Tag Archives: vancouver folk festival

The Vancouver Folk Festival 2018 (Live From The Wisdom Tent)

 

 

 

Back in mid-July, I attended the annual Vancouver Folk Festival at Jericho Beach Park. It was a beautiful sunny weekend, hot by Vancouver standards. The beach, adjacent to the park, was crowded; beyond the beach the bay was busy with paddle boarders, swimmers, yachts, kayaks and of course, tankers. The north shore mountains looked down on it all, a little miffed now that the ski season is long over and all the attention has moved to sea level.

Highlights of the festival for me were Ry Cooder (and the Hamiltones), Wallis Byrd, Darlingside, James Mc Murtry and Neko Case. The performances were less politically overt this year, there was a sense that enough had been said and the diversity and inclusiveness of the occasion and the creativity on display was sufficient response to the ugliness, racism and bigotry currently on the march in some parts of the world.

My friend, Slim, got a free weekend pass by volunteering at The Wisdom Tent. All he had to do was turn up once a day and dispense wisdom for an hour. Slim is not a man known for empathy, so his choice of volunteer job surprised me. He could, for example, have volunteered at the recycle stations explaining to people the complex and arcane choices available to them; or perhaps, he could have dressed up in a tutu and sold raffle tickets, all perfectly good options. But no, he had to sit in a hot tent, imposing his gnomic bromides on the defenceless public.

Live from the Wisdom Tent

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(I sat in on one of Slim’s sessions and secretly recorded it. The following is an edited transcript of the recording. Note: Slim sat behind a trestle table, his visitors approached one by one. I did not transcribe the sometimes withering and profane responses to his proffered wisdom.)

walk past the writing on the wall
look neither left nor right

*************
always whistle past a graveyard

*************

today is the first day
of the rest of your life
tomorrow is the next

*************

walk towards the noise
walk towards the noise

*************

neither a floater
nor a settler be

*************

to find the person of your dreams
you must first fall asleep

**************

if you’re feeling abysmal
pepto bismol will do nothing

**************

talk softly
don’t carry sticks of any size

**************

be all you can be
then try harder

***************

like a frog down a well
we only know the walls.

***************

to leave no footprint
we must fly and never land.

***************

never drink anything blue

***************

life is waiting for the other shoe
the secret is……..hang on, is that James McMurtry starting on stage 5?

(male voice) hey man, where are you going, you’re supposed to be here until 4?
(Slim)…you should get rid of those dreads, you’re not from Jamaica.
(male voice)…who was that pot-bellied old fart?

What The Folk! – the 40th Annual Vancouver Folk Festival

 

Great weekend at the Vancouver Folk Festival, highlights for me were Rhiannon Giddens, Bahamas and The Revivalists plus three young British folk singers (more about that later).

I was particularly interested this time around in hearing the response of the folk music world to the current political climate in the USA, Britain, to climate change, to the refugee crisis. This was all touched upon in a workshop I attended on the Friday afternoon which was led by Billy Bragg. The theme was “Working Class Heroes”; Rhiannon Giddens and Grace Petrie were part of the group of five singers on stage. I saw both of them give better performances later in the festival, here they seem constrained by the downbeat atmosphere. The song introductions, although heartfelt and eloquent, went on way too long;  Pete Seeger’s name was dropped more times than an egg at a drunken egg and spoon race. Later in the evening, Billy Bragg sang “There’s Power in the Union” and a song about climate change which was essentially a rewrite of “The Times they are a Changin’”. On another night, Shawn Colvin sang a beautiful version of Paul Simon’s “American Tune”. It all felt a bit nostalgic, the established singers seemed to be creatively chewing on a bone when it came to addressing today’s issues, to be looking back to former struggles for inspiration.

However, in the afternoon of day 2, I attended a workshop called “Keep Calm and Carry On” (which was a poster produced by the British government in 1939), and I found what I was looking for – folk music as a living organism. The performers – Jake Morley, Will Varley and Grace Petrie, all English – were anything but calm, “stay angry and carry on” would have been a better description. Of course it’s not enough to be angry, an artist has to make his/her anger interesting and that they did. They were all in their own way, original, talented song writers – witty, profane, poetic, self-deprecating (they are English after all). Grace Petrie is more punk in her approach, has a gift for word play and knows how to write a chorus; Will Varley manages to be Dylanesque, but be his own man at the same time – a poet with a bullhorn voice; Jake Morley writes more complex songs, has a gift for melody and is a percussive, propulsive guitar player who reminds me a little bit of Cat Stevens with his off kilter rhythm. But most of all, they were very funny and had none of that smug, preaching to the choir earnestness that sometimes plagues folk music. Check out Grace Petrie below:

 

 

And here’s a reprise of a poem, I post every year at this time.

Slim at the Vancouver Folk Festival

One hour into the folk festival

and a mellow, minor key, melancholy

is seeping into Slim’s bones,

he feels it like an arthritic ache

and he wishes that someone

would duck walk across the stage

shooting staccato bursts of distorted guitar

at the chill, Tilley clad audience

who, unlike Slim, have a default mode

other than anger.

 

 

 

Slim at the Vancouver Folk Festival (reprise)

One hour into the folkfest

and a mellow, minor key, melancholy

is seeping into Slim’s bones,

he feels it like an arthritic ache

and he wishes that someone

would duck walk across the stage

shooting staccato bursts of distorted guitar

at the chill, Tilley clad audience

who, unlike Slim, have a default mode

other than anger.

 

I thought I would reprise this one. I spent yesterday at the Vancouver Folk Festival. The photograph shows the on-site solar-powered ATM. The ATM is housed in a Volkswagen van which is indicative of the post Woodstock festival vibe, in fact some of the people looked like they may have been at Woodstock. At times they must have felt, looking at the current generation of festival-goers,  that they were looking at their former selves – long straight air, flowing dresses, tie-dyed shirts, garlands, beards, that swirling hippy dance. The solar-powered ATM is indicative of the environmental consciousness or conscience of the event ( there are attendants at each garbage bin station to ensure that people make the right recycling choice).

In recent years, local authorities have allowed a beer garden, which means that beer can be purchased and consumed behind a chain-linked fence but not carried around the festival grounds. This is good in that beer is available but having to drink in a compound dampens the free spirit vibe a little bit. It is ironic that at the Republican Convention this week, guns can be open-carried and here in Vancouver, it is forbidden to open-carry a beer. Sometimes erring on the side of safety is a good thing.

Some great acts that I hadn’t heard before = the Moulettes, San Firmin, Hayes Carll.

Slim at the Vancouver Folk Festival

Slim at the Vancouver Folk Festival

One hour into the folkfest

and a mellow, minor key, melancholy

is seeping into Slim’s bones,

he feels it like an arthritic ache

and he wishes that someone

would duck walk across the stage

shooting staccato bursts of distorted guitar

at the chilled out, Tilley clad audience

who, unlike Slim, have a default mode

other than anger.