Always winter, never folk fest?

Gilmore & Roberts @ Blue Sky Bangor
Gilmore & Roberts @ Blue Sky Bangor

Waiting for the Folk fest line-ups to be published can often feel like we’ve been transported to C.S. Lewis’ Narnia when it was always winter and never Christmas. But never fear -Folk fest prep doesn’t start the morning of the first festival day (or even ticket day [for truth Edmonton Folkies!]), weeks -even months before you can get into the festival spirit.

A week before cinnamon hearts and chocolate boxes go on sale is a small scale celebration known to insiders (read: me and anyone that I can rope in) as ‘Half-Way-to-Folk-Fest’. On that first weekend of February -Edmonton folkies can rest assured that the time between folk fests is waning. We now can look ahead to next year’s festival knowing it is a mere 6 months away. The big black Xs that get drawn through calendar boxes are now counting down ever closer to the best weekend of the year…

What to do to celebrate?

Myself and some friends have been known to dress in our festival gear (floppy straw hats included), lay tarps (in lovely central-heated living rooms), eat snacks, drink tea & coffee, visit, listen to music and conclude the evening with a candle light, sing-a-long version of ‘Four String Winds’. But apparently festival reenactment isn’t for everyone, so some other options for pre-festival activities include:

  1. Folk clubs/house concerts -the folk scene isn’t just for summer, these artists tour and perform ALL the time. Try to catch up with some of your favorite performers and maybe a few new ones. This winter reconnaissance will definitely help when you need to prioritize your festival workshop schedule.
  2. CDs/mp3s/YouTube etc. -for those of you who don’t live near a super wonderful or even moderately decent music scene, I would like you to meet the internet -your new best friend. Read up on some old favorites, see who they are touring with, listen on YouTube, buy their albums, expand your listening…and again it will help you make the all important summer scheduling decisions.
  3. Radio – those radio DJs wield some amazing power, helping to guide musical tastes and set musical trends. Find a good folk-roots show -nationally CBC’s ‘Deep Roots’ is amazing! And lots of independent stations have a few hours a week dedicated to domesticate and international folk artists, you can often find these radio programs listed as sponsors in the back of last year’s festival program. Go ahead, tune in.
  4. Plan games/activities for your road trip of awesomeness to said summer festival.
  • A tried and true favorite of us at Folk On the Road is: Dream Workshop Session (workshop leader must be identified)…its kind of like Fantasy Football but with music. Get creative, restrictions such as requiring all the performers to currently be alive add an extra challenge because apparently you can’t always have Stan Rogers and/or Woodie Guthrie on stage…/
  • Epic playlists. Google map your route, figure out driving times and structure your playlist accordingly…if you don’t let yourself duplicate music suddenly you have to be very selective of what hours of your drive you want certain music to appear in. Bonus points for having appropriately topical music miraculous booming from your car speakers without having to push any extra buttons (example Corb Lund’s ‘Long Gone to Saskatchewan’ clicking on as you drive out of the gas station in Lloydminster). If planning a commute with a large group of people, I suggest a Google document that all or those of you with reliable musical tastes can update.
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Folk on the Road

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ONE SUMMER + TWO FOLKIES + FIVE FESTIVALS

On the drive back from Winnipeg, still buzzing from 2013’s five-day folk Festival and the second-hand organic fumes inhaled at the wrap party, the ambitions of two folkies, Sable and Twila, were running high. Sealed in a car for the 13 hour commute back to Edmonton, they thought to themselves:

“How could we make next summer even better?”

The answer was 5 festivals, plus a 9000 km journey equaling one epic Canadian Folk Festival summer.

Grand Plan

B. Mariposa                C. Winnipeg

D. Vancouver             E. Calgary

F. Edmonton

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Tim Chaisson – The Drive to Communicate Through Music

Tim Chaisson leans forward on his elbows at the picnic table settling in with ease for our chat. We’re in a park around the corner from Communitea, the Canmore venue for his evening concert. He sits down with me just after unloading his gear and braving the Highway 1 traffic from Calgary. The frenzy of his packed schedule does not seem to perturb him as he sits down to discuss his music.

