From the humble beginnings as a high school band, North of Here, made their debut at the Edmonton Folk Music Festival this weekend. North of Here, comprised of Luke Jansen on vocals, banjo, and bass; Ian St. Arnaud on vocals and mandolin, Will Holowaychuk on vocal and percussion, revealed that they did not grow up in households with a heritage of music-making. There were no mandolins, fiddles, and banjo’s scattered throughout their homes for them to experiment on and self-teach. Luke noted that he and Ian have a background in piano but they began to learn more instruments once they formed the band. Will shared that with the exception of playing percussion instruments in school band classes, he picked up a guitar when they started the band. Ian notes, it provides “a great incentive to get better.” They express the sentiment that, by working together, they make each other better musicians.
Sable: This was the first Folk Fest where I could feel my stamina slipping. Whether it was coming off from a OSHEAGA-packed weekend in Montreal or just general summer lethargy, I had to shake myself awake in the Saturday afternoon heat and will myself to get out of bed on Sunday. However, I was still there for a majority of the festival and I was happy to soak in the tunes and the rays to fuel me for another year.
Twila: This year in addition to my Folk on the Road duties, I also volunteered for the Greetings crew. The extra-early starts combined with the late nights of photos etc. definitely took a toll on me—meaning I ended up taking a few serious tarp naps (sometimes when I thought I’d just rest my eyes).
Note: Twila’s sister, Ardelle, took this accompanying pic of Twila passed out with a death grip on her coffee thermos.
Favourite Festival Moment
Twila: Having just mentioned that I took an unintended tarp nap (or two) and the fact that I am still recovering from lack of sleep I’d still have to say that my favourite festival moments all derived from the camaraderie of volunteering. The people I met while volunteering were interesting and all had fantastic tales of folk fests past. Most of my folkie friends have been volunteering for 10+ years, so I have a ways to go before I unlock that level of volunteer achievement, but I think that if they’ll have me that I will be back again next year.
Sable: Folk on the Road has been attending the EFMF for the past years now as media but this year I feel like we really hit our stride in the media tent. I enjoyed saying hello to all the familiar faces and volunteers in the media tent day after day. The volunteers do an amazing job of keeping a quiet and safe place for media to work as well as liaising with artists and their agents to book interviews. I wish I had this crew with me throughout the year to follow-up on e-mails and phone calls. It makes doing FOTR, which is a volunteer and passion driven project as well, so much easier in achieving our goal of sharing the work of fantastic artists.
Favourite New Discovery
Sable: For me it’s a close call between Marlon Williams and Darlingside but I think Darlingside wins out for me this time. I love the cooperative use of the microphone which creates a dreamy, choral sound with the soft strums of their acoustic. They sound like one musical organism when they’re all singing and standing together like that. I hope this is not the last time I see them perform live.
Twila: I was also really delighted by Darlingside’s harmonies, but Ten Strings and a Goat Skin get my vote for my favourite new musical discovery at EFMF 2017. The trio was having such a good time, you couldn’t help but be pulled into the joy in their music making. Also I loved how they slipped between different instrumental sets and songs, with ease. I can hardly wait to see them play again next weekend at the Bear Creek Folk Fest!
Twila: STAGE 3, Northern Exposure, Friday August 11, 2017. [Colleen Brown, The Jerry Cans, Dylan Menzie, Altameda]
There is a reason that The Jerry Cans won EFMF’s emerging artist award … musically they make everything better. At this session, they jammed along with everyone, creating a truly beautiful folk fest workshop experience. Just thinking back on how The Jerry Cans fit themselves into this workshop brings a smile to my face.
Sable: STAGE 6, Sing Out, Friday August 11, 2017. [Birds of Chicago, Darlingside, Brandi Carlile, Rhiannon Giddens]
There was a moment of utter vocal duo beauty from Allison Russell from Birds of Chicago and Rhiannon Giddens during that workshop. It was the perfect vocal pairing and they knew it too as they gazes at each other interweaving their melodic and harmonic lines for Barley by Birds of Chicago.
