recording- Live in New York- and written songs for various films. But the main thing is that Dan continues to write, and continues to sing what he writes. It is with real anticipation we await his return to the shores of Jericho Beach.
Jim Bryson and the Weakerthans Band – Ontario/Manitoba
The Falcon Lake Incident is a 1967 encounter between a prospector and a UFO on the shores of Manitoba’s Falcon Lake, a cottage destination for Winnipeggers. The Falcon Lake Incident is also a new recording featuring the songs of songwriter Jim Bryson.
Bryson came up in the Ottawa band Punchbuggy, a nineties punkish rock outfit. He worked with many Ontario luminaries including Kathleen Edwards (it has been said that IMake the Dough, You Get The Glory is about him), Lynn Miles, Sara Harmer and the Tragically Hip as well as The Weakerthans.
In 2000 he released his first recording of original work under his own name. There are two more plus a live album and now, The Falcon Lake Incident. lt has nothing to do with the 1967 business. lt has everything to do with the fact that while Jim Bryson is far from being a household word in Canada generally or even Canadian music circles, he is one of those guys who people much better known than he is have enormous respect for. Hence the sort of who’s-who that worked on it. First and foremost is The Weakerthans, perhaps the country’s most intelligent band. lt was a short drive from the band’s Winnipeg home to Falcon Lake but still, it is not often that a band known for its own original writing acts as a backup band.Singer Jill Barber and Tragically Hip bassist Gord Sinclair helped out. The album was mixed by Darryl Neudorf (Neko Case, the New Pornographers) and Dave Draves (Kathleen Edwards, Gentleman Reg).
In a tribute to another time, the record was made in six January days in a cottage on Falcon Lake. The songs? Finely polished and exquisitely cut gems about life and coming of age and disappointment. It is the perfect combination of really good songs and a great band without pretension. Wonderfully, the Weakerthans offered to tour with the project and Vancouver audiences will be lucky to hear it live. A treat, and a lot more interesting than a UFO.
Buck 65 – Nova Scotia
“Bucks” floating around town that Ricardo figured he was the 65th. it’s a quirky tale but an honest one- just like the creations of its owner. Those creations began in the late eighties but Buck really starts counting about two decades ago. Hence the celebration of 20 Odd Years, the title of his latest recording.
Counting singles, EPs, etc. there have been almost 40 recordings – some good, some, in the eye of their creator, less good. Hip hop was not a big deal where Buck grew up. Knowing that he was out of step with the popular music surrounding him, he took it as a licence to listen to all kinds of things, things that have found their way into his songs. He credits Afrika Bambaataa, one of the pioneer rap/hip hop artists, as a major influence. Then he lists an eclectic crew made up of Townes Van Zandt, Leonard Cohen, Captain Beefheart, Skip James, Johnny Cash, lggy Pop, Radiohead, Jacques Brei, Serge Gainsbourg, David Lynch, Egon Shiele “and countless others.” If you’ve listened to, or looked atl watched, all these folks, just try and connect the dots. Then try and fit their work into what -Buck 65 does. But he’s an artist so HE can see it.
Buck 65 has flown in the face of all the cliches about what hip hop, a term he likes and identifies with, is supposed to be. He is an intellectual expressing himself in a medium to be. He is an intellectual expressing himself in a medium rarely described thus. He knows his music does not fit into easy categories but doesn’t let it bother him. His most recent recording has a Leonard Cohen cover tune, and is mainly a collection of love songs, with the occasional wonderfully weird social protest number like Zombie Delight- “Brain dead zombies are taking over planet earth.” As a statement of 20 years of creative work, they sum up an artist who demonstrates uncommon talent in any genre.
The Burning Hell – Ontario
This not a religious ensemble, although there is a certain apocalyptic undercurrent in the band’s self description: “The essence of The Burning Hell is music to dance to while laughing about death, music you can sing along to while smiling out of the side of your mouth, knowing that while the end may be near, the bar is still open.” Got it? The Burning Hell is the project of a young man named Mathias Kom. He plays the ukelele and lives in Peterborough, Ontario. Peterborough has a history of being a home for wayward wacky artists, including such luminaries as Joe Hall. Mathias is in this tradition. The band is of elastic size. Some are based in Peterborough, others live in St. John’s, Newfoundland, which must make rehearsals tough. The instrumentation takes in most of what can be found in a high school band rehearsal space from guitar to baritone sax to glockenspiel.
The music is your basic American neo trad jazz/blues/klezmer/ whatever comes tomind. Lyrically the songs range from a charming autobiographical ditty, My Name is Mathias, which tells the tale of his mother’s conversion to Judaism and his parents’ immigration to Canada to avoid the draft. The Berlin Conference references the meeting of the European colonial powers in Berlin in 1884, where the division and exploitation of Africa was systematized. Grave Situation, a ballad of murder, resurrection and revenge features a nod to fifties’ Zombie Jamboree. Let’s just say there is no limit to the imagination, lyrical or musical, of Mr. Kom. Let’s also say that this is brilliant stuff that is its own special take on contemporary popular music with lots of roots and branches.
There is a theatrical element in all this. The latest blog post from Mathias is sent from a German tour where the band had been working up a skit where, “I play Jason Kenney, Canada’s immigration minister. I’m giving a speech about closing the borders when suddenly I’m attacked by an assortment of woodland creatures (a bear, an owl, a caribou, a raccoon and a squirrel), which are played by the rest of the band.”
Now you know. Ready to burn in hell?
Kathryn Calder – British Columbia
Back at the turn of the millennium there was a Victoria band called Immaculate Machine. The name comes from a Paul Simon song, One Trick Pony. it’s about a band that can’t do but one thing well, but what they can do is like “God’s immaculate machine.” (it’s worth finding the movie of the same name.) In that band was a young woman named Kathryn (alder. She is no “one trick pony,” as she has proven. After five years with Immaculate Machine, Ms. (alder moved on to the New Pornographers, a Vancouver band of renown fronted by her uncle, Carl Newman. Kathryn plays keyboards and sings.
Now, after close to a decade of performing, she has launched a solo career in tandem with her band duties and released her first solo recording, Are You My Mother? The title, like the CD itself, has layers of meaning. The name comes from a children’s book about a bird and the search for its mother – a book that Kathryn loved to read when she was in the babysitting business. The CD was recorded in the family home as Kathryn was caring for her mother who was dying. This is where the linear stops and the creative takes over. These are not songs about taking care of your mother. These are songs about taking stock of your life at a moment when you can look back.
Musically, Kathryn is able to work several sides of several streets. Sometimes she is an ethereal songstress lost in self consciousness, then, like in the song If You Only Knew, she moves into an infectious poppy song of amorous adoration with an almost calypso beat.
Are You My Mother was recorded and then sat there a while, as Kathryn was touring with the New Pornographers. Now she has the time and desire to stake her claim with her first solo release. The songs, and her performance abilities, honed with years of performance with two bands, give this songwriter a strength that belies the fact that this is a debut. Ms. Calder.is definitively a contender.
Rosanne Cash – United States
It must be hard to be the daughter of Johnny Cash and stepdaughter of June Carter and therefore granddaughter of Maybelle Carter and the rest of the Carter Family. No matter how good you are, it’s gonna be hard to outshine your antecedents.
Rosanne Cash has managed something really special; she has honoured her family while establishing her own persona as the core of her work as an artist. While she was on the road with the Johnny Cash show at 18, she took time away from it to study drama at Vanderbilt University and the Lee Strasberg Institute. She has released 12 recordings, which have generated 11 number one singles, a Grammy and nine Grammy nominations. She has also published a book of short stories and a children’s book. Her printed memoir came out last year, as did another kind of memoir, her most recent recording, The List, the repertoire that Ms. Cash is touring this summer.
The List is twice a family affair. First it is a collection of songs her dad gave her – the best American songs around in his opinion (we won’t dwell on the fact that one, Movin’ On, is by Nova Scotian Hank Snow). Second, The List was produced by, and features, Rosanne’s husband, guitarist and most everything else, John Leventhal. The List is a gorgeous collection that moves from the traditional Motherless Children and Five Hundred Miles to a very tasty selection of contemporary songwriters’ works from Danny Dill’s classic Long Black Veil to Mr. Zimmerman’s Girl of the North Country (made famous by the television duet Ms. Cash’s father performed with Bob 40-some years ago). There are classics and great songs deserving of further attention. lt is an epic journey through great contemporary music.
Honour is due to all involved for not overproducing the project. Mainly it’s Rosanne, John Leventhal on guitar and keyboards, and a rhythm section. it’s about the singer and the songs. lt demonstrates that Rosanne Cash is an artist to treasure, with an individual voice capable of carrying off performances of songs that require the very best to avoid nasty comparisons. Yes she can!
James Cotton Superharp – Mississippi
File under legend. In 1965, blues writer and record producer Samuel Charters made a trio of records for Vanguard. The aim was to demonstrate to white audiences that,while there were many great old acoustic bluesmen who were being “rediscovered” and who were able to play blues in the old style, the electric blues were alive and well and kicking in Chicago. Among the artists recorded on that groundbreaking series were Junior Wells, Otis Rush, Johnny Shines and a harmonica player listed as Jimmy Cotton.
“Jimmy” was 30 at that point and had already been playing for almost 20 years. His first gig was an almost-too-mythological stint as a water boy on a plantation in his native Mississippi. After delivering water to the cotton pickers, he would entertain them by playing his harmonica. An orphan at nine, James Cotton was introduced to Sonny Boy Williams, another legend. He played Sonny Boy’s signature tunes at him and soon was opening for the older player, performing on the porches of speakeasies he wasn’t allowed into. He recorded for Sun Records at the age of 15. By his early twenties he was Little Waiter’s replacement in Muddy Waters’ band, working out of Chicago and recording for Chess Records.
The Vanguard recordings introduced a whole new audience to Jimmy Cotton and a couple of years later the James Cotton Blues Band was touring and recording on the Vanguard and Verve record labels. He worked as the opening act for Janis Joplin and was managed for a while by Albert Grossman. Gigs with Led Zeppelin, Santana, the Grateful Dead and other rock super groups filled the seventies.
Cotton was equally famous for his harmonica pyrotechnics and his athletic abilities, doing back flips in the middle of songs. His bands were impeccable, featuring lots of great young players who James gave a break to, as had been given to him. And always at the heart of it is the combination of music from the Deep South expressed through the aesthetic of the urban north. The back flips have been set aside but the music is still there. it doesn’t get any better.
Samantha Crain – Oklahoma
Samantha Crain is not who comes to mind when one hears the name Oklahoma. That said,this very original songwriter was recently honoured with a “Woody” award, named after Woody Guthrie, Oklahoma’s best known contribution to folk music. So maybe our conception of Oklahoma is wrong. Samantha regards Woody as one of her idols although the influence is not obvious. Well, not many influences are.
This artist, a Native American Choctaw, hailing from Shawnee, has been on the scene for a few years now but recently the scene has begun paying a lot of attention. There is a new generation of American singer-songwriters coming up. This is good for folk music. In fact, it is good for all kinds of music. A number of these folks are at this festival, not least, Justin Townes Earle and Josh Ritter, both of whom Samantha has toured with. Another, a few years older, is Mary Gauthier, who Samantha has been mentioned with. These artists have a solid appreciation for what came before but are not trying to recreate it. They are not ashamed to admire Woody Guthrie but are not trying to be the new Woody either. They are not trying to be the new anything. They are mixing and matching folk, country, alt, everything, and fusing it all into a solid foundation for original lyrics that are more poetic than journalistic. That does not mean there are no tales to tell. For example, as Ms. Crain describes The River, from her first EP of original songs, “This song’s about a preacher who drowns a man that he’s baptizing.”
There have been a couple of full-length recordings since then. Each is full of songs that really don’t sound like anyone else. Samantha is an original. Just like that other Oklahoma singer. A recent review ended with one of those tags: “For those who like Martha Wainwright, Pete Seeger, Neko Case, Feist.” Pete must be proud, and Samantha too!
The Dardanelles – Newfoundland
Every so often, out of the fog, comes a new crop of young traditional music practitioners who serve to remind us how deep the roots are on The Rock, and how dynamic the music can be. We recall Figgy Duff and then Rawlins Cross and others. Now, fronted by CBC radio personality and raconteur Tom Power, and armed with accordion, bouzouki, fiddle, guitar and bodhran, The Dardanelles are making their mark. They’ve been around for a few years, but only since 2009 have they set their sights on “the mainland.”
The band is young and, oddly, emerged from Tom’s high school (Holy Heart of Mary) bluegrass band, Bart and the Breadpicks. Emilia Bartellas, the group’s fiddler, was also a member of this august ensemble. Aaron Collis on accordion, Andrew Dale on bouzouki and banjo and Richard Klaas on bodhran came to the band by varied routes. Richard is a Nova Scotian who came to Newfoundland for university. Aaron was acquired at a folk festival, while Dale was once in The Once, another wonderful new Newfoundland outfit.
The name? The Dardanelles are the body of water that separates Asia and Europe in Turkey. It is also the location of a battle that went very wrong for Allied troops in World War I. It is also the name of a St. John’s street near the aforementioned Holy Heart of Mary High School. it is, in fact, named after the battle where Newfoundland troops fought (Eric Bogie’s And The Band Played Waltzing Matilda is about said battle).
The music is traditional instrumental music. The band’s promo describes their approach as more in keeping with the energy of a three-member punk band than a five-piece folk ensemble and there is some truth to that, although this is a long way from The Pogues. The Dardanelles has assembled a fine collection of tunes and has not picked the most common or obvious ones. More importantly, they also bring to the tradition love and respect. That, coupled with talent and energy, has produced a wonderful new addition to the grand tradition of Newfoundland music.
Alpha Yaya Diallo – British Columbia
It was about 20 years ago that a group of musicians from Guinea in West Africa came to tour Canada. Fatala had a very young and very talented guitarist. Two decades later, Alpha Yaya Diallo, the guitarist in question, has become an iconic figure in Canadian world music, presenting not only the music of the varied cultures of his country of birth but also a repertoire of songs that he has written in his adopted homeland. There are a lot of ‘multis’ in any description of the work of Alpha. He is a multi-instrumentalist whose tasty chops on guitar, both acoustic and electric, are matched by his abilities on the balofon (African xylophone) and other percussion. He is multilingual, being fluent in English, French, Foulani and Souso.
Growing up, Alpha had the rare opportunity to be exposed to many of the diverse cultures of Guinea. His father was a doctor and the family was frequently on the move. This allowed the young man to learn the culture and traditions of not only his own Foulani people but also the Malenke and Sousou. Self· taught,Alpha picked up the guitar and other instruments from watching and listening. Later he moved to Senegal where he learned mbalax rhythms and others, including Caribbean and Cape Verdean styles. In the late eighties Alpha joined Fatala and was heard by folks from Womex, the Berlin·based World Music Expo- recording and international touring followed.
Since he settled in Vancouver, he has led his own ensembles, recorded half a dozen albums and toured widely across Canada and the world. He has been part of a number of collaborations with other African-Canadian guitarists and earned enough JUNO awards and nominations to fill a sizeable shelf. His most recent compositions are songs that address important social issues. The title track of his latest recording, /mme – which means “stand up” -was commissioned by the United Nations to address AIDS/HIV. Others deal with climate change, the economic crisis and the evils it engenders. Alpha points out though, that “they are also about love, hope and the beauty of inspiration.” In that spirit, we welcome Alpha back to this festival.
DiggingRoots – Ontario
Happily, we have come a long, long way from the days of what an early aboriginal folksinger called “the feathers and leather show.” Now, aboriginal music means to possess what the Germans call certain weltanschauung, a world view that reflects the aboriginal experience This is well demonstrated by Digging Roots, and also by another artist at this festival, Samantha Crain.
ShoShona Kish of Batchewana First Nation and Raven Kanatakta of Kahnawake First Nation are the core of DiggingRoots, the axis around which the group turns. They write the songs and sing them. Raven also plays a tasty guitar that kind of surveys the blues from its most essential rural form to post-Hendrix. Add a rhythm section and you have a neat combo, with two fine singers. The music they create is perhaps best described as a world pop blend. Earlier on in their career – they’ve been together since 2004 – there was more reggae. Now it is harder to tell. They won an Aboriginal Peoples Choice Music Award for Best Blues Album and a Native American Music Award for Best Pop Album as well as a Juno for Best Aboriginal Recording. Go figure. The music has become more diverse and more original, authentically theirs. Not that they can’t do a credible job on a country ballad like Grandfather’s Song or a channeling of Big Brother and The Holding Company with Janis up front on Cut My Hair when the mood strikes.
The common denominator is that this is a pair of artists who are writing songs that try to address the challenges that face folks as inhabitants of the planet. Members of families, peoples and other formations that produce stressful situations. lt is the content. More than the musical settings, that defines DiggingRoots. They have two recordings to their credit, the most recent, We Are, produced by fellow Canadian aboriginal hard-to-define artist Kinnie Starr. They have been touring Canada, our neighbours to the south, Australia and Europe. It’s been a few years since they have graced a stage in Vancouver. lt’s high time.
Dry Bones – Manitoba
It’s pretty rare that an artist, other than a side person, appears at a festival in two different groups. lt is even rarer that two members of a band are the children of fathers who worked together when they were young men. Leonard Podolak of The Duhks has been working on this new project. Dry Bones, while The Duhks. take some time off. Nathan Rogers has been working on Dry Bones as a parallel project to his career as a singer-songwriter. Years ago, Leonard’s dad Mitch and Nathan’s dad Stan made a record called Fogarty’s Cove that had a pretty big impact on Canadian folk music. Though self-described as a “rock and roll bandleader and composer,” J.D. Edwards is equally at home as an acoustic singer-songwriter and takes time from the J.D. Edwards Band to complete Dry Bones.
The name of the band comes from a gospel tune that references the Bible- Ezek’1el 37:1-6 for those so inc1’1ned. it’s about life being breathed into a pile of bones and those bones living again. We don’t know whether the band just likes the song or there is some deeper meaning associated with getting away from the mainstream of each artist’s career. What is known is that these three Winnipeg artists, each a success in their own ensemble or career, have united to perform as a trio. All three members have carved out reputations as strong contemporary songwriters. With that kind of repertoire in their pockets there is no shortage of material contributed by each member. They also share a love for traditional music. Between Leonard’s banjo, and J.D.’s guitar along with two lead vocalists, Nathan and J.D., they have enormous instrumental versatility. They’ve said of themselves, “One moment Dry Bones sounds like a traditional jug band and then shifts and becomes the arousing herald of today’s acoustic rock and roll.”
It’s an uncommon thing for three leaders to join together as a band of equals. Maybe that’s what it takes to make those dry bones get up, shake off the dust and walk.
The Duhks – Manitoba
The old debate of nature vs. nurture is well represented in Leonard Podolak, founder and leader of the Winnipeg band The Duhks. His great uncle led a Jewish Communist mandolin orchestra in Toronto back in the forties. His father, not a bad banjo player himself, was the founder of the Winnipeg Folk Festival, among others. Leonard grew up surrounded by music and musicians, in a house where deciding to become a professional banjo player was greeted with the wild approval meeting “lawyer” or “doctor” in other homes. Whether it is the genes or the environment, Leonard Podolak has become a major figure among youngish folk-based musicians in Canada, and The Dukhs an admired band whose continual metamorphosis is a cause for wonder.
The origins of the band go back to the project of a bunch of crazy kids in the late nineties. Scruj MacDuhk, a crafty appropriation of a Disney character, arrived on the scene and met with immediate success. A few years later its members went their separate ways. The Duhks preserved some of the name and feel of the original band, a rooting in traditional music, a distinct Appalachian feel, an unusual appreciation for French Canadian music, and an endless appetite for other music, both old and new. Through various personnel changes and constant evolution, The Duhks have left their webbed foot imprint on the earth with numerous tours, four full length recordings and an international career.
The most recent recording, Fast Paced World, is an example of how wide an embrace the band has. The title song addresses the crisis of humanity, while a cover of the old blues Mighty Storm chronicles the Galveston, Texas flood of 1900. Like everything The Duhks do, both are unexpected in their approach.
The last year has seen a diminution of activity as the group’s members have pursued individual projects including guitar building, folk cruise ship performing (yes … such a thing exists) and new musical collaborations. That said, Leonard and fellow current member Jordan McConnell team up with former members Jesse Harvey and Scott Senior for select summer gigs, including this one.
Justin Townes Earl – United States
We don’t know where the Justin came from but the Townes honours Townes Van Zandt and the Earle, father Steve. lt’s a good start if you’re going to be a songwriter. Add to that a strong appreciation of Woody Guthrie- one of his idols- and a whole bunch of talent, inherited or acquired. Justin grew up in Nashville and by the time he was a teenager he was performing in local rock, and then bluegrass, bands. For a while he had a gig with his dad’s outfit, The Dukes.
Like the men he is named for, Justin has had a problem with bad habits and poor lifestyle choices that have made his life harder than it might have been. He has also worked hard to overcome them and that struggle shows up in his music. The experiences he describes and the insights he brings to the songs are not usually ones that are found in the under-30 generation. In one song, Wanderin’, you can hear the key influences, and his own ability. There is autobiography: My father was a traveler and my mama stayed at home/And she cried the day that she walked out and left us on our own/But now I’m older than he was when I was born and I don’t know/Which way is home so I’m wanderin’. There is Woody: I’ve seen your oceans I I’ve seen your mountains high/I’ve been lost inside your cities, I’ve seen the underside/Yeah, I know the troubles that plague a troubled mind/They can’t catch me, I’m a wanderin’. And there is also Townes: Well now when the soul wanders there are things a man must see/There are trials he must know and there are troubles he must meet/He must stare in the eyes of evil and know that he is free/‘Til the good lord calls, keep on wanderin’. It’s an accomplishment, and there are lots more.
He can sing, he can write and, unlike any of his influences, he was named one of the best-dressed men in 2010 by GO magazine.
lliott Brood – Ontario
Let’s start by making it clear that Elliot BROOD- that’s the way they like it spelled- is not a person but a trio made up of Mark Sasso and Casey Laforet on guitars, banjo, ukulele, etc. and Stephen Pitkin on percussion and drums. Mark and Casey hail from Windsor, Ontario, and started performing together in Toronto just shy of 10 years ago, in what has become Elliot BROOD. They have two full-length recordings to their credit and the second one, Mountain Meadows, underlines the eccentricity of this band. Some of the songs are a little dark, to say the least. The one about the pioneers (we assume) knowing that Back at the fort/with exhausted winter stores/and some friends beneath the floor/We won’t live to see that spring/or what we came out here for is not a toe tapper but it is evocative, and evocative is what a bunch of Elliot BROOD’s songs do best. There is heartbreak and disappointment and longing, but also the pleasure of walking down Woodward Avenue and going riding in a Model T. Where the action takes place is often a matter of indifference to the writer, or at least as far as the audience is concerned. These are songs about the human condition; it doesn’t really matter where.
Their recorded work has been honoured with a couple of Juno nominations and a Polaris Prize shortlist spot. Their touring has seen them keep company with some of the finest new, or alt, or whatever, country roots artists around including Corb Lund, Wilco and Blue Rodeo. They did their first film score last year, Grown Up Movie Star, and picked up a Genie Award nomination for West End Sky, a song from that project. lt makes sense. The songs created by these folks are cinematic. They tell stories, they paint landscapes and they are atmospheric. The sound owes more to rural blues and old timey than anything else. There is a wild abandon that brings back sonic Memphis images of Beale Street in its heyday. Now WHO is/was Elliot BROOD?
Footworks Percussive Dance Ensemble – Maryland
Back in the day 40 years ago, when young people were reinventing folk music, traditional Appalachian clogging was in vogue. One of the best ensembles performing this mass folk dance was a group called The Green Grass (loggers. While their contemporaries wandered the twisting roads of the Southern mountains looking for songs and tunes, these folks went looking for the dances. They sought out the old-time buck dancers and flatfooters of North Carolina, Virginia and Tennessee and learned their art.