If there were any imagined constructs of the lazy musician, Chaisson abolishes them when he outlines a typical tour day for him. That may include a 7 AM TV morning show appearance, a 6-8 hour solo commute to the next venue, media events in each location, and late nights after playing, selling merch, and stage tear-down. Prince Edward Island singer/songwriter, Chaisson released his album, The Other Side (2012), which has already won Roots/Traditional Solo Recording of the Year at the East Coast Music Awards and Entertainer of the Year from the Canadian Organization of Campus Activities. His “Beat This Heart” collaboration with Serena Ryder was also nominated for “Song of the Year” at the East Coast Music Awards. He has toured across Canada this past year, which included appearances at the Edmonton Folk Music Festival, Vancouver Folk Music Festival, Stan Rogers Folk Festival, and The Canadian Country Music Association’s Awards. He also toured Australia in June and has another follow-up tour in Australia next month.

However, Chaisson’s career didn’t materialize over this past year; it has been building gradually. He has been playing fiddle since childhood and played in instrumental Celtic band, Kindle, before focusing more on singer/songwriter pursuits in his teens. Even while he was completing his undergraduate degree in Psychology and History, he would play at the University of PEI bar or tour when opportunities presented themselves. His multitasking ensured that he didn’t compromise his musical interests for academia but it did make his professors question his priorities: “I’d go away for two weeks, and my professors would be like, “Why are you even here?”” He says with a light-hearted ease reflecting back on his memories.

Photography by Twila

Patrons sip coffee and wine at the long communal tables, rows of chairs orient themselves to the corner for the evening’s live music offerings; the intimacy of the Communitea venue is a perfect compliment to his solo set. Chaisson begins his evening set with his album’s title track, “The Other Side.” Curving his shoulders, he begins with easy strums on his guitar before straightening out to add percussive drum stomps at the chorus. He follows his title track with “Beat this Heart,” “The Healing,” and “Come Clean,” singing them with an authentic torment and pliability in his vocals. Deciding to break into a jig on the fiddle, Chaisson first establishes a percussive foundation, which begins looping with a pedal. He embellishes upon this scaffold with his soaring and sinuous fiddle lines. “Long Hot Summer Days” finishes his opening set, where he pairs the fiddle with the tune’s soulful lyrics. The neighborhood coffee shop transforms into an Eastern Canadian pub with his bow strokes that have a sense of sureness about them.

Even though Chaisson’s solo work is primarily with voice and guitar, fiddle appears in every one of his sets. His fiddle heritage is not to be overlooked; Chaisson is part of the seventh generation of fiddle players in his family. In many ways, Chaisson inherited the fiddle. He grew up playing at local ceilidhs and touring as a fiddle player with Kindle. However, Chaisson deviated from the musical norm of his family by pursuing singing and songwriting. “Playing fiddle is awesome and it really connects with people. But words and melodies and songs… they grip more people. There is a broader audience. When you’re so genre-specific you’re missing out on all these people that could be listening,” he cites as a reason for his singer/songwriter focus now. He continues, “I write songs for other people so they will enjoy them and listen. But you also have to like your own songs as well. I’ve never gotten to the point where I had to write a song that I didn’t like that would appeal to more people. You can really communicate a lot through song and tell your experiences and storytell a bit… it’s a really neat thing when people can connect with a song and enjoy it.”

After taking a break from fiddle in his teens to focus on singing/songwriting, the distance brought a new perspective. “[The fiddle] is such a part of what I do and who I am,” he reveals with honesty. “I couldn’t imagine going to a show without taking my fiddle now. It’s definitely something I’ve inherited and will continue to do.” Chaisson smiles when he admits that his father would love for him to produce a fiddle record; however, he has introduced audiences to traditional music and fiddle music through his work as a singer/songwriter.

It is clear that the aspect of career and life balance is on Chaisson’s mind. There are many talented musicians in PEI, but many of them are not heard beyond the island’s shores. “You have to sacrifice a lot to make a touring life work,” he states. “Time is going past so fast, it’s ridiculous. It’s almost been a year since I put out my record and this year flew by… you have to be conscious of what you do and how you take your lifestyle on the road. If you spend so much time on the road, it can really wear on you. Have fun and live life because it’s short,” he says thoughtfully.

No matter where Chaisson’s career takes him in the coming years, regardless of his location or primary instrument, his genuine drive to communicate through music ensures his musical sustainability. And, who knows, maybe one day, he will release a fiddle EP that his father can play on his record player.

Lightning Round of Questions!

Listen to the full interview to learn more, such as how he approaches songwriting, if he’s been tempted to move from PEI, and the differences between performing tour shows vs. home shows.

