By Sharon Steele
The 41st Annual Vancouver Folk Music Festival kicked off this past weekend on July 13th - 15th at Jericho Beach Park in Vancouver, Canada. As with most outdoor festivals, the weather always plays a key role and with the scorching heat that had been forecast that for the weekend, the audience in attendance were congregating in every shaded nook and cranny they could find during the daytime workshops. If someone could have flown a drone above the festival grounds, you would have seen the majority of attendees in the shade, with only a few brave souls who could bare the blistering heat choosing to bask in the 30 Degrees Celsius sun.
The festival was made up of the main stage (where the evening headliners performed) and 5 smaller stages, set at various locations throughout the park. For me personally, it is at these smaller stages where the main highlights of the festival come to fruition, as you are treated to performers from around the world, most of whom you will be seeing for the first time, as they jam together based upon the set theme for that particular "Workshop".
Starting Saturday morning with "Sing it Like you Mean it" was, in my opinion, the highlight of the entire festival. On this stage you had DakhaBrakha (hailing from Kiev, Ukraine - who play traditional music and recently blew away the audience at the Bonaroo Music Festival) and Dalava (Vancouver based group - traditional Moravian (Czech), and Quantum Tangle (Yellowknife based duo) - who play fusion of old/new Aboriginal music and throat singing ). With such a mix of wonderful styles that blended together perfectly, it was no surprise that all of the performances culminated in a huge standing ovation.
This was the first time, songwriter Art Bergmann was to perform at the VFMF. Although he is known for his punk roots, Art surpassed these limitations many years ago and managed to maintain a magnificent level with his songwriting throughout. He was recently nominated for a Polaris Prize for his recent album "Apostate" which is available on Weewerk Records.
As a fan I had wished he performed his strong and poignant "The Legend of Bobby Bird" - a moving and stirring song about a young man who decides to leave the horrid conditions of the Residential school system and only die from the frigid conditions in Canada. I later discovered that he wanted to perform this in the workshop " A change is gonna come", but the overflow from the other stage's sound would have made it nearly impossible to distinguish the lyrics. This is a shame, as I personally feel that this song really sums up the mistreatment of aboriginal children in Canada.
The festival also boasted activities for the entire family, with square dancing and arts & crafts. Unlike most festivals, the fencing surrounding the grounds was completely open, which allowed the beachgoers to have a view of the festivals entertainment as well as the festival attendees to view the magnificent beach, ocean and skyline that Vancouver has become well known for.
Other highlights were the "Songs not to sing at Funerals" workshop, featuring Vancouver's own Art Bergmann, Viper Central and Dori Freeman. Sunday's highlight was the morning's "Shake your soul" workshop with Ranky Tanky, Dawn Pemberton and Jayme Stones' Folklife.
As well as workshops, the smaller stages also showcased single-act performances by Iswke, Alex Cuba, Wallis Bird and Art Bergmann to name a few. The headliners (Main Stage) this year were Neko Case on Friday, The Dead South on Sat, and Ry Cooder on Sunday night. It was a great festival and I am certain that I will be returning here next year!