In 1979 three Green Grass Cloggers created the Fiddle Puppets, who appeared at this festival way back. They carried on the research and performance of rural southeastern American folk dance, while branching out a bit into their own original creations in the tradition. In 1994 they changed their name to Footworks Percussive Dance Ensemble.Eileen Carson, who goes back to the beginning of the ensemble, is its artistic director. Under her leadership the ensemble followed the dances back to their source and to their relatives as well. Hence Footworks went on to collaborate with, and enlist, masters of many forms of traditional percussive dance, including Irish, Scottish, English, Quebecois, Cape Breton, South African and African American. All had made their contribution and by parsing the dances, Footworks has developed into both an amazing visual performance treat and aerobics challenge, as well as an educational organization that has done much meritorious service in arts education and been recognized as such.
Based in rural Maryland, under Eileen’s dance leadership and Mark Shantz’s musical direction- he being a wonderful banjo and acoustic bass player – the ensemble has trod on the boards of some of the world’s most prestigious theatres and hundreds of festivals. Their Amazing Feets show is a tour du monde music and dance revue that celebrates the world of percussive dance. Traditional percussive dances from all the countries that contributed to clog dancing as well as hamboning, hoofin’ and early jazz tap share the stage with hot playing and a certain amount of folk humour. Skilled teachers as well as performers, Footworks is guaranteed to inspire the clog dancer in all. Bring sensible shoes!
Freshlyground – British Columbia
Countries tend to come and go on the world music menu. In the late eighties and early nineties, South Africa was hot, partially because of the politics and also a certain recording by you-know-who. Then the caravan, as they say, moved on. Happily this was not the case in South Africa itself. Young people continued making music and inventing new styles, building on the treasure trove of popular rhythms and song forms.
One of the best of the new South African groups is Freshlyground. They have been seen and heard by at least a billion people. Feeling left out? K’naan may have been news here with his Coke commercial theme song for World Cup, but in much of the rest of the world it was official theme song of the event, Waka Waka (This Time Africa) featuring Freshlyground and Shakira that was the hit. While it put them on the international map, this was not Freshlyground’s introduction to South African since they first got together in 2002 they have been a to watch in South Africa. They have opened the South African·’ Parliament and played in Germany with Miriam Makeba. Led by singer and songwriter Zolani Mahola, the band together musicians of various hues and origins from Africa and Zimbabwe- including Mozambican guitarist Jul Sigauque. Musically, the seven-member band’s roots sunk in everything from classical to hip hop to jazz a an encyclopedia of southern African traditions. songs embrace multiracial love, with an endorsement male lovers with flabby arms and pot bellies in Pot Belly, a denounce Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe’s clinging to power in Chicken for Change (which included a Spittngi Image-style cartoon by Jonathan Shapiro). The latter has earned them banishment from performing in Zimbabwt: even as they increasingly tour the world, lately adding Thailand to their list of countries visited on the way to Vancouver debut this July.
Fearless in their music and their topics, this is the voice of new South Africa, freshly ground indeed.
The Fugitives – British Columbia
Decades ago the radio show began with “Is it a bird? Is it a plane? … it’s Superman.” This approach is useful to introduce The Fugitives. Is it poetry? Is it folk music? Is it spoken word? They have been described as ‘slam folk’ and ‘folk hop’ among other things. One of Vancouver’s best music writers called them the purveyors of a “21st-century hootenanny sound that’s refreshingly free of the usual beatnik and hip-hop cliches.” They describe themselves as “modern folk.” Given the elasticity of definitions these days, it doesn’t matter as much as it once did.
Brendan McLeod, Barbara Adler, Steve Charles and Adrian Glynn are The Fugitives. They write words and set them to music and perform these creations on stages and record them. They’ve been doing it for about seven years now. Once there were more, including C.R. Avery and Mark Berube. The Fugitives are more a federation than a band in the normal sense. Each of the four has their own approach. As individuals they have won slam poetry contests, been anointed poet laureate of Simon Fraser University, won a three-day novel writing contest and a songwriting contest. As· an ensemble they have performed at a literary festival in Vienna, at the Dylan Thomas poetry festival in the UK where they were lauded by the festival director as “One of the best events we’ve ever had …right up there with Alien Ginsberg and Ken Kesey,” at the Winnipeg Fringe Festival, and in Vancouver at the Chutzpah Festival and the Jazz Festival.
Their latest recording features music by Vancouver composer Veda Hille. The moody music goes well with the eclectic and eccentric lyrics. Snail Shell sounds a bit like vintage Laurie Anderson with its voice effects and irony-infused celebratiol of ‘home.’ All Our Problems is a country ballad that describes’ laundry list of trouble including “the certainty of death and passion for this life.” That’s a big one!
On stage, The Fugitives acquit themselves with banjo, accordion, balalaika, melodica and percussion. They been touring coast to coast for several months promoting their latest CD and will be well rehearsed for their performance of whatever it is they do.
Dick Gaughan & Jason Wilson – UK & Ontario
Multiculturalism indeed! A condensed form of how this unlikely duo came to be is as follows: In an area of northwest Toronto known as the Jane Finch corridor and home to a large Jamaican immigrant population, a youth of Scottish heritage grows up loving reggae music. He starts playing the music and makes a bunch of records. He also writes a book about Lord Stanley of Stanley Cup fame, but that’s another story. Jason Wilson is making an epic recording – sort of his own War and Peace. It’s a double CD called The Peacemaker’s Chauffeur. It features everyone from his mother playing pips on Flowers of the Forest to Jamaican guitar visionary Ernest Ranglin, to the late Jackie Mittoo of Skatelites fame, and the man who taught young Jason a lot about reggae. Jason is a man of ambition. He wanted Dave Swarbick to play fiddle on Matty Groves, a murder ballad Swarb had pretty well made his own on the Fairport Convention record Liege and Lief. Dave Swarbrick is basically the most important fiddler of the English folk revival, with about 60 years of playing behind him. Swarb was recovering from a double lung transplant and, having regained his “try anything once” approach to music, agreed to the request to do a reprise in jazz/reggae style. One thing led to another and they did a few Canadian dates. Then they took Robbie Burns’ My Love is Like a Red Red Rose and fused it with Bob Marley’s No Woman No Cry. That on a new recording called The Lion Rampant featuring another curious addition, and another legend, Dick Gaughan. Dick, or Irish/Scottish stock is pretty well Scotland’s most important singer of traditional and contemporary folk and political songs over the last 30 years or so. A list of his influences includes Marx – both Karl and Goucho – Bertolt Brecht, Clarence White, John Lennon and Sean O’Riada…not a group that coexists often. His abilities defy easy listing – from web designer to film music composter to singer and songwriter.
So that is kind of how it came together. Unfortunately, on the eve of their tour as a trio, Dave Swarbrick was forced to pull out due to health reasons. While we will miss him, we can still enjoy the unlikely musical chemistry created between Dick and Jason.
Mary Gauthier – Tennessee
If you came to the festival for some lighthearted summer fare, best you avoid Mary Gauthier (Go-shay is how she pronounces it). That isn’t her thing. On the other hand, if you are prepared top hear an artist who believes that “a song should end with a question, not an answer” then she may be one of your festival highlights.
Years ago she wrote a song where there are a couple of folks in a cheap motel room separating a whack of money – keeping the fives and bigger and throwing away the small bills. Its a story that carries no answers. The same is true about her latest song cycle and recording, The Foundling. Much of it is her, and Mary has never been afraid of naked autobiography. Witness another older song, I Drink. She did.
Mary’s most respected songwriters, ones she is inspired by and aspires to join, are ones she calls “truth tellers.” They include Cohen and Dylan and Young and Smith – Patti Smith. Mary describes her new project thusly: “The songs (on The Foundling) tell the story of a kid abandoned at birth who spent a year in an orphanage and was adopted, who ran away from the adopted home and ended up in show business, who searched for birth parents late in life and found one and was rejected, and who came through the other side of all of this still believing in love.” These are songs by a woman who was abandoned in a New Orleans orphanage, adopted by folks with their own problems, who ran away from home at 15, turned 18 in jail, studied philosophy, found drink and drugs, opened a successful restaurant and found salvation through music. That’s the short story.
Are the songs totally true? That would be telling. What’s true is that Mary Gauthier is an artist who, with minimal instrumentation, can tell a story that matters as profoundly as any of the other Southern gothic tale spinners from William Faulkner to Tennessee Williams to Thomas Wolfe – an American classic.
Graveyard Train – Australia
You never know what’s going to happen next in the music business. lt may be that Melbourne Australia’s Graveyard Train is the vanguard of a new genre they call “Horror Country” and that their very danceable The Mummy, whose protagonist wakes up after 3,000 years and calls on everyone to “move like a mummy,” is on the cutting edge of a new dance craze. Remember Zombie Jamboree?
Specialization is not a bad thing, and this sextet of Australian gentlemen have decided that a repertoire of songs made up of ghost stories, murder ballads and tales of haunted love, haunted souls, even haunted clothes is what the world needs. One of their love songs, Mary Melody, is a song of cannibal love where boy eats girl. Really. They describe their oeuvre: “These aren’t the kind of ghost stories kids tell around the campfire- they are the tales of horror whispered by inmates in the dark, the tales of bloodlust muttered by the insane, the tales of woe and regret whimpered through dying last words.” Sounds like fun, eh kids?
Well, the world seems to be ready for it. Since they started off a little more than three years ago, Graveyard Train has met with great success at home and is now heading abroad. Governor Shinbone Me Dagger (guitar), Creepy J McCraw (banjo/lapsteel), Scarecrow Bone Marrow (dobro), J.J Cadaver (chain/harp/kazoo), Dead Horse Jones (washboard/tambo), and Or Chowington (upright bass) are the band’s members and have remained a unit since they started (we suspect that some names are not the ones their mothers use!). The group’s name comes from a song of that name recorded by Creedence Clearwater Revival with the lovely intra, “On the highway/Thirty people lost their lives.” What is original however is that this is likely the first use of a hammer and chain as an instrument at this festival and perhaps not heard since its brief appearance on Sam Cooke’s Chain Gang.
Traditional music from the Anglo/Scottish tradition – Child ballads, etc. – has always contained material of a dark sort. Graveyard Train has taken it and made it a stage show. As one Oz review made the case, “Graveyard Train reminds you of your own mortality in a way that leaves you feeling all warm and fuzzy inside.” Sounds fair.
The Hawaiian Legends – Hawaii
Many a plan has been hatched at Starbucks. Few, however, can claim the founder of the chain of coffee shops as the medium that made a project happen. Ken Levine can. Levine, a Seattle Hawaiian music fan, is a longtime friend of Starbucks founder Gordon Bowker, who had Hawaiian slack key player Ledward Ka’apana performing at a private party Ken attended. Ken was smitten. The next night, for over six hours, he sat at Ledward’s feet as he played. “it was like an artesian well of musical poetry,” says Levine who is coordinating The Hawaiian Legends with help from Jay Junker, a music teacher at the University of Hawaii in Manoa, Honolulu.
The Hawaiian Legends is a trio of musicians – Oennis Kamakahi, Ledward Ka’apana and Nathan Aweau. The music they perform is best known as slack key. Slack key goes back at least to the 19th century and is often attributed to the Mexican cowboys, or paniolo (derived from Espagnol) who came to Hawaii to work on the cattle ranches that had been established to provision ships that would call for supplies. The English term slack key is a translation of the Hawaiian ki hoalu, which means “loosen the [tuning] key.” These three artists are some of its finest contemporary performers, following in the tradition of Gabby Pahinui, the undisputed hero of slack key.
Ledward Ka’apana comes from a small village on the Big Island. Growing up there made an attraction to music logical. “We lived in the old style: no electricity. Music was number 1 because we had no TV, no nothing. Everybody played music. By watching … I picked it up,” he says. We call that “the folk process.” For 40 years, Ledward has been performing both the music he learned as a child and his own creations. Dennis Kamakahi is of similar vintage and has a similar history. He has been playing music since he was three. Nathan Aweau, who is a generation younger, also comes from a musical family, but started on piano first and then took up saxophone before starting to play guitar and bass.
They are joined by one of Hawaii’s most highly-regarded 12-string guitar players, Mike Kaawa.
Together, The Legends represent the finest exponents of a tradition that has survived and prospered in a world wher this is not always the case. Aloha!