A few thousand kilometres from his home province of PEI, Dylan Menzie, 22, arrives in Edmonton to play his largest Folk Music Festival to date. “The energy at this festival is unlike anything I’ve felt before. I’ve heard on the Sunday night finale, when all the candles come out and thousands singing along together, I’m excited to see that. I’ve never played to that many people before,” he reveals before continuing, “it is such a relaxing environment even though there is thousands of people.”
I find it hard to resist the melodic and harmonic intertwining of treble voices. Their upcoming performances at EFMF is significant because its their only North American stop on their summer festival circuit with their other dates based in England, Scotland, and Finland. While their recent series of folk music symphonic collaborations demonstrate a progressive move to share their art, I am excited to see them in their raw vocal form.
I’m about 95% sure I ran across The Jerry Cans at a folk fest a few years ago, and seem to remember enjoying what I heard immensely. However, surrounded now with old festival programs I can’t seem to put my finger on where & when exactly that crossing of paths might have taken place. Regardless of my own questionable memory, The Jerry Cans are my pick for most anticipated artist of EFMF 2017 … have you heard their cover of The Hip’s “Ahead by a Century”?
Most Anticipated Workshop
Sable: Talking About My Generation; Saturday, August 12, 11:00 AM – 12:20 PM; STAGE 6
I will be in the mood for some mellow vocals and heavy strums of the acoustic guitar at this Saturday morning session. I find the workshop title alluring since it’s always interesting to consider perspective through a distinct musical voice.
Twila: Ceili; Saturday August 12, 11:00 AM–12:30 PM; STAGE 5
On Saturday morning I’m anticipating requiring the high energy infusion that is an EFMF Ceili. Hopefully these talented artists blending, Irish, Scottish & Acadian trad music, will make up for me running on lots of coffee and very little sleep.
The sweet tunes of Allison Russell and JT Nero last played to a sell-out crowd at New Moon Folk Club. That performance left YEG audiences with a desire for a return visit. I am so excited to listen to their tunes on the hill!
Rose Cousins knows when and how to deliver a comedic zinger. She has the perfect onstage proportions of self-deprecation, modesty, confidence, vulnerability, and authenticity when sharing her lyrical perspective on the world. These traits are woven throughout the fabric of her show. Whether she is demonstrating her Islander accent and colloquial phrases, deciding which dog each one of her band members should own, or giving a heart-felt thanks to the audience for supporting live music and allowing her to continue her career as a singer-songwriter, her genuineness shines through and you don’t feel like your city was simply another in a long line of shows.
Audience emotions fluctuated between laughter and tears, while Cousins, with a smile, let us know that feelings were welcome. She is happy to assume the responsibility of providing a somber soundtrack for scenes of death in TV shows, a fact she expressed before she started into the heart-wrenching Go First. Introduced with the quip “We’ve just been through the ides of March, which is where Julius Caesar gets stabbed in the back by Brutus. This song isn’t about that, but is about getting stabbed in the back” My Friend aptly expressed the dichotomy between light and dark which was at the heart of Cousins’ performance.
The rapport between Cousins and her band members exuded a quiet strength. Their instrumental offerings supported Cousins acoustic music-making without every over-powering her. They also played peppy transition music as she moved between her acoustic guitar and the piano, lightening the mood between songs before we were plunged into emotional depths. She warned the audience that things only get sadder when she is at the piano. She was not wrong since, in fact, her piano works were the most trance-like moments of the show. The translucent stage fog was lit like a funnel of light from the overhead spotlights. It created an intimate atmosphere for songs such as White Flag, Tender is the Man, Like Trees, and her Donoughmore encore off of her Natural Conclusion album. As much as a Cousins show can be a bit of an emotional rollercoaster, the dark and somber songs are always accompanied by a bit of hope. Leonard Cohen’s oft-quoted “there is a crack in everything … that’s how the light gets in” line, seems an appropriate description of Cousins’ show.
Port Cities opened the concert with their stripped back harmonies. Cousins’ jokingly described them as “young whipper-snappers” and the trio does exude a youthfulness although they have also achieved success on the CBC Radio 2 chart and co-written songs with the likes of Donovan Woods. Port Cities’ version of On the nights you stay home captured the darker edge of the Cape Breton phrase, while Sound of Your Voicedemonstrated the complexity of the trio’s music. The opening set wasn’t their only contribution to the evening, as Cousins called them back out to act as the choir on Grace. The trio just released their first album, featuring their tight harmonies and it will be interesting to follow them wherever the future takes them.
The Arden’s eclectic schedule continues with groups like Delhi 2 Dublin, The Small Glories and John Wort Hannam please see their website for ticket details.
Joël Fafard kicked off the New Moon Folk Club’s double bill of Blues offerings with gritty vocals and punny intersong banter. Fafard’s Jitterbug Swing had an agile bluesy swing, Woodshed Blues vocals had a tone of lamentation, while the instrumental track Sweet Mosquito Buzz showcased his slide dexterity. He shared aural glimpses into his family when introducing tunes like If I had a Boat where he noted his son’s wish to be a hockey player which was later replaced with aspirations to be a pirate. He reasoned that any good pirate would need a ship for pillaging, but a good pirate captain would require excellent swordsmanship skills, thus, that is where fencing lessons settled as the current pursuit.
Michael Jerome Browne’s set had an ethnomusicological feel to it as he would provide a historical backstory before each one of his songs. He brought an array of instruments such as a guitar from the 1940s, mandolin, 12-string guitar, and a gourd banjo with which to showcase his encyclopedic musical knowledge. His set list contained tunes spanning back to content he recorded back in the early 1990s but they still sounded relevant in our modern times. He played the tracks such as Got your Summer Shoes On and Living in the Whitehouse with class calmly switching out different harmonicas, stringed instruments, and updating tuning between each of the songs to offer an accurate performance of his work. Browne ended his set with a the title track from his 2016 album Can’t Keep a Good Man Down and he dedicated a heartfelt encore of Sam Cooke’s That’s Where It’s At to all the lovers in the audience.
Coming from PEI, an island that has a small town feel, how does the warmth of this community emerge in your music?
Prince Edward Island is an amazing place to grow up, no matter what your interests are, but as a writer or an artist, it is so engaging and encouraging you can’t help but create. There is music everywhere, in every home, every bar and nook and cranny.
As a musician here, there isn’t the sense of competition there might be in larger urban centres, we are a very close knit community.
But what also makes this a perfect place to create is the quiet, the solitude. I live in the country and am inspired by the life around me, whether it is the animals in my yard, the wild ocean churning or the leaves or snow falling to the ground. There is a lot of time for me to contemplate and to turn the world around me into song.
Your Father, Gene MacLellan, was a songwriter while you were growing up before he passed away when you were 14. Are there any memories of his songwriting process or lifestyle that stood out to you as a child?
I will never forget the image of my father sitting in the living room with book and pen and guitar, always at work, always editing and creating. He would never take the easy way out with his music, he worked every line until it rolled off the tongue perfectly.
Sometimes, I would wake in the middle of the night and go downstairs to find my dad in the kitchen, at the table, working on music. I think those quiet moments were his most productive times. When the whole world is asleep, there is a sort of quiet magic or inspiration.
You manage multiple roles, such as being a singer songwriter as well as a mother, do you find multiple roles informs your perspective while performing in either domain?
My writing certainly changed after becoming a mother. There is a certain shift in perspective that happens when you give birth, a very abrupt awakening to the realization that the world and all the people in it are multifaceted, many layered, and all someone’s child.
Perhaps it’s just a growing up, maturing thing as well – you realize that not everything is about you. It has allowed me to look into other people’s stories and wonder about what’s going on in their heads, which became a whole new source of inspiration.
You have mentioned in previous interviews that songs may be subconsciously percolating in your mind while you are creating quiet moments for yourself, such as through gardening. How do you create a meditative atmosphere for yourself in order to channel the creative flow of your thoughts?
I’m not sure it’s something that can be planned, but it is a common phenomenon. If you think too hard about something, you’ll never find the answer. But if you take a break and do something mundane or meditative the answer or the idea may come to you out of the blue. I meditate every day, which helps keep my mind clear and present. Other than that, I try to give myself over to my hobbies like gardening or this time of year it may be knitting or sewing. I’m a maker, it turns out. I like to plant a seed and see how it grows.
Is there anything else you would like to mention that I’ve missed?
I feel very grateful that I get to play music for a living… I think everyone needs some sort of creative outlet and I feel fortunate that mine is also my job.