The Vancouver Folk Music Festival – July 16, 2010
Vancouver Folk Music Festival
Jericho Beach Park, Vancouver July 16, 2010-07-17
by Doug Heselgrave
For many people living on the west coast of Canada, the folk festival season means that summer has finally arrived. Over the years the Vancouver, Calgary, Edmonton and Winnipeg folk festivals have each grown and taken identities of their own, but the Vancouver festival’s mixture of countercultural ethos, brilliant performers, and wonderful cuisine – all taking place at what is surely one of the most stunning places in the world to hear music – have earned it a place amongst the world’s best music festivals.
A quick glance around the park’s sprawling parking lot and camping area revealed hundreds of cars from all over North America – with the largest representation coming from Washington State and Quebec. Though they’ve stepped away somewhat from their ‘no sponsorship’ policy when the modern dictates of music commerce made it a necessity a few years back, the festival’s directors have not sold out to ‘the man’ as the lineup clearly shows. The thousands of people of all ages and backgrounds who piled into Jericho Beach park on Friday prove that the Vancouver Festival’s 33 year old formula of creating a programme that mixes traditional musicians and storytellers with representatives of the newest world beat sounds is obviously working .
In many ways the Friday night concert is just a warm up for the event to come, and for the most part I was content to listen to the main stage performers as I wandered over the huge festival grounds, sampled food, looked through the marketplace and bumped into old friends.
As such my highlights from the first night are highly subjective and have certainly been influenced by the overall experience of being outdoors on a perfect sunny evening by the ocean.
Shane Koyczan is a Canadian performance poet who came to international prominence during the Vancouver Olympic opening ceremonies and was seen by almost a billion people. I wondered how his often dour and paranoid work would work with an outdoor audience pumped to hear African high life music, and was immediately impressed by his ability to work with a crowd. Backed by an amazing instrumental trio featuring a bass, keyboard and electric guitar, Koyczan’s rough edges were smoothed out as his rants about sexual love morphed into the band quoting Marvin Gaye and sailing into a full fledged version of ‘Sexual Healing’ to end his set.
A short set by the amazing Catherine McLellan stopped me in my tracks. This Prince Edward Island native is a singer to watch. The three selections from ‘Water in the Ground’ sounded even better live. I’ll be checking out her workshop today.
Next up was Bassekou and Ngoni Ba from Bamako, Mali. Their ngoni (lute) based music created a wonderful ambience as their intricate string work (often strangely reminiscent of Jerry Garcia at his meditative best) soared over the beach as the air cooled and the sun went down. An hour never passed so quickly, and heir set ended much too soon.
The Avett Brothers came on as the sun went down and gave a hit heavy performance that put everyone in the mood for Calexico before the curfew sent everyone home – sunburned, tired, happy and waiting for more.
With six stages and a four hour main stage concerts on Saturday, it’s going to be a long day.
Today I’ll be looking forward to hearing Deep Dark Woods, Steve Dawson, Sarazino and Bettye Lavette.