Dan Hicks and the Hot Licks – California
In the age of the internet, massive reissues and downloads of just about everything that has ever been recorded, it is hard to believe there was a time when music made a couple of decades earlier was seen as obscure, and knowledge of it regarded as arcane. Dan Hicks can tell you about that time.
In the late sixties, he put together a band that sounded like it was from the late forties, and it was a wonder. Dan was raised in Northern California, a pretty good place to be if music was your thing in the late fifties. He played drums in some dance bands, but it was as a member of The Charlatans, a legendary 1965 precursor of the San Francisco scene bands that would dominate the late sixties, that gave him his first experience in a ‘real’ band. By the late sixties he put together Dan Hicks and His Hot Licks, which pioneered what today is called Americana or roots music. Western swing, hillbilly jazz and country were all pretty much forgotten at this point. Dan’s band, with its Stuff Smith-style jazz fiddle, and a singer who recalled Anita O’Day, was a refreshing breath of something old turned new again. The band had a mastery of a repertoire that included originals that sounded like classic covers. I Scare Myself was a big hit and their song How Can I Miss You When You Won’t Go Away was another timeless epic that appeared to be channeling a songwriting approach from another time.
By the early seventies, the band broke up and Dan returned to the solo acoustic scene he had been part of in the early sixties. In the eighties he put together The Acoustic Warriors. An updated reformation of the Hot Licks has followed. The songs remain what they have been for decades – creative, humorous, sometimes vocally challenging originals, and some surprising covers, like Bob Dylan’s Subterranean Homesick Blues or the rarely remembered Ragtime Cowboy Joe. Fifty years on, Dan Hicks remains an elusive but persuasive figure, hard to define, but a treat to listen to.
Imaginary Cities – Manitoba
Imaginary Cities began as a chance encounter at Winnipeg’s Cavern Club. The last band we heard about that started off at a Cavern Club back in Liverpool did all right, so it might well be an auspicious beginning. Winnipeg is right smack dab in the middle of the country. Some folks claim it’s nature (that between the cold and the mosquitoes encourages staying inside much of the year) and the cheap accommodation (which means artists can still buy houses) that has produced some amazing artists.
Imaginary Cities is closer to filmmaker Guy Madden than The Weakerthans. They sound like they could have done the soundtrack to Madden’s film My Winnipeg. Their music is ambience – big helpings of sound, dotted with words. Every now and then however, there are shades of the classic Canadian songwriting approach that characterizes another Winnipeg artist, Neil Young. Core members are Rusty Matyas and Marti Sarbit. Marti hails from Brandon. She was singing in a Motown cover band when she met Rusty. She certainly has the voice for it! Rusty was do’ ng sound for Marti’s band, as well as working with The Weakerthans.
One night the two of them sat up writing all night and came up with Say You, one of their most popular ditties. Working at wrifmg together in 12-hour stretches, night after night, is a good test as to whether there is the chemistry there to survive as a band. They passed. They also came up with a debut recording’s worth of material. Rusty’s instrumental chops and Marti’s vo·1ce make a powerful combo. A year or so ago they tried it out live. lt worked. A record deal appeared, agents and managers were added to the team and Imaginary Cities are on the road, and on the lips of folks who care a lot about new and interesting music. They have.been booked into New York’s legendary venue for interesting music, The Knitting Factory. They have a summer’s worth of festivals from this one to the Ottawa Blues Festival to the vital hometown return – the Brandon Folk Festival. There is nothing imaginary about the response this new band has received.
Emmanuel Jal – Sudan/United Kingdom
Emmanuel Jal’s biography reads like that of millions of African children … except for the fact that, by a combination of luck and ability, Emmanuel has escaped the fate of so many others. Emmanuel was born in Southern Sudan, soon to be independent after almost 100% of the population
voted to establish their own country. In the eighties, however, it was the scene of a vicious war of liberation between the Southern Sudanese and the Northern government. Emmanuel was seven when his mother died and he was pressed into military service in the Sudan People’s Liberation Army. At 11, after four years of fighting, he escaped. Through good luck and the kindness of strangers, he was able to go to school in Nairobi, Kenya. Determined to do whatever he could do so that other children would live a better life than he had, Jal became involved in raising funds for street children and refugees. He also began to play music. Like many of his generation he became attracted to hip hop, but not American as much as African in its style.
H1s first album, Gua, a mix of rap in Arabic, English, Swahili, D’1nka and Nuer, has one fundamental message – PEACE! Since then he has made two others. He has also seen his life turned into the movie War Child, which won a dozen awards. His autobiography of the same name was published in 2009. Emmanuel Jal has become a spokesperson for the movement to ban the use of child soldiers, a scourge that is too common in Africa and elsewhere. He works with numerous organizations. The charity he founded- Gua Africa- www.gua-africa.org (Go there! Donate!) has recently started to build their first education centre in South Sudan.
Emmanuel is an activist, but he is also an artist. His latest effort, We Want Peace, is an anthem, not by an enlightened western rock star, but by a former child soldier, refugee and victim who, through his art, has become an agent of change in the world. We are proud to welcome him here.
The Jayhawks – Minnesota
Minneapolis h.as made a substantial contribution to American music. Maybe, like Winnipeg, it is the long winters that encourage practising. In the folk world, Koerner, Ray and Glover, and a skinny kid from Hibbing who spent a year at university in the Dinkytown neighbourhood, stand out. Husker Du and Prince cover the rock end. Somewhere in between are the Jayhawks.
The name of the band pays homage to a Toronto band called the Hawks that started out with Rock in’ Ronnie Hawk ins and ended up backing Hibbing’s favourite son. They were better known as The Band. The homage is both in the name and also in the sound. like the Hawks, the Jayhawks combine a whole bunch of styles including country, blues and folk rock songwriting. Every now and again you are reminded of The Byrds or Jefferson Airplane.
The band goes back to the mid-eighties when Mark Olson, Gary louris, Marc Perlman and Norm Rogers left various local bands to form the Jayhawks. For a decade they toiled and toured, never quite making the big time. Finally Olson had had enough and left the band for a solo career. The band kept going in various forms but in 2004 they stopped and the members went their various ways. lt seemed that this was the end of a band that “could have been a contender.”
A few years later, Mark Olson and Gary Louris patched things up and did a few duo gigs. One thing led to another and the, more or less, original band was back together, recording new work, rereleasing long out of print records and touring. Live, they sound great. The old songs, that go back before lots of the audience was born, hold up well, and the new stuff is every bit as good as the classics. Along with their originals are tasty covers including Ottawa’s David Wiffen’s Driving Wheel and Tim Hardin’s too-often forgotten Reason to Believe.
Whoever said there were no second acts in American life was wrong on this one.
Diana Jones – Tennessee
Some years are more memorable than others and, for Nashville singer-songwriter Diana Jones, 2006 is going to loom large in her memory for a long time. That was the year when, after beating her head against the wall of the music business for almost two decades, the wall caved in. She released her third recording, My Remembrance of You, which made a bunch of “best of” lists for the year. The Chicago Tribune called it the best country recording of the year. She won the New Folk competition at the Kerrville Folk Festival and Pony was nominated for Song of the Year by the Folk Alliance, while its author was nominated as Emerging Artist of the Year. Not bad! Like most success stories that appear to occur overnight, this one had been a long time a’comin’.
Diana Jones grew up in New York City. She always had a thing for country music, not the mainstay of her hometown. After graduating from university with majors in history and art (she can paint a portrait as well as write a song), she found folk music more interesting than either of the above. She also decided to find her birth family. She had been adopted and knew nothing about who she was, in the genetic sense. it’s a long story, but she found her roots in Tennessee, and a grandfather who knew all the songs on the Alan Lomax Sounds of the South CD she had with her. lt turned out that he had been in a band with Chet Atkins as a teenager. Life got complicated, with years in England, a car accident, and a couple of recordings that really didn’t do much. Then came
My Remembrance of You and all the good things it brought. That was followed by her song Henry Russell’s Last Words, based on a man’s dying words to his kin written in a coal mine with a chunk of coal in 1927 and recorded by Joan Baez on her Grammy-nominated The Day After Tomorrow.
Word has been getting out about this remarkable singer songwriter and it continues to spread. We have a feeling that 2006, as memorable as it is, will not be the only year to remember for the remarkable Ms. Jones.
Joy Kills Sorrow – Massachusetts
Bill would be so proud! That’s Bill Monroe, the gentleman who invented bluegrass about 70 years ago. He put together the classic mandolin, banjo, guitar, fiddle and acoustic bass that define the instrumental foundation of the genre as well as the vocal harmonies that float on top. There’s no fiddle in this band but everything else is there, including some wonderful songwriting, another hallmark of the bluegrass tradition.
Joy Kills Sorrow is based in Boston, which you might not think is a great bluegrass town unless you know the work of The Charles River Valley Boys. Guitarist Matthew Arcara, one of the band’s founding members, is a winner of Winfield’s National Flatpicking Championship. Newest member Jacob Jolliff is the famed Berklee College of Music’s first full scholarship mandolin student. He’s been on the road since he was 11! Wesley Corbett has toured nationally with Crooked Still, who you might remember from last year’s festival. The Canadian of the group is Emma Beaton, the 2008 Canadian Folk Music Awards’ Young Performer of the Year. She is the voice that delivers the songs that bassist Bridget Kearney, winner of the 2006 John Lennon Songwriting Contest. is largely responsible for.
The songs are roughly evenly divided between joy and sorrow, which is appropriate, given the band’s name. In the joy column is You Make Me Feel Drunk written by Ms. Beaton: No corn syrup, moonshine/Don’t need Jack Daniels or red
wine /To make me dizzy, make me all shook up/I’m tipsy without drinkin’/I’m falling without thinkin’ straight//can’t even stand up. There is another of hers, You Will Change Me: Let’s sing of dark beauty and mystery/We’ll swing/From the branches by your pond, we’ll be slow, but we won’t take too long/And in the end, our love will hold strong. The sorrow column includes Bridget Kearney’s Thinking of You and Such with its intra lines: Well another has passed/it didn’t hurt so much as the last. 11protect myself now/cause he showed me how/to be alone.
But, whether it’s joy or sorrow, this band scores high on all three indicators of what makes great bluegrass music: the pickin’, the singin’ and the writin’. Yes, indeed. Bill would he proud.
Cassius Khan – British Columbia
The most unexplored places can also be the nearest. This is certainly the case with music. There are many examples of artists living within a few miles of a festival office who escape the beady stare of an artistic director. Until lately, such was the case with Cassius Khan, who has been living in New Westminster, a Vancouver suburb, for some years. While he was born in Fiji, his family came to Canada when Cassius was an infant. Unlike many artists, music was not his first love. When the family returned for a few years to Fiji and lived near the airport, young Cassius wanted to be a pilot. They returned to Canada, and a slightly older Cassius became obsessed with hockey. “At one point I wanted to be a professional goal tender but things didn’t work out,” he said. Another childhood obsession, banging on his mother’s pot and pans, did work out.
Cassius is a master of the tabla, a pair of Indian drums played with the hands. Studying with various masters, Cassius has attained a virtuoso level of ability. One recent reviewer asserted, “His technique runs rings around Ringo.” Cassius was always singing too and has developed his voice into a vital aspect of his work. He sings ghazals, a vocal form that traces its roots to the sixth-century Arab world and went east with Islam into the South Asian continent. Ghazals are mainly love songs and have become increasingly popular in the South Asian diaspora in recent years. He was able to refine his singing of the ghazal gayaki, an Indian ghazal style, in studies with Malika e Tarranum Mushtari Begum.
In an exceptional example of multitasking, Cassius has developed the ability to sing ghazals while accompanying himself on tabla. This is unheard of in Indian music as each activity usually requires the entire focus of the artist. Having accomplished this exceptional ability, Cassius has taken his music to where no ghazal singer/tab/a player has gone before, performing and recording with many artists far outside the South Asian tradition and showcasing his work at events where this music has never been heard. Between tours, he teaches and works on his Mercedes Benz hobby.
La-33 – Colombia
Two explanations. First, La-33 means “thirty thrid” as in 33rd Street. This is where the band used to rehearse. Second, La-33 plays salsa. Salsa, a Latin American form that is a fusion of African and Spanish music, started in Cuba in the twenties, with the great son bands. Puerto Rico helped out. So did New York, where many of the great salseros went and where they met up with jazzers, including Dizzy Gillespie, who fell in love with the sound. Look for old records on the Fania or Tico labels. The combination of Spanish ballad, African rhythms and jazz ‘blowing’ created one of the world’s great dance musics.
