Patty Osborne's Blog

Vancouver Folk Music Festival Revisited

This year I was determined to go to the VFMF (I’d missed the past few years due to family upheaval) so I bought an Early Bird ticket (for a terrific discount) and then rummaged through my closet for my Folk Fest essentials:

Attending the VFMF has its own rituals, the most important of which is the “tarp ritual” where you put down a tarp (or blanket) as close to the big Main Stage (where the evening concert will be held) as you can, and then leave bags of extra clothing/food/drink there while you wander around the park in what will become a music-induced daze. In a sea of people, the tarp is your only anchor and you’ll need to memorize its position in relation to nearby landmarks (there are a few trees around) so that you can find it later, after many more people have put their tarps down around it.

If it’s rainy your best bet is a big waterproof poncho that will balloon out and cover all of you plus your chair. And if you just can’t stand not multi-tasking, bring your book, your crossword or your knitting, or just spend time looking at the fabulous sky.

FRIDAYThe Friday night concert is a warmup for the rest of the festival so there are fewer people there and it’s more difficult to stay focused on the music if you’ve just come from work (as opposed to walking around listening to music all day), but I don’t think that’s the reason why the two acts that each featured an earnest guitar-playing man singing all alone on the great big stage left me and my friends feeling flat. This was a bad programming decision: these fellows were good at what they did, they just shouldn’t have been doing it up there.

The evening was redeemed for us by the fabulous Weakerthans who play fine tunes (like the popular “I Hate Winnipeg”) and have a crazy sense of humour:

Arrested Development came on just as the sun was setting and had everyone on their feet dancing, singing and shouting. The scene looked a lot like this except there were 10 times more people and the sunset glowed pink in the sky behind us:

All around us, kids, teenagers, twenty-somethings, thirty-somethings, forty-somethings and aging boomers were on their feet, shaking their
booties and obeying the band's instructions to shout things like “Yay!” and “Yay hay!” and to sing along on the chorus. God, I love the Folk Festival.

My friend from Denman Island, who had never been to the festival, appreciated the glowing paper lanterns held by folks from the Luminares festival that lit our way as we left the park—I had begun to take them for granted so it was nice to be reminded of how beautiful they are.

SATURDAYAt Stage 7, Vancouver’s own Kate Reid woke us up with her song “The Only Dyke at the Open Mic,” a hilarious talking blues number that had an exhilarating number of words crammed into each line. Here’s a sample of another funny song by Kate:

Later I was blown away by d’bi.young, a dub poet whose poem/song “We Bleed” (or was it “I Bleed”?) combined ancient African rituals with every possible feminine hygiene product on the market and made all the men in the audience squirm. Ever since Lillian Allen gave birth (at least the dub version) on the Main Stage between acts, I’ve avoided dub poetry, but I liked the energy and openness of d’bi.young.

Midafternoon I “found myself” (because I confused Stage 2 with Stage 3) listening to a concert of instrumentals played by Tony McManus, HAPA, Joel Fafard, Pacifika and Patty Larkin, and while I’m usually a word girl, I just sat there listening and gazing up at the sky. The VFMF can make you do some wild and crazy things.

The evening concert was all good: The Paperboys, Steven Page (another man on his own—except for his accompanist on electric cello—but this seasoned performer, whose opening remark was “So, how has your year been?”, pulled it off), Justin Adams and Juldeh Camara (beautiful sounds from a unique combination of men and instruments), The Proclaimers (great dancealong/singalong value) and Los De Abajo, whose performance was delayed by such a long setup time that my friends and I lost our energy (remember, we’d been there since 10 a.m.) and took off partway through the set. It was nice to walk/dance out of the park to the sound of this Mexican band.


Listening to Roy Forbes at a couple of stages reminded me to appreciate his rich collection of original songs and got me past the memory of the festival where he was MC’ing on the Main Stage and between sets his twangy voice singing “Take the bus, take the bus” blasted through the mike way too many times.

And then there was The Reverend Peyton’s Big Damn Band, a threesome of two brothers and one wife who played the washboard with more energy than I’ve ever seen before while her brother-in-law flailed away on drums and her husband played guitar and belted out songs like “Your Cousin’s on Cops” that he wrote after seeing his wife’s cousin being arrested on the TV show Cops. You gotta see/hear these guys so watch this clip—I’ll bet you won’t be able to keep from bopping to the music there in front of your computer!

In a solo concert, Cheryl Wheeler, who was new to me but not new to the folk circuit (she’s in her fifties), combined hilarious stories with melodious and touching songs that gave me that old time folk feeling, and later an old favourite, Geoff Berner, played at several stages, playing klezmer-style accordion and singing in praise of beer (he’s in favour of the newly-allowed beer garden) and teaching us an important lesson from history with his song “The Maginot Line.”

Other highlights of the day (for me) were the Bop Ensemble (Bill Bourne, Wyckham Porteous, Jasmine ‘Jas’ Ohlhauser), who performed Porteous’s song (“Deep into the Water”) that I wrote about in a previous entry, as well as other new and old numbers. It was great to see those two old-timers (no offence, I’m one too) getting into the groove (Porteous had lots of smooth moves as he played and sang his way around the stage but Bourne was restricted by the fact that he sits down to play and sing and hides behind his long hair), and the icing on the cake were the beautiful vocals, bass playing and just plain swaying to the music of Ohlhauser (she’s also a dancer) who topped off their set with an incredible dance involving a black hula hoop. What will they think of next?

interview on the NPR program Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me talking about her early days singing with her family and getting to know Bob Dylan, who once, while waiting in a lunch lineup with Mavis’s dad, shouted out that he wanted to marry Mavis.

The only thing missing from the festival this year was a girl group (or two). There were lots of groups with women in them but none that had the unique energy that an all-woman band can have.

On the other hand, the Canadian talent was the best yet. In the early days of the festival, the Canadian contingent could be pretty slim and those that were there didn’t have the confidence or bravado or whatever it takes to really wow an audience.

All in all it was a magical weekend. I wonder how I can get hold of a lifetime ticket.



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