Passion stirring

24th Annual Vancouver Folk Music Festival

Venue: Jericho Beach Park, Vancouver

Dates: 13-15 July 2001

Reviewer: Cheryl Rossi

The beat is driving, the breathy vocals stirring, the music pushes higher, everyoneís grooving with amazement, they propel us up and up, our feet pound the wet grass, our arms move with the rhythm, our eyes grow wide with awe, we shed layers as our bodies grow hotter, they throb on and on, up and up, higher and higher. This is not a rave. This is Folk Fest 2001.

Passions were stirred, feet set in motion, creativity inspired, and acquaintances reconnected at the 24th Annual Vancouver Folk Music Festival at Jericho Beach Park. From there, the tall grey city buildings behind the masts of the Royal Vancouver Yacht Club looked unreal. Reality was the giant patchwork quilt of bright tarps and blankets laid out in front of the main stage, the amicable mixture of boomers, lesbians, hippies, and other music lovers, and stages emanating great music.

The Festival boasted music from fourteen countries, and included txalaparta playing from Euskadi, wind instruments made from tree roots and antelope horns from the Central African Republic, throat singing from Nunavut, and more across seven stages.

The performances I found most inspiring were Nunavut's Tanya Tagaq Gillis with Samiland/Finland's Wimme; New York's Bitch and Animal; Vancouverís Rae Spoon and Geoff Berner; Etobicoke's Rheostatics with Vancouver's Veda Hille; and Nevada City's Utah Phillips.

It was the ravey Traditions & Transistors session that roused me the most, when Tanya Tagaq Gillis throat-sang with Wimme. Gillis' performance was engaging with her slim torso undulating with breathy huffing, her earthy dancing and pure joy in the favourable crowd response. Wimme combined the yoik, traditional Sami (formerly Lapplander) improvised singing, with electronic and acoustic music. Jacob Cino from Vancouver's Third Eye Tribe provided dance-inspiring beats, Loop de Loop played the didjeridu, Geoff Berner played the accordion, and Sara Wheeler added bass guitar and vocals. The indigenous vocals combined with wicked beats created an energy-infusing brew that received an enthusiastic standing ovation.

A similar energy was created when Ugarte Anaiak, Kossa Diamande with Masabo Culture Company, and Bitch and Animal shared a stage. Ugarte Anaiak, "the boys from Basque" as Bitch from Brooklyn referred to them, play the txalaparta, a traditional percussion instrument, derived from apple-cider production, comprised of boards laid across two inverted baskets, which are struck rhythmically with thick wooden sticks. Vancouverís Masabo Culture Company with Kossa Diamande provided invigorating percussion. One of the performers, disappointed when his encouragement to get everyone moving failed, successfully led an impromptu aerobics session, in which everyone participated.

The radical dyke duo Bitch and Animal's jazzy "Black Eyed Girl," with the help of the other performers, evolved into another great dancing opportunity. Their songs are composed of singing, shouting, fiddling, bass guitar funking and bongo banging. Bitch and Animal have released their second CD, Eternally Hard, on Ani DiFrancoís Righteous Babe label. "Eternally hardĒ is a lyric from their song: "Best Cock on the Block": "What can I say / They canít stay away / From the best cock / On the block today. /It's eternally hard . . . from the d to the i to the l to the do." Another highlight was their song "Pussy Manifesto" with which they are leading the revolution to claim the word "pussy" as a compliment, as in "That T-shirt is so pussy."

High School and Other Horrors was another session in which Bitch and Animal played, along with quirky accordion playing Geoff Berner. He entertained us with songs about 25-year-old guys who pick up high school girls, his porn queen girlfriend, and his teenage strategy for dealing with bullies in the "menacing" alleys of Kerrisdale: "My Dad's a lawyer, doo doo doo doo doo."

Rae Spoon also contributed to this session. Looking like a skater boy with a voice reminiscent of early Sarah McLachlin and playing guitar like Ani DiFranco, she writes emotionally charged songs with lyrics such as: "I took seven showers to get over you and I took them all in a row." Her CD Honking at Minivans sold out at the Festival, spawning an impressive list for orders. Rae Spoon is an artist to look out for.

Another popular act was the Rheostatics, although their sound did not please everyone. When they commenced their Friday evening set, a man in front of me put his fingers in his ears and laid back on his blanket until the first song was almost over. During their Saturday performance with Ford Pier and Veda Hille, I saw a young boy getting his Mom to cover his ears for him. I have to admit it was a tempting way to cope during some of Ford Pierís grating numbers, but I enjoyed the Rheostaticís mix of punky pop and atmospheric pieces. It was the latter, combined with Martin Tielliís Bowie-ish vocals that made the Rheostatics stand out. As for Veda Hille, her special connection with birds was revealed. When she started playing one of her many bird songs, a red-winged blackbird in a nearby conifer started chirping vociferously.

Self-described tramp, Utah Phillips, with his big white beard, looks and sounds like you wish your grandfather did. Using his deep warm voice and rhythmic inflection, he delivers powerful political stories in an engaging way. Among other stories and songs, he told us about Mother Jones, who at the age of 83, was labeled "the most dangerous women in America" by the government. He preceded this story with the statement: "Direct actions get the goods. You can count on that."

The readily available porta-potties, the eco-friendliness, the fabulous food, and the wide array of superb music made the 24th Annual Vancouver Folk Music Festival a rich success.

© 2001, Cheryl Rossi


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