Cut to Bogata, the temperate capital city in the Colombian mountains, far from Cuba and far, even, from Cali, the centre of a Colombian salsa style. Two brothers, Sergio and Santiago Mejia, and their friends had been in a bunch of bands playing jazz, rock, reggae, and ska. They didn’t want to play cumbia the stereotypical music of tropical Colombia; they were looking for something new. In keeping with the new, they began this search at the beginning of the new millennium and gravitated towards classic salsa styles – Guaguanco, Son Montuno, Guajira – all Cuban forms, jazz and funk from the big country to the north, and Boogaloo, a salsa variant that was popular in New York in the sixties and survived in Colombia.
By 2002 La-33 were ready to reveal themselves to the world. In 2005 they released their first record. Tours to Ecuador, then Europe, then Asia, then back to Europe and finally, in 2010, to North America followed. In a time when it seems that no contemporary dance band is complete without samples, a rapper or a DJ, La-33 is a throwback. This is hot playing that reflects salsa at its full maturity in the mid-sixties with a tip of the Panama hat to earlier styles. This is keyboards, voices, horns and lots of percussion. This is about honouring and perpetuation one of the most irresistible musical creations that Latin America has given the world. Que viva la musica!
Pokey Lafarge & the South City Three – Missouri
In 1914, W.C. Handy registered the St. Louis Blues, a classic American pop song and the inspiration of the fox trot dance style. When he died in 1958 he was receiving annual royalties of $25,000 for the song. That is how vital a presence St. Louis is in American popular music. Situated on the Mississippi River, St. Louis, Missouri, and its sibling, East St. Louis, Illinois, have long been one of those places where music and folks from east, west, norht and south meet.
Pokey Lafarge is a young man from St. Louis who has dedicated himself to respecting, reviving, restoring and reconfiguring the popular music of his hometown from the interwar era of 1918-1941. In that regard he is in a long line of artists, not least the Kweskin Jug Band, who have found, in the blues, ballads, western swing dance tunes and ‘territory’ jazz of that time, both gems worth polishing and restoring to lustre, and inspiration for original songs that are reflective of the lyrical and musical sophistication of that music. Pokey is proud of where he hails from and its influence on his work and comments that, “Where you live and where you are from is so important in writing music.” Happly for Pokey, St. Louis inventing ragtime, and being in the middle of everywhere.” So the raw materials are there, but not everyone could fashion such a great sound from their hometown.
A crafty wordsmith and a composer with a real grasp of the essence of the music, Pokey Lafarge has assembled the South City Three to make it work. Adam Hoskins on guitar, Ryan Koenig on harmonica and washboard, Joey Glynn on bass, and everyone helping out with vocals makes as tight a trio as you’re likely to hear anywhere. To use one of those old jazz age phrases, they’re “tighter than a mosquito’s tweeter.”
Their latests release is called Riverboat Soul and it is an apt description for the music. Get on board!
Daniel Lapp – British Columbia
Daniel Lapp is a busy boy. We went to his web site to catch up a bit and found no entries after 2006, except for a pathetic plea for understanding and a promise to update things soon. Happily, we have no need to read what Daniel says about himself-we hear about him from others. Daniel Lapp hails from Prince George in northern BC. He is a virtuoso fiddler and a mean trumpet player besides. There are few artists who have recorded a tribute to Chet Baker as well as founding, and leading, a fiddle orchestra.
Daniel first came to notice as a member of the touring version of Spirit of the West in the late eighties. Then came the fiddle orchestra, which he put together to play for a modest crowd of 60,000 at the Commonwealth Games in his adopted city of Victoria. About the same time, Daniel decided to look at the BC fiddle repertoire. it’s deeper than you think. For example, there is an entire study of the Prince George style by Ray Gibbons that the Canadian government put out in 1982, back when they believed in culture. Anyway, Daniel found about a thousand tunes. All the while, he was playing, teaching, recording and reinventing what the electric fiddle could do. He also began working in Scotland and Cape Breton where he is a regular at both Celtic Connections and Celtic Colours.
Oh yes … then there is the House of Music, inspired by Daniel’s grandfather, who was a fiddler, and who spawned a bunch of fiddling uncles and accordion-playing aunts. The House of Music is, as well, the home base for the BC Fiddle Orchestra and The Joy of Life Choir. Did we mention Daniel has started a choir? And the Adult Folkestra? And the Victoria Fiddle Society?
lt becomes easy to understand why Daniel hasn’t had time to update his web site. With all the projects he has a hand in- and most of them he is alsothe head of- it is a wonder that he has time to come over and fiddle around a bit in the park. Happily, he does.
Ricardo Lemvo & Makina Loca – Congo/Angola/US
From the fifties if not earlier. French-speaking Africa was entranced by Cuban son, rumba and other popular dance orchestra forms. Check out Franco and OK Jazz for some of the earliest and best. Ricardo Lemvo did. Born in Congo of Angolan ancestry, Ricardo grew up surrounded by diverse cultures. He is multilingual, at home singing in English, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Lingala and Kikongo. His musical embrace is equally wide, including Afro-Cuban sa/sa and rumba coupled with Congolese soukous, Angolan semba and kizomba. Even his self-defined vices are multicultural: French and California wine, yoga, Thai food, Starbucks coffee and the music of Charles Aznavour. it’s a post modern world.
In his teens, Ricardo moved to Los Angeles to attend school where he graduated with a degree in political science. Then he did what any self respecting arts graduate would do – he put together a band. He claims that he knew, at the age of eight. that music was what he wanted to do. Though law school tempted, he went with his true love. The music that Ricardo wanted to play required a band. Thus Makina Loca (Crazy Machine) was established in 1990. The band is the classic lineup of bass, horns, guitar, percussion and vocals. What gives it personality is Ricardo, a vocalist of compelling presence. The songs deal mainly with love- requited and un.
Half a dozen years later, they recorded their first CD. Putomayo put out their next two, which helped get word out. Then came a movie appearance in Dance With Me. With five CDs and numerous tours that have taken the band from Australia to Europe to Latin America to Africa, Makina Loca has won enthusiastic reviews for its eminently danceable tunes. Both soukous and salsa make it almost impossible to sit still. Mixed up by this “Crazy Machine” they are an unstoppable force.
Wendy McNeill – Alberta
It’s ironic that Wendy McNeill should be living in Stockholm, Sweden. As a child, her favourite morning tape was Abba. The irony is that, although she may have liked them as a child, the music this transplanted Edmontonian makes could not be further from Abba. Ms. McNeill cites a bewildering blizzard of musical influences from her sibling’s Black Sabbath records to Dolly Parton and Porter Wagner (at age five), to The Velvet Underground and The Cure a few years later, to Steve Reich and Laurie Anderson a few years after that. The latter were part of her life when she studied dance and began to compose for her own dance pieces. However, she was also tending bar to pay for her school and this put her ‘1n close proximity to Singer-songwriters and the contemporary folk stylings of Cohen, Mitchell, Guthrie, Prine, etc. So, her contemporary classical compositions on piano were soon joined by her songwriting on guitar. She was good enough at it to win a songwriting competition. The prize? The recording of an album- her first. At a folk festival, Wendy met love in the form of the accordion.
Five CDs later, based in Stockholm with a career that takes in Europe as well as Canada, Wendy McNeill has solved the problem of all these varied musical attractions by building her own genre that brings elements of them all together. There is definitely a contemporary cabaret element here, as befits a European-based accordionist, but there is also a solid singer songwriter aesthetic, partly drawn from Brei, but also from North American sources. The Sad Sssad Story of Rosa Rabbit and Sasha Snake is based on an old Afro-American folk tale about dangerous love but with a twist, where the rabbit is the guilty party. White Horses, on the other hand, is a poetic landscape painting, much more in the European tradition. This is interesting, creative songwriting that is as distinctive and rare as it is compelling.
Danny Michel – Ontario
Southwestern Ontario is a bit of a technology hub, what with Research In Motion being in Waterloo and all. Kitchener-Waterloo singer-songwriter/guitar ace/producer, environmentalist and traveller Danny Michel has a bit of that bug too. His latest recording features tracks submitted by fans from around the world who were able to be part of the process, thanks to the internet and digital technology. This wasn’t exactly new – he had done something similar with his environmental single Feather, Fur & Fin. Danny also joins the legion of artists who are creating bilateral relationships with their fans and winning new ones through the net.
Over the years Danny has picked up a couple of June nominations, recorded an entire CD of David Bowie songs, and been producer and guitarist for Sarah Harmer. He has won great respect for his production ability and has his own studio where he crafts his own work,as well as projects for others. He is an artist who gives back in various ways, including helping out David Suzuki in saving the planet and helping emerging artists by hopping in a van for SOCAN and giving workshops on surviving the music business. He educated himself in that, and now is his own record label and manager.
His songwriting covers the map from the global to the personal. On Feather, Fur & Fin he modernized Dylan’s With God on Our Side with If God’s on Your Side (then who’s on mine): Jesus, Buddha, Zeus and Jah 1 Apollo, Vishnu and Allah/Bullets rain while children play/Did you watch or look away?/Tell me who decides, who will choose/who will win, who will lose … If God’s on your side, then whose on mine? A more personal note is found on a song about Christmas in, we guess, Belize, one of half a dozen countries where the record was made, where I don’t want turkey and ginger ale/I take a rum punch and lobster tail.
Whether big things or small, Danny Michel has an honest way with a lyric, and a tasty approach to a guitar and the sound of a song. If you don’t know his work already, you should. Here’s your chance.
New Country Rehab – Ontario
Every action, so the physicists say, produces a reaction. We might consider New Country Rehab a reaction to the hats and hair that characterize the so-called “new country” of the last decade or so. In that sense, the name New Country Rehab is exactly that. it’s a project dedicated to weaning country music from its addiction to crap and taking it back to where it was, when it was a reflection of real people’s feelings about real things. It’s a theory. What is fact is that this is a band of Toronto musicians, better known as accompanists, who have created a headlining project.
John Showman, who some know from the Creaking String Quartet, wanted a project where he could sing as well as play his amazing fiddle. He recruited Champagne James Robertson on guitar; Ben Whiteley, of the folk dynasty, on bass; and Roman Tome on percussion and drums. The songwriting chores are handled by Showman and Robertson. They show a deep respect for the southern mountain ballad tradition and its expression in early country music and a perhaps unhealthy interest in the dark side. Songs like Angel of Death and Bury Me are reflections on life’s ending. “You live a stronger life,” reasons Showman, “if you’re aware you’re going to die.”
About half the songs on the new CD are originals, the other half, covers. The band has an attachment to Hank Williams, covering three of his songs including a great version of Ramblin’ Man. Why not? Someone once asked, “Why write songs? Hank Williams and Chuck Berry have already written them all.” Additional treats are their rendition of the traditional tune Train ’45, and State Trooper. Bruce Springsteen’s negotiation with a New Jersey law enforcement official. With great originals, a fine choice of covers, stellar instrumentation and some fine singing, New Country Rehab is holding a winning hand. Couple that with a mission to defrock the pretenders who have usurped the country music throne, and you have a band that combines skill with passion.
Nomadic Caravan – India
It seems that tribal and nomadic people have a hard time wherever they live. The caste and class prejudices, the expropriation of land used by these people for “development” and “globalization” have all combined to make life hard whether you are aRoma in the Czech Republic or a Tuareg in Mali – see Tinariwen below – or the Indian performers represented in Nomadic Caravan, members of the Bhopa, Jogis, Kalbeliya and Banjara communities.
