Dates 14, 15 & 16 July 2006 Venue Jericho Beach Park, Vancouver

Reviewer Patricia Fleming

The 29th Annual Vancouver Folk Music Festival was once again blessed with wonderful weather for their three-day open-air event. A fitting, alternative title for this year’s Festival might have been “Not your Mom and Dad’s Folk Festival” as there were considerable changes in 2006 to the Folk Festival line-up made to draw in a younger crowd.

The Festival provided non-stop music on seven stages from 10:00 am to 6:30 pm Saturday and Sunday, and then the venue moves to the Main Stage, for Friday, Saturday, and Sunday evening concerts. A favourite Vancouver Folk Festival ritual is “The running of the Blankets” whereby the gates open daily and the race is on at 10 am to get your blanket in front of the Main Stage for the Friday, Saturday, or Sunday concert. Not quite Pamplona but comes close and fun to watch.

Also, there is a market within the Park grounds for artisans to sell their products, but outside of the fenced off legitimate area, is the “Alternative Folk Festival Market” which this year was thriving (literally hundreds of stalls). I spoke to Henry Muradzikwa, a recent arrival to Vancouver, who was selling his country’s Zimbabwe) artifacts (wooden giraffes, elephant sculptures made out of recycled Coke and Pepsi bottles, which were selling like hot cakes).

The Festival was as always well organized, and there was little down time between acts. There was a nice grouping of community oriented charities (Amnesty International, Village Outreach Society) and the Festival Food court retained its usual high standard – providing enough variety (meat, vegetarian, corn, salads) to satisfy everyone.

To give you an idea of the very eclectic nature of this year’s music offerings at the Festival – this was the line up for the Sunday evening Main Stage Concert. A very vibrant group from Mexico (who were a last-minute fill in at the Festival for Corquieu) got the crowd warmed up and on their feet. Very high energy and dynamic, and everyone was dancing.

They were followed by The New Lost City Ramblers. Three very talented gents from the USA who perform traditional folk music, and music with a social conscience, in traditional ways. Many of the younger folk seemed to disappear when they played (no dancing) but some of us older folk, who love acoustic music and traditional folk songs, were enthralled. They were followed by a Throat Singer from Nunavut and Mighty Popo and the Urunana rw’abadatana (Ontario and Rwanda -- a singer from the Batwa in Rwanda) and the evening ended with Jane Siberry. The other evening concerts were equally as diverse.

I visited the Sunday morning “gospel” session hosted by Linda Tillery and Nina Gerber and featuring the wonderful Ruthie Foster and Kelly Joe Phelps). Lots of traditional Mahalia Jackson and poignant personal songs from this group. A great way to start the day.

Press onto Stage 6 for “Singing in Tongues” hosted by James Graham from Scotland. James is a traditional storyteller and musician from Glasgow who sings (and wins awards) in his native Gaelic tongue. James wants to inspire young Celtic artists to keep their traditional music alive. He introduced the set with a love song from the McKenzie Sister and he was accompanied by piano and clarinet.

Martyn Joseph, again, the popular Welsh man, sang “Closing Time”, the Po Girls sang a song of Leonard’s about the French Resistance, and Geoff Berner’s loud, wailing rendition of “Queen Victoria” was great!

There was so much fusion music happening – it’s hard to get it all across. I have never heard so much reggae inspired music at the folk Festival. Dub and Bhangra were big themes this year and went over very well – particularly with the younger audience. Dub, being Jamaican born ska, and reggae (Dub’s founding father is King Tubby) was very well represented at the Festival. One of the crowd favourites (and mine) was Dubblestandard from Vienna. A wickedly good dub group with pounding synthesizers and drums. We loved them!

The Grand Mothers – Frank Zappa’s “Mother’s of invention” former members were there with clever, interesting lyrics that made you want to laugh out loud. The “Indiaspora” and Bhangra influence was huge. Fabulous dancers – men and women – from Vancouver mainland Bhangra groups. Pt. Vishwa Mohan and Bhatt and Sali Bhatt a Lord Shiva song from the Angel Bros. group (Angel Bros. were good – a nice “Pampas Rhumba sound” lots of drums from Doncaster, England).

Feist was on the Saturday evening concert. A kind of Astrid Gilberto, soft samba vibe, who was very entertaining. Clad in white and a very good guitarist. A crowd pleaser. It was great to see people like Utah Phillips and the Lost City Ramblers at the Festival as they carry on the traditions of folk music as us 50 somethings know it, but we all know change is happening, and it has arrived at the Folk Festival. I can’t wait for next year’s line up …. It was a very successful Festival. Large attendance. Diverse music which will continue to open up the interpretation of the word “folk.”

© 2006 Patricia Fleming