My Top 10 Musical Moments of EFMF

A lot happened over this past weekend at the Edmonton Folk Music Festival (EFMF). In no particular order, here are some of my top moments of the festival:

Pics by Twila

1. One of the Avett Brothers running out into the crowd to rock out with audience members up close.

2. David Francey’s honest and humble introductions to his songs like the perspective of teenage love in “Broken Glass.”

3. The Milk Carton Kids’ blunt inter-song banter.
E.g., Joey: “Kenneth’s daughter will be named Charlie… after the song…his child doesn’t have a due date yet… or a mother.”

4. Carolina Chocolate Drops’ ability to sing attitude-filled cover of Blu Cantrell’s “Hit Em Up Style” before leaving the stage early to jet-set to Regina.

5. Good for Grapes put out some serious energy on stage. Never before have I seen somebody rock out on accordion like Sean MacKeigan.

6. Tim Chaisson’s instrumental flexibility as he switched from guitar to fiddle in his sets.

7. The torrential thunderstorm that brought Loreena McKennitt’s set and EFMF to an epic end.

8. Shakey Graves tempo manipulation on stage.

9. In the process of getting the audience on their feet, Langhorne Slim jumped out into the crowd. He proceeded to shake off his sunglasses and hat in the heat of the jamming moment.

10. LP’s soaring “Tokyo Sunrise” vocals during the lantern parade on Gallagher Hill.

What were some of your top moments of EFMF?

LP Stuns at the Edmonton Folk Music Festival

Pics by misssable and twila

LP strides across the workshop stage with a cool sense of sureness and her ukulele in tow. Donning skinny black pants; a Rolling Stones t-shirt with the iconic red gaping mouth; and a grey blazer; she leans back comfortably, shaking out her curls that cascade upon her androgynous features. There is a touch of otherworldliness to her because she is so striking. However, as soon as LP takes a seat, a young girl walks to the front of the stage offering her a pink gerber daisy. LP casts her a wide smile and tucks the flower into the lapel of her blazer.

One would not automatically think of a ukulele as a rock instrument, but in the hands of LP, any preconceived notions of the ukulele being a breezy and juvenile toy are cast aside. The gentle flexibility in her ukulele lines and the whistling turbulence present throughout her songs is echoed in her pliable vocal melodies and vibrato use.

The beauty of LP is that she presents the unexpected. With her vocal range easily soaring in stratospheric soprano territories, she showcases the technical command of her entire vocal range. At the same time, her ethereal voice contrasts her masculine demeanor. LP unleashes every part of her being on stage. The audience cannot help but watch on, breathless, as LP ascends higher melodic lines, building tension, as she challenges the range of her voice or shiver at the ukulele strums accompanied by haunting whistle tones. The excitement lies in the fact that one can never anticipate what LP will do next.

LP’s Into the Wild EP is available for download.

What’s in the Water in Winnipeg?

Photography by Twila and Miss. Sable

Before heading to Winnipeg, I contemplated why there is such a strong Folk Arts community there. While the Arts community is thriving and well in Edmonton, I was always curious as to why Winnipeg is such a strong breeding ground for Artists. Is there something in the water?

Sound + Noise creator, Michael MacDonald, discusses in his PhD thesis how Western Folk Music Festivals are like a “series of festival-garden plots. Like any garden plot it is a piece of land that has a variety of connections with the land that surrounds it. But gardens only exist where there are gardeners to tend to them.” What is it about the gardeners in Winnipeg that make them different than the gardeners of other Folk Festivals in Western Canada?

After attending the Winnipeg Folk Festival (WFF), I have some hypotheses of my own on why there is such a strong Folk Arts Community in Winnipeg. I feel a large part of it is due to the creation of the WFF, which was made possible by the timing and presence of passionate individuals, Mitch Podolak, Colin Gorrie, and Ava Kobrinsky. In addition to becoming one of the premiere North American music festivals, there are Folk School education programs and Young Artist mentoring programs that help to educate and support up-and-coming local Folk Music Artists.

Another important factor is the environment and location of the festival itself. The process of going out in the “wilderness” has been reinforced by literature from “Hansel & Gretel” to Homer’s “Odyssey”. There is something about being in the metaphorical wild, whatever the wild may be, that promotes the process of self-discovery. Located in a Provincial Park, the WFF capitalizes on the isolation of the location to create a temporary community. There is a strong sense of inter-disciplinary artistic collaboration seen in the use of Art installations throughout the entire festival site. These are not static pieces of Art, but Art that is allowed to be touched and manipulated by its audience. This community energy does not dissipate once the Festival is over. The WFF serves as a retreat for the Winnipeg Arts community and they take this renewed sense of identity back to the city. The WFF also has The Folk Exchange where they host Open Mics, Concert Series, Workshops, Songwriting Circles etc. that run year-round. The summer festival is only one component of the organization.

I had a chat with Mitch Podolak, Co-Founder of WFF and Home Routes while at WFF. WFF is the Festival template of Western Canadian Folk Festivals like Edmonton Folk Music Festival (EFMF), Calgary Folk Music Festival, and Vancouver Folk Music Festival. He ventured a hypothesis at why the Winnipeg Arts scene is well and thriving:

“For the most part the population here is Eastern European. All those people brought their culture with them. In Winnipeg, there is an 80 year old Mandolin Orchestra. This is a blue collar working class culture here, combined with people holding onto a sense of tradition,” he states. “There’s something in the water I suppose. There’s something about the fusion of the cultures. There’s a certain sense of the fact that the working class people tend to hang onto that more than the middle class bourgeois…I believe in people’s power. I want to teach people they can run things. You don’t need politicians. You can just run them,” states Podolak in an inspiring tone.

The political fervour of Podolak is an important factor when considering the structure of the Western Canadian Folk Festivals. The Festivals are fueled by the volunteers, which symbolize the working class in order to promote a sense of individual ownership. There is a deconstruction of class divisions. The volunteers and artists eat in the same areas, socialize the the same backstage areas, and they are all invited to attend the same parties. Podolak believes “the festival is tied to the working class. The common peoples experience… all festivals, Edmonton, all of them, every one of them, they are going to have the next Bob Dylan’s on their stages in the next 3-4 years.” However, Podolak realizes that music festivals are prone to mutation depending on the needs at the time:

“The songwriters will become the anthem writers. That’s what this whole show is. And when this happens, [festivals] mutate because they have to. I think we’re in store for a lot of fun over the next ten years. I’m kinda hoping I’ll survive long enough to see it,” he says with a laugh.

While I have only tapped the surface of the WFF culture after being an Edmonton folkie over the past years, I have a greater sense of the historical lineage and ideology underlining the Western Canadian Festival experience. The main thing is to evaluate what unifies all of us in the Folk Festival experience. As different as some of the things at the WFF were from the EFMF, there was a sense of familiarity at the festival site. The familiarity is due to the Festival structure from the volunteer-powered initiative and collaborative workshops. The WFF is like a new friend that I have just met, but it feels like we have known each other longer. It is a friendship I intend to sustain.

Memorable Moments from WFF 2013

Twila (T), Sable (S)

Favorite Workshop Session

T: 1974 “It was amazing to see the music I grew up with there: Stringband, Sylvia Tyson, and seeing them interacting with each other.”

S: Songs I Wish I Wrote “I loved seeing artists like Lindi Ortega, Danny Michel, Bhi Bhiman, Robert Ellis, Sean Rowe covering songs by the Clash, Talking Heads, and Elvis Presley. It lets me hear their soloistic voice as they perform song covers.”

Favorite Concert

T: Nathan Rogers “It was such a beautiful venue at the Little Stage in the Forest, seeing his interaction with the audience and his daughter made you feel like you were a part of the performance. You weren’t just watching the concert.”

S: The Garifuna Collective with Danny Michel “I liked the workshop dynamic of this concert with both Artists taking turns to perform in each others songs. I am always a fan of hearing musical collaboration.”

Favorite Festival Moment

T: The Mary Ellen Carter Finale on Mainstage “The Mary Ellen Carter is one of my favorite songs. It’s was amazing.”

S: Lantern lighting at the Finale “Watching the first family of Folk Music, Nathan Rogers light the floating lantern at the end of the WFF finale with his daughter just reinforced the community strength of the Folk Fest community in Winnipeg.”

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This post is part of a series detailing the experiences of Edmonton folkies, Sable and Twila, heading to Winnipeg Folk Festival for the first time. See other posts here. Cross-posted on The Choir Girl Blog.

One Summer + Two Folkies + Five Festivals