Billed as a “Jugalbandi concert,” Nomadic Caravan is the live touring version of a film made by activist filmmakers Meenakshiand Vinay Rai. The projectaimsto link 500 nomadid gypsy musicians from 15 countries to create awareness of the challenges these peoples face, and to build solidarity with them. Like a traditional caravan, this one has a variety of wares. There is instrumental and vocal music, storytelling and traditional crafts of various sorts. The membership reflects the varied traditions of the groups involved. The Bhopas are known as folk healers, expert in curing cattle and people of their illnesses through their music. They are skilled players of an ancient musical instrument called a ravanhatha, a two string stick fiddle from Northwest India that was once the first musical instrument learned by princes in Gujarat and Rajasthan. The Kalbelias are snake charmers who have spent generations learning the art of keeping snakes as well as curing snake bites, a common occurrence among villagers. Kalbeliya men are expert been (double flute) players, while Kalbeliya women are known for their famous snake dance. Jogis are wandering· holy men, ascetics and alchemists, mendicants and magicians all rolled into one. They play a musical instrument called ek tara (“one string” in Punjabi). It is a single-stringed instrument plucked with one finger.
Putting the performers from these very different peoples together has not been easy. Indeed, their passionate individualism is what has allowed them to survive. However, Minakshi and Vinay have assembled a group of nine musicians, singers and dancer. They include Raghuraj, a seven-year-old boy, as well as veteran elders Suraj Bhopa and Rajki Kalbeliya. Nomadic Caravan brings to this festival some remarkable art and a demonstration of the power of culture to maintain identity in a world with little respect for nomadic and indigenous peoples. We hope that their visit here help change that.
Morgan O’Kane – Virginia/New York
Every so often, just when you think the well is dry and the tradition is dead, you are gratefully reminded that there is still water down there and that the tradition was only sleeping. Morgan O’Kane, from Charlottesville, Virginia, is one of those reminders. A virtuoso banjo player, shouter and activist now based in New York City, Morgan recalls two other New York-transplanted legendary southern artists: Reverend Gary Davis and Aunt Molly Jackson. like the reverend, Morgan honed his skills making a living as a busking street artist. Like Aunt Molly, he has kept his connection to his Appalachian home and its issues, taking part in the campaign to ban mountaintop removal mining, which destroys the land and the people who live on it. Check out mountainjustice.org.
While Morgan O’Kane clearly knows his way around the old tunes, he is more interested in making up his own. That’s how the tradition survives- new songs being created on old foundations. This ain’t no revival; this is a contemporary artist who knows where he comes from. He sometimes works with a “scum billy” band, made up of friends and associates. He is also comfortable playing solo, with a sort of one-man-band percussion setup complementing his banjo. He has been in New York for seven years or so, released his first CD in 2010, and is busy recording his second one. Morgan also created the soundtrack for the documentary film Low Coal, which deals with United Mine Workers of America members who have worked to improve conditions in the deep mines. The film, like the music Morgan makes, tells the story of the working people of Appalachia. Using the music to support the words and images of the people of the mining communities and their struggle is a validation of where the music comes from in the first place.
Over the last year or so, Morgan has taken steps to raise his profile as an artist. He has toured around North America and has staked out a presence in Europe. We welcome him to Jericho Beach for his Vancouver debut.
Joel Plaskett Emergency – Nova Scotia
Back in the early nineties, Atlantic Canada was hot – not in the climatic sense, but in music biz parlance. Groups were springing forth from the Halifax indie scene. One of them, Sloan, is celebrating their 20th anniversary. Most of the other names from that time are not much in evidence these days. Then there is Joel Plaskett. Joel is still very much a vibrant part of the scene, a regional gem who is loved across Canada and internationally too. In May of this year he became the first artist to have a million plays on CBC Radio 3’s on-line music streaming site.
Joel got his start in Halifax at the tender age of 17 in an alternative rock band called Thrush Hermit. Then came Neuseiland, named after a Dutch children’s book, and probably the only band to identify Willie Nelson and Ray’s Chicken Pita as influences. In 2001, Joel introduced his solo persona as leader of a trio called Emergency. The first recording of this guitar, bass and drums outfit started an avalanche of awards that has not stopped. There are literally dozens of nominations and wins from Nova Scotia Music to East Coast Music to the Junos to the Polaris Music Prize and beyond.
Clearly the trio format was a good choice, and the concept of “three” has not been limited to that. In Joel’s case it is his latest release, a three-CD set called Three and containing many songs titles with three repeated words, that has won enormous praise. lt deserves it. Take a song like Through, Through, Through: “I’m the Berlin Wall, I’m a communist/You’re a wrecking ball in a summer dress/You’re the horizon line, I’m the last sunset/ I might be going down, but I’m not set yet…You be April Steven, I’ll be April Wine/You be Israel, I’ll be Palestine…All the dirty blondes, playing blue-eyed soul/You won’t hear our songs on your radio.” This is not your run of the mill songwriting and there are a dozen more easily as good.
Great songs, hot band … this is an artist who is just getting going.
Reveillons – Quebec
The name means Wake Up! The music certainly fits the task. For well on 40 years, there has been an uninterrupted stream of great traditional music ensembles emerging from Quebec. lt has something to do with the not-so-Quiet Revolution of the sixties and lots to do with the fact that there is a massive repertoire of traditional songs and tunes in Quebec. Collectors, dating back to Ernest Gagnon in the 19th century, assembled and valued the music, and it always functioned as a cultural resistance to Anglo assimilation. When. cultural identity began to matter, young Quebecois found there was a repertoire of songs and tunes that could be the vehicle for their national cultural expression and the basis for new creations. Reveillons! is a quartet firmly in the tradition.
David Berthiaume (voice, Jew’s harp, concertina) carries his family inheritance around in the form of songs. A singer since childhood, David is the living connection to the tradition. Jean Fran,ois Berthiaume (step dance, bodhran, call, foot, suitcase, voice) handles the dance end of the family enterprise. He has a vast repertoire of styles of traditional Quebecoisand other folk dance. He is adept at both calling dances and teaching them as well as using his feet, in the distinctive Quebec style, as a percussion accompaniment. Richard Forest (violin) has been around the traditional music scene in various groups for many years. Where David has embraced the tradition in the form of old songs, Richard has paid tribute in his own fashion by composing dozens of new pieces that extend the tradition. He is regarded as one of Quebec’s finest fiddlers. Marc Maziade (guitar, tenor banjo, voice) is part of the new generation. A graduate of the jazz program at Montreal’s Concordia University, he is adept at flamenco and blues, as well as music whose roots are closer to home.
While most of what Reveillons! does is anchored in tradition, there are also little bits and pieces that make it far from an exercise in nostalgia. Call it “the living tradition” and wake up!
Josh Ritter & The Royal City Band – New York
Neuroscience of folk music? Tough choice, especially when your parents are both neuroscientists. It was at Ohio’s Oberlin College, fortress of liberalism, where Josh decided. He dropped out of the neuroscience program and created his own self-directed American History through Narrative Folk Music, recorded his first record, and went off to Scotland to attend the School of Scottish Folk Studies. Returning to the States, Josh did what aspiring songwriters do: none-too-glamorous dajobs, lots of pass the hat and, if lucky, open mics. Slowly it built. A decade and eight or so COs later, Josh Ritter and his band are a going concern, hailed as one of the best things out there.
Josh has also released his first novel, published by Random House, no less. The novel follows a young, widowed veteran of the First World War, Henry Bright, as he and his infant son, along with an unlikely guardian angel, flee from a forest fire and Bright’s cruel in-laws. The fact that Josh has published a novel is no surprise to anyone who has heard his songs. They are smaller novels in themselves. The Curse tells the unlikely tale of an Egyptian mummy waking up after thousands of years to see a beautiful girl: And under miles of stone, the dried fig of his heart/Under scarab and bone starts back to its beating. lt takes off from there as the action moves to New York, along with the mummified protagonist, who walks out of the museum. lt’s quite a tale, and there are a dozen like it. No stranger to American History Through Narrative Folk Music, that course way back when, Josh has reworked a bunch of classic murder ballads into a new compendium he calls Folk Bloodbath. There are some favourites from 19th century Afro-American musical folklore including Stackalee, Billy Lyons, Delia, Louis Collins-they’ve all escaped from their own songs and joined up with Josh. This is a songwriter with a vivid imagination and a lot more on his mind than another love song. This is storytelling par excellence accompanied by a great band. Better than neuroscience!
Tim Robbins & The Rogues Gallery Band – California
Tim Robbins is not unknown to most folks living in the western half of the northern hemisphere and lots more places around the globe. He is, as they say, a movie star. He is best known for films like The Shawshank Redemption and Bull Durham. More apropos of his presence at this festival are two other films he wrote and directed: Bob Roberts and The Cradle Will Rock. The first is the story of a right-wing folksingerwhofashionsa career using, among other things, songs that support reactionary views. Either by very strange coincidence, or as a result of Tim’s deep knowledge of the American folk scene, Bob Roberts was the pseudonym used by left-wing songwriter SonnyVale in the thirties and forties. The Cradle Will Rock is about Marc Blitzstein, the tragic, gay, Communist genius who wrote wonderful songs. This movie is about a late-thirties show, part of the US government-funded Works Progress Administration, featuring his music. The show was cancelled due to right-wing pressure but the cast put on the show anyway. The film is seen as a criticism of current political meddling in the arts by government and politicians, Given these films, it comes as no surprise that Tim Robbins’ dad was folksinger Gil Robbins who was in The Cumberland Three, The Highwaymen and the Belafonte Singers. Tim was born in 1958, the year The Kingston Trio released Tom Dooley, and the era of folk popularity known as the “great folk scare” took off. Not only was his dad a key performer, he went on to run The Gaslight, an equally key New York music club, preserved forever in Dave Van Ronk’s Gaslight Rag (I has a dream that the Gaslight was clean and the rats were all scrubbed down’ . ..).
Raised to a soundtrack of folk music, Tim has been writing songs and performing forever. Now he has formed a band, made a record and taken the show on the road. Remembering the magic of watching his dad perform, Tim explains. “Audiences were e·ncouraged to sing along and be part of the event. That is a relationship I’ve been seeking all my life, that alchemy between performer and audience.”
Tim is on tour this summer to find some of that magic for himself.
Leon Rosselson – United Kingdom
Quite simply, Leon Rosselson is the finest songwriter dealing with social and political issues that England has produced. We could leave it at that, but there’s more worth saying.
In the early sixties Leon was part of two groups that pioneered writing and singing songs about things that mattered. The Galliards, and then the Three City Four, were on the cutting edge of the non-traditional side of the folk scene. Early songs included Across The Hills, about nuclear weapons; Palaces of Gold, about a mine slag heap that buried a school; and Tim McGuire, a kind of hymn to personal resistance. Over the years Leon has taken on religion with Stand Up for Judas; advertising with We Sell Everything (a song that includes, perhaps the folk scene’s most challenging chorus); the monarchy with On Her Silver Jubilee; the radical wing of the English Revolution of the 1640s with The Diggers; Abiezer Coppe; and, most notably, The World Turned Upside Down. The latter, dealing with a radical agricultural commune and its subsequent suppression has become a hit – a folk standard.
Paralleling the work of historians like Christopher Hill, Eric Hobsbawm and E.P. Thomson, Leon has been responsible for giving many thousands of his fellow countrywomen and men back their history, no small thing for an artist. He has also written brilliant songs about everything from the crime of frozen fish sticks (Whoever invented the Fish Finger) to gender stereotyping (Boys Will Be Boys). He was one of the first songwriters who, from a Jewish non-Zionist perspective, took on the repression of the Palestinian people in songs like The Last Chance and Song of the Olive Tree. His My Father’s Jewish World is a magnificent description of the left-wing, secular and almost disappeared milieu that produced Leon and many other artists. In addition to songs, Leon has authored a bunch of children’s books, some dealing with difficult subjects.
Leon first performed at this festival in 1980. He claims this is his last visit to this side of the Atlantic. We’re delighted to have at least one more opportunity to hear this exceptional artist.
Solas – United States
Think of it as a kind of relay with the torch being passed from generation to generation, band to band. Ever since Sean O’Riada put together an ensemble of traditional Irish musicians in the early sixties – an ensemble that became known as The Chieftains- there has been an unbroken tradition of great Irish music groups. Names like Planxty, De Dannan, The Bothy Band and Clannad are some of the great names that paved the way for a band like Solas.
Solas is the first of the truly great Irish bands to be based in the United States. Not that it is, or was, rare to find Irish musicians in that country. The history goes back to the 19th century, and in the second half of the 20th Tommy Makem and the Clancy Brothers made a huge impact, as did Mick Moloney. In fact Mick played a big role in creating American based Irish ensembles. One of the results is Seamus Egan, founder of Solas. Born in Pennsylvania, his family moved back to Ireland and much of his early training was there. But it was with Mick Moloney’s Green Fields of America, launched in the late seventies, that Seamus turned pro and became a force in American Irish music. A multi-instrumentalist (flute, mandolin, guitar), Egan is also a talented songwriter. Since 1995 he has led a combination of American- and Irish-bern players and singers in performing traditional Irish music, some. original creations and tasty covers. The current lineup includes New York-bern, classically trained Winifred Horan (violins, vocals) and Irish-bern Mick McAuley (accordions, concertina, low whistle, vocals), who used to play with the very untraditional Alias Ron Kavana. There is Eamon McE\holm from County Tyrone in Northern Ireland (guitars, keyboards, vocals), who won the Performing Rights Society/John Lennon Songwriter Award while studying for a degree in popular music and recording from University College Salford. The most recent addition is Niamh Varian-Barry (vocals and fiddle). Another classically trained musician, with a master’s in performance at the prestigious Royal Irish Academy of Music in Dublin, Niamh has a foot in that world but most of the rest of her is firmly on the folk side. Together, So\as is a collection of virtuosi purveying one of the world’s great traditions.
Spiro – United Kingdom
Real World Records is usually associated with world music, WOMAD and the like. When they put out a recording by a group that is influenced primarily by contemporary classical and British folk music, you sit up and take notice.
Spiro, the group in question, has been together since 1993 and all five original members are still present and accounted for- perhaps a first in British music. Speaking of music, this is clearly an outfit with big ears. Tunes start out with a Steve Reich repeating phrase, but soon there are folk references and what we used to call New Acoustic Music in the Grisman, Anger, Marshal tradition. it’s all there, living happily together like· a functional communal house whose residents share a really odd record collection. What brings it all together, along with the stellar musical abilities of the band members, is a passion and energy that transcends mere great playing, adding great feeling to it. Jon Hunt (guitar), Jason Sparkes (accordion), Alex Vann (mandolin) and Jane Harbour (violin) started in the Bristol folk scene “sessions,” as they call them over there.
Jane studied classical violin in Japan under the legendary Shinichi Suzuki and grew up “listening to a lot of vaguely modern classical stuff like Bartok and Stravinsky and Britten so I’ve got a lot of time for dissonance and strange harmonies and counter rhythms.” Oh yeah … and dance music! Jason began his classical training during his pre-school years before taking up folk, inspired by his Morris-dancing father- proving good things can come of Morris dancing. Alex was the drummer in a punk band before taking up the electric guitar and then graduating to his weapon of choice, the mandolin. Jon has also done his time in punk bands; he’s someone who took an unusual route from pop to folk to punk to post punk/new wave but emerged with “this preserved love and fascination for traditional English music.” They’ve done lots of theatre, film and television work and have released a scant three albums in 18 years_ The pace seems to be quickening, however, as more and more folks cotton on to a really interesting acoustic music ensemble.
Taiko for Tohoku – British Columbia
Taiko, in general, and particularly in Vancouver, has always been more about communal solidarity than anything else. Thus it is no surprise that in the face of the devastating earthquake and tsunami that hit the Tohoku region of northern Japan this past May, the taiko (Japanese drum) ensembles of Vancouver came together on April 19 to participate in the Ganbare Japan! fundraising concert at the Queen Elizabeth Theatre. What is surprising, especially if you are not involved in taiko, is how many and how varied the taiko ensembles of Vancouver have become.
When taiko first came to this festival, in the early eighties, there was one group, Katari Taiko. Many people though they must be from San Francisco or Japan. The notion that a taiko group had come into existence in Vancouver was hard to fathom. The Japanese community in Vancouver, and BC generally, had never really recovered from the repression and deportation of the war years. It was, to a large extent, invisible. The founding of a taiko ensemble – like the Powell Street Festival and the redress campaign – are all indications of a successful reclamation of a heritage that was almost destroyed by xenophobia and racism. To a large extent they are the result of the work of a generation that came of age in the sixties and seventies and who were inspired by the various identity “liberation” movements from Alabama to Stonewall.
Thus, when Chibi Taiko, Katari Taiko, Sawagi Taiko, LOUD, Sansho Daiko, Tetsu Taiko and Yuaikai Ryukyu Taiko, along with independent taiko players, joined forces for a 20-minute taiko tour-de-force, it was both a gesture of solidarity with the victims of the climatic tragedy that had stuck northern Japan and a proud demonstation of how far the art form has developed in a city where Japanese culture was almost extirpated 70 years ago.
Featuring pioneer veterans of Katari Taiko, who helped sheape this unique art form in its earliest days, alongside the next generation of taiko players (junior members of Chibi Taiko and Yuaikai Ryukyu who range in age from six to their early twenties), Taiko for Tohoku was too vital to happen only once. Here it come again!
Hans Theessink & Terry Evans – Holland/United States
If you were at a party full of blues and related “roots” music enthusiasts, and it was late, and folks started playing the game of mix and match, inventing duos that could make great music together, it would be quite a while, we bet, before the names of Hans Theessink and Terry Evans would come up! This is yet more proof that truth is more interesting and creative than fiction.
Dutch-born and Austrian-based, Hans Theessink is best known as a blues guitar player who has been around since Europe fell in love with acoustic blues in the sixties. In the process he has defied the notion that this love was only a passing fancy. He has become an institution, teaching and performing around the world. Over the years he has made 20 records or so, as well as producing and guesting on a bunch of others. A project that is particularly noteworthy is the CD Banjoman, a tribute to Derroll Adams, who deserves a lot more attention. That is one indication of the depth of Theessink’s knowledge of music.
Terry Evans grew up in Vicksburg, Mississippi, in a household where singing was reserved for religious purposes. In the sixties, Terry listened to blues and R&B on the sly. While Hans was discovering folks like Bo Diddley and B.B. King, so was Terry. He joined an a cappella band called The Knights and found he also had an ability as a songwriter, accompanying himself on guitar. Some of his heroes, Pop Staples and Louis Jordan among them, recorded his songs. Moving west, Terry became a sought-after studio vocalist in Los Angeles. In that context he caught the ear of Ry Cooder. He has appeared on a bunch of Ry’s records and toured with him. It won Terry a much bigger profile and led to a pretty good solo career fronting his own band.
The Hans/Terry duo is a backward glance at acoustic blues performed by two masters. Two voices, two guitars and a great batch of songs from classic to originals. It’s an unlikely pairing, but works beautifully. Some great music in the hands of two veterans at their peak.
Ti-Coca & Wanga-Neges – Haiti
Singer David Mettelus is Ti-Coca. Wanga-Neges is his band. Wanga Neges, the creole name of the hummingbird, is supposed to be used in the preparation of magic love potions. The group comes from Haiti and plays a style of music they call twoubadou or troubadour. We know something very similar from Jamaica called menta. In both cases, this music is the bridge between the contemporary big bands and the folk music of the 19th century. Twoubadou features banjo, accordion, drum, graj or grater (like the guiro), maracas, double bass and a wood box with a metallic strip called the manoumba. Heirs of the European troubadours, these bands were influenced by the Cuban music brought home at the turn of the 20th century by cane cutters who went there for the harvest. They brought back to Haiti son and bolero, which coexisted with Haitian rhythms, meringues, and voodoo, Afro-Haitian religious rhythms. Later, konpa, pop music broadcast by the radio, added its influence to the mix.
In the mid-seventies David recruited musicians from various konpa bands to do something d’1fferent – to reclaim the troubadour tradition and to play acoustic instruments that are the foundation of Haitian popular secular music. They cover the full spectrum from the Afro-Haitian petwo, yanvalou and kongo, with its percussive presentation, to the sweet Haitian meringue, konpa and bolero. The sound is clearly pan-Afro Caribbean with souvenirs of every Caribbean port of call, including Colombian cumbia, making a music gumbo, calaloo or bouyon, the Haitian equivalent.
For 20 years, Ti-Coca and Wanga-Neges were a local treat. Then, in 1998, they played outside Haiti for the first time, in the French West Indian island of Martinique, at a festival. This led to an invitation to perform in France. One thing led to another and the band has done a fair amount of international touring.
Haiti is best known these days for its troubles – political, climatic and other. The music of Ti-Coca and his associates reminds us of another aspect of Haifl, the enormous cultural riches of the first country in the hemisphere to shake off slavery and colonialism and establish itself as an independent Afro-American nation.
Tinariwen – Mali
The name comes from the Tuareg expression kel tinariwen, which means the desert boys, and describes a once rootless group of young musicians, more or less based in Tamanrasset, Algeria. Tamanrasset is the capital of the province of the same name, and the central city of the Algerian Tuareg. The Tuareg? They are a Berber nomadic people who live in the Sahara. Unfortunately they never paid much attention to the arbitrary borders drawn by European colonial powers, which meant that they were always outsiders. Thus their successors now live in Algeria, Mali, Niger, Morocco, Libya and Burkina Faso. At various times they rose up for their rights and each rising was followed by dispersion. One took place in 1963 in northern Mali. The resulting flight of Tuareg refugees to Algeria led to a generation of dispossessed youth living in camps far from home and their traditional way of life.
One of them was lbrahim Ag Alhabib. At the tender age of nine, he left home and wandered the desert do’mg odd jobs and playing music on a homemade guitar. He met other youth like himself, youth who would become founders of Tinariwen Hassan, Japonais and Abdallah. They were recruited by the Libyan military to fight the Malian government. In 1990 there was what is known as the Third Tuareg Rebellion. lt failed, and these still-young men confronted their future. But they had acquired some knowledge of the world and had developed a new version of traditional Tuareg music. This music was influenced by what they had heard in their travels, from traditional Tuareg poetry and song to radical chaabi protest music, from Algerian pop rai to western rock and pop. They created songs based on their own experiences, songs of exile and longing. They began to play locally and then, discovered by the world music fraternity, at festivals in Europe and beyond. They even started their own festival, The Festival in the Desert. Almost 1,000 concerts later, Tinariwen is thriving. The group has integrated new, younger players with the historic founders, guaranteeing the group’s continuation.
Their existence remains nomadic, but it is the nomadic lifestyle of the successful artist, presenting to the world their music and culture. lt seems that these “desert boys” have, to some I degree, won their war.
Foy Vance – United Kingdom
They say that by the age of three or so it’s pretty much determined who we are. If that’s the case, Foy Vance can thank his late father for taking the family from their native Northern Ireland to the United States shortly after he was born in 1974. Based in Oklahoma, his dad was an itinerant preacher who travelled the rural American South for five years, family in tow. By the time young Foy was five and the family returned to the UK, he had already developed a love of blues, soul and gospel music and had been shown rudimentary guitar technique.
The next 20 years were spent in Belfast. It was not the best of times, given the civil war called “the Troubles.” Foy kept with the music, and in the nineties joined a soul authored songs were his first love however, and it was that he returned to. Playing in a bar in the Canary Islands, Foy hasd some kind of experience that produced the phrase, “Jesus is coming like a thief in the night.” The next day he discovered his father had died. He also discovered that his difficulty writing songs had vanished and in the next eight months he had written four albums’ worth. Two of them, Gabriel and the Vagabond and Homebird, recorded as demos, found their way onto the television show Grey’s Anatomy. This did not hurt Foy’s career.
Finalyl, in 2007, his first full length CD, Hope was released. Good things have followed. Foy Vance’s songs come from his story. There is poetry and passion. There are stories, as befits an Irish songwriter, and inarticulate emotion that may have its roots in his five years in the US South. There are certain reminders of another soul singer from Belfast, a Mr. Morrison.
Foy Vance is not a poet whose words need to be hear. A verse or two doesn’t really do justice. It is the combination of the words and the voice and the face and the presence that makes it work. Happily you can find out for yourself this weekend.
David Wax Museum – Massachusetts
It’s the American melting pot. Why wouldn’t a Harvard University graduate travel rural Mexico, where he had worked summers with the Friends Service Committee (better known as the Quakers), studying folk music? Armed with a solid grounding in the Mexican son – a sort of ballad but with many regional variants – David Wax returned to Boston where he began fashioning his own mix of son and good old-fashioned American folk music. He then convinced a young woman names Suz Slezak, another graduate of a prestigious East Coast school, Wellesley College – just back from her own world travels studying textile traditions – to join him. Suz has a solid background in old timey, Irish and classical music and is a fine fiddler. David, however, convinced her she needed to track down a donkey jawbone which is used as a percussion instrument in Vera Cruz state. You’re gonna do son? You need one! She found one and plays it, as well as fiddling and singing. Coupled with David’s guitar and voice, the two of them are the core of the museum. When required, they have the services of friends and family for additional instruments: David’s cousin Jordan Wax (People’s Republic of Klezmerica) on accordion and piano, Mike Roberts (Wooden Dinosaur) on upright bass and electric guitar, Greg Glassman (The Sacred Shakers) and on drum kit and requinto, Jiro Kokubu on mandolin and dobro. Alec Spiegleman (Cuddle Magic) on baritone sax and clarinet, Brian O’Neill on percussion and Sam D’Agostino on upright bass and tenor sax.
Happy for David and Suz, this is a good time to be creating new stuff on a frame that combines old-time folk and Mexican tradition. The “American” scene has created both a platform and an audience for music that has one eye on the past of regional music of all kinds, and another on the future in the form of good songs and equally good, clean musical fun. That’s what this duo does. They are not trying to be Mexicans and they are also not trying to be any one of the dozen classic American rootsy duos. They have created their own sound and one that belongs on stage and not in any museum.
Emily Wells – California
Emily Wells is a positive example of what the 21st century offers a creative artist. She is the consummate post-modernist, in the sense that a very pre-modern John Donne meant when he wrote, “Nothing human is foreign to me.”
Wells was born in Texas, the daughter of a French horn player. She grew up in lndianapolis where she began studying classical violin at the age of four. That was counterbalanced in her early teens by the beats and samples that were dominant in popular music. She began to write her own “angsty” songs. She says, “Everybody was into hip hop… All everybody did was go around, smoke blunts and bump OutKast.”
Word spread about this young, precocious artist and record companies came calling, but Emily felt they were looking for the next Norah Jones while she was looking for Emily Wells. She found her too. Partly she found her through paying the dues of an itinerant performing artist – thousands of miles logged, traipsing across country, playing in and outside of bars, pubs and juke joints. At home with every genre, unintimidated by either acoustic instruments or the most advanced techno tools and toys, she traveled in a tiny car, dragging along guitars, a tiny bass, a giant old Linn 9000 drum machine, and a four track. In 2007 she released Beautiful Sleepyhead and the Laughing Yaks, her first CD (there were earlier releases, starting when she was 13, but this is the first real one). lt was followed, a year later, by The Symphonies: Dreams, Memories & Parties.
Emily now calls Los Angeles home and has some stability in both her personal and professional lives. She works as a solo artist and also with bassist Joey Reina and drummer Sam Halterman. The symphonies aren’t exactly Beethoven’s idea of a symphony, but then again the songs aren’t exactly George Gershwin’s idea of a song. There is Bartok, European neo-cabaret, and she has found a certain notoriety covering Notorious B.I.G.’s Juicy. That’s the post-modernist tag. Emily Wells is everything she has heard, coupled with a bunch of ideas, musically and lyrically, that are every bit her own.
She is an extraordinary musical adventure and we have been invited along. Oh Boy!
Gillian Welch – Tennessee
We feel at home in the folk tradition, and using its language combined with our own,” says Gillian (pronounced with a hard G) in discussing her latest CD- her first in about eight years. That’s good. If she and long time collaborator Dave Rawlings didn’t feel comfortable in the folk tradition it would be a big disappointment for hundreds of thousands of folks who have found the folk tradition, at least partly, through Ms. Welch’s reclamation of it. it’s nice that she uses the “f” word instead of “Americana”, “roots”, “alt country” or any of the other pseudonyms.
Although Gillian is associated with rural America and the southern mountain country, she was born in New York and raised in Los Angeles. Her birth parents may have had a connection to the South but her adoptive parents were professional music writers who went to LA. to write music for The Carol Burnett Show. it being the late sixties, they had the requisite folk records around the house. But it wasn’t until she was at school in Santa Cruz, playing drums in a psychedelic surf band and bass in a goth band, that a roommate’s Stanley Brothers’ album changed her life. She explains, “All of a sudden I’d found my music.”
Santa Cruz led to Boston’s Berklee College of Music, where Gillian was enrolled in the songwriting program and, at an audition for the famed school’s only country band, met Dave Rawlings. After graduating from Berklee, Gillian went to Nashville because that’s where all her favourite records had been made. Dave followed and they have been musical partners ever since – two voices, two guitars – a bit like The Stanley Brothers. This was in the nineties, and something was happening in “Music City.” There was a new appreciation for a different country style, more folk based, more traditional. Gillian and Dave fit into it. Gillian’s first recording established her as a figure in that scene, winning a Grammy nomination for best contemporary folk album. Her participation on the 0 Brother, Where Art Thou? soundtrack was a major breakthrough. Since then, Gillian Welch has been one of “the reasons why people are listening to folk music, both traditional and contemporary.
Impeccable songwriting, a solid connection to tradition and a wonderful voice, it’s an honour to be part of introducing her new work to the world.
Corinne West & Kelly Joe Phelps – California/Washington
The road,“that euphemism for the life of the itinerant touring artist, can be pretty unforgiving. There are hundreds of songs – and many memoirs – about “hard travelling,” as Woody described it. lt can also offer salvation of some sort and spark brilliant music. Witness the partnership of Corinne West and Kelly Joe Phelps.
Kelly Joe is no stranger to this festival. With lots of touring and recording, as well as backing up some great artists, Kelly Joe has carved out a niche for himself as a virtuoso guitarist, singer and songwriter with a foot in folk, another in jazz and yet another in blues.
This is Corrine West’s first visit here. She is a Californian artist who has made a name for herself with great original songs and a wonderful voice, along with fine guitar chops. She is friends with folks we know and respect. Nina Gerber produced her first recording and Mike Marshal! her second. She does a couple of hundred shows a year.
Kelly Joe and Corinne met when she was touring her latest CD. They discovered that they were on the same musical wavelength and, as they say in the movie, decided that “this could be the beginning of a beautiful friendship.” lt is. lt is! Take a song like Whisky Poet, from Corinne’s third CD, and featured on the EP she and Kelly Joe have recorded: Four dozen roses/Blue lights in Georgia/Dressed in captivating eyes/With that denim on your thighs/Hey Whiskey poet of the backbeat/Ah the streets they turned to sand/took the night, I took your hand/… You were my road house/A little shelter! Gone the complicated things/Resting tired wings. That’s a great bit of poetry on paper. Add two great voices and guitars and you have the reason people love this kind of music.
This festival features some great pairings that show why a couple of brains, a voice or two and 20 fingers can outflank a big band and a truckload of gear. Corinne and Kelly Joe are exemplary members of that sorority/fraternity.
Jenny Whiteley – Ontario
Jenny Whiteley has a pretty impressive discography, and an unconventional one too. In 1981, at a very tender age, she was a member of her dad and uncle’s Junior Jug Band. Before that she had already recorded on Raffi’s Baby Beluga, produced by uncle Ken. In the nineties, still a youngster, she joined brother Ben in Heartbreak Hill, a Toronto bluegrass band that created a lot of excitement for a while. lt was one of the bands that started what has become a massive born-again alt-country music scene in Hogtown. New Country Rehab, featuring brother Ben at this festival, is a successor to Heartbreak Hill.
The point is that Jenny Whiteley grew up surrounded by music and musicians playing all kinds of traditionally based music. The Original Sloth Band, Chris Whiteley and Caitlin Hanford, and of course the Junior Jug Band gave Ms. Whiteley exposure to lots of great music, most of it with an American trad twinge, and also the realities of the music business. She was not at all sure that she wanted to follow in the family business and when she decided she did, she made sure she did it her way. Nothing in Jenny’s work harkens back much to anything her family has done although she DID cut a great version of Take Your Time and Do it Right, included on the LP this festival made in 1980 and featuring a whack of Whiteleys. Mainly she has been writing her own songs. This has been well rewarded with two Juno awards and lots of accolades from peers.
Her latest CD, Forgive or Forget, is the third she has made outthis way with guitarist/producer/record mogul wunderkind Steve Dawson. With the exception of a Buddy Holly cover, the songs are hers. There is some tough stuff here so we were happy to read that “As a songwriter I think of myself as a storyteller. So I don’t feel bound by personal experience. If I come up with an idea that makes me think, ‘Yeah, that’s a book I’d want to read.’ then it’s a song worth writing.” Well, there is a whole shelf of good books on Jenny’s set lists and we’re looking forward to her reading us some of them.
Cris Williamson – Washington
Cris Williamson first performed at our ninth annual festival in 1986. She was already a legendary figure who had been instrumental in creating a genre called “women’s music.” There aren’t that many people who can stake a claim to defining an art form. If memory serves, Cris and Meg Christian had recently celebrated 10 years of Olivia Records with a show at Carnegie Hall. That 10 years had been defined by the release of Cris’s The Changer and The Changed, a record that made big waves both for its content, and the fact that an independent women’s record label had released it. lt still ranks among the top selling independent releases. By the time Changer came out, Cris had already been recording and performing for a decade.
Precocious is a good word for Ms. Williamson. She was a school girl in Wyoming when, in 1964, she recorded the first of almost 30 records. The Artistry of Cris Williamson was mainly a selection of superior folk songs. In those days, terms like “feminist” and “lesbian” were insults in most of society, and certainly the music industry. Cris, along with other foremothers, broke the barrier. Women artists were inspired. Women concert presenters, independent women’s record companies and distributors started up, and so began one of the most viable independent cultural movements North America has seen.
Cris Williamson has kept writing songs and performing them and recording them as well as covering great songs by other writers. Her repertoire is staggering. As befits a true daughter of the West (remember her hometown is Sheridan, Wyoming), Cris has written great songs about the West and covered classics, including Old Chislom Trail on her latest CD. She has written passionately, and eloquently, about Aboriginal people and their resistance. Grandmother’s Song is an older one about the native fighters who fled to Canada. Wounded Knee is a new one. And of course there are love songs – good love, bad love -and songs that deal with just about every aspect of human existence. All of it is done with passion, talent and commitment.
A mere 25 years after her festival debut it is a delight to welcome Cris Williamson back.
David Woodhead’s Confabulation – Ontario
David Woodhead is one of those artists who have been around so long and have done so many great things with so many other artists that they become an institution – part of the warp and woof of culture in this country. Sometimes that can lead to being taken for granted. Going back to the mid-seventies and Perth County Conspiracy, David has been a valued backup musician, usually on bass. The list of who he worked with is exhausting and mind boggling, from Stan Rogers to Loreena McKennitt, James Keelaghan to Don Ross, and on and on. The list of great artists in this country who David did not play with is shorter than those he did.
His discography starts with the Perth County guys in the seventies and proceeds through a couple of hundred recordings to, finally, The David Woodhead Confabulation. After decades of being the figurative name on the back of the album, David has his picture on the front. This is David’s band, with David on ukulele as much as bass. After all those other bands, he knows what he wants and who he wants.
The key members of the Confabulation are equally legendary and accomplished players. Drummer Rich Greenspoon goes back to the late fiddler Oliver Schroer’s Stewed Tomatoes, Njacko Backo and Rare Air. Saxophonist Richard Underhill was a founder of the Shuffle Demons – the group who got jazz on Canadian radio- and has almost as many recording credits as David. Doug Wilde is a composer/arranger and keyboardist who first performed here with Nancy White and has worked with all kinds of folks, like Leonard Cohen, for instance. Mainly he writes music- so much music for so many things that we’ll bet a kidney you’ve all heard his work. Jason Freeman-Fox is the youngster of the Confabulation. A talented violinist/composer, Jason is the prodigy of Oliver Schroer, and one of Oliver’s great contributions to Canadian music.
Put these guys together and stir. What you get is amazing, creative music that draws from every tradition- classical, jazz, folk, pop -and includes David’s compositions, some of Oliver’s, and what the band describes as “fearless improvisations” and “occasional Lord Buckley rants.” Sounds like fun.