Photography by Twila
As the heavy humidity settles throughout the festival grounds at Birds Hill National Park, signalling the impending rain, Danny Michel enters the media tent early for his interview. He sets down a black case on the table, shakes my hand with a smile and asks, “Is it alright if we do this now?” He has just come from the autograph session following his joint Winnipeg Folk Festival session with the Garifuna Collective.
“No problem,” I reply, gathering my materials for the interview.
Michel is entering the third week of his joint Canada and US Tour with the Garifuna Collective from Belize, whom he collaborated with on his Juno-nominated album, Blackbirds are Dancing Over Me.
Michel is often seen performing solo shows on festival circuits but, this time, he has brought an entire troupe of musicians with him. “I’ve decided to go from solo to ten people,” he laughs while reflecting on this abrupt transition. Michel’s current tour is filled with unique challenges, such as negotiating work visas and coordinating with the Department of Fisheries for customs clearance of percussion instruments like turtle shells. “Everything has been so stressful and so much work, but as soon as we get on stage… it’s worth it,” he states.
The dancing crowds and enrapt audience at Friday’s sessions supported that fact. Both Michel and the Collective shared the stage, taking turns to perform each others songs. A trend which they will follow for the rest of their tour. As a result, all their performances generate a collaborative workshop energy.
Collaborative projects are challenging to execute because it requires a openness and trust from all participating musicians. There is an uncertainty in the fact that neither party is sure of the musical result. Yet, at the same time, that is the beauty of the process because there is an excitement at the prospect of musical genesis. Michel describes his first meeting with the Garifuna Collective in Belize for the album:
“I walked into the room of people I’ve never met being this little guy from Canada. “Hi, everyone. You should trust me and play on my record and play my songs,” and [they were] looking at each other going, “mmm how is it gonna work?” Michel smiles, recalling memories of the situation.
“How did it work?” I inquire further.
“It just worked. I’d go in and show them a song idea, record the guitar part, I’d sing it, and then we’d have my guitar and vocal. Just like a good ol’ singer songwriter song then we just started piling it on… It kinda just became itself,” he replies.
Even when the record was finished, Michel wasn’t sure of the result. “I was close to it. I was so in. So deep that I couldn’t see it with any perspective anymore,” he demonstrates for me while squinting to see the details on the side of his black case. However, Michel reveals that he never felt like it was a risky endeavour to record the Blackbirds album because he had a solid rationale for starting the project with the Garifuna Collective.
“I really did this for a musical adventure for myself. I wanted to learn about their music. I wanted to open my mind and get beyond Pop music. I wanted to become a better artist. So this was a little self project for myself. That was the intention,” he says with genuine honesty in his voice.
When considering how Michel’s lyrics from What Colour Are You? “Why can’t we all just communicate”, I wonder if his current album and tour with the Garifuna Collective symbolizes how open communication between cultures can be successful.
Michel delves into his thoughts, reflecting on the cascading effects of his collaboration, his gaze unfocused upon the surface grains of the wooden table. He remerges, maintaining his humble initial intent, “If I can be a part of inspiring anybody to try more things like [musical collaboration], that’s an honour to me. I looked at this project like, well, I’m just gonna try it and see what happens. If it doesn’t work, if it fails, then it’s still going to be a great learning experience. And the exact opposite has happened. It has snowballed. All I wanted to do was make a record. Now it’s a record, then a tour, now it got released in the US, now it’s on the Polaris prize list.” Michel elaborates further, “I think that maybe happened because it was really genuine. It wasn’t a plan. We didn’t have a marketing plan. All we did was put our heart into something and try. And so maybe that’s the secret to its success – that it was honest.”
Michel’s travels to Belize and Garifuna collaboration is a definitive moment for him as an Artist, not only learning from the perseverance, vibe, energy, and heart of the Garifuna Collective performing on stage but, lyrically as well, contemplating the future topics he wishes to address as a musician.
“There was some point, probably around the time where I got tired of Pop music and where I wanted to go to Belize… there’s gotta be more to say. There’s gotta be something important to say. There’s gotta be a way of saying it without it sounding preachy…where I’m bonking people over the head with it. So I’ve tried really hard to kinda say that without sounding preachy… It was a turning point in my life. I don’t even know if I know what it was, I just thought I can’t do this and not say something more. So I’m just trying to be more thoughtful.”
There is no grand plan for Michel. No gleaming whiteboard with dry erase etchings detailing travel and song plans for his future. He prefers it this way. Guided by musical intuition, he does what he feels is right for him at the time. Michel does reveal a general philosophy he follows:
“My goal is to keep following the goal of writing more thoughtful music and just trying to get much better at it… I have something to say. So in 50 years, if I’m gone… one of my songs could still be important and still have something to say to somebody,” he says thoughtfully before laughing at himself, amused at how deep his contemplations led him.
Regardless of topics, songs, or collaborations Michel chooses to address in the future, they will always originate from his humble intent to challenge himself as a musician.
Photography by Twila and Miss. Sable
After starting our morning with some Winnipeg sights and fueling up on caffeine at Parlour Coffee, it was time to venture out to the Winnipeg Folk Festival, located about a one hour drive from downtown Winnipeg. As we made our way north on Winnipeg’s Main Street, we joined the highway that eventually led us to Birds Hill Provincial Park Northwest from Winnipeg.
We celebrated our arrival with a high-5 and posed for a picture with our vehicle among rows of grass parking. It was a long commute from Edmonton but we had officially arrived at the Winnipeg Folk Festival!
“It’s the same, but different,” Twila remarked as we surveyed the Main Stage crowd.
Indeed, the festival energy that we know and love from the Edmonton Folk Music Festival was present but there was a secluded magic about having the Winnipeg Folk Festival nestled away in a flat clearing of Birds Hill Provincial Park. A temporary city is built in the park to accommodate the festival community. As Oh My Darling, The Avett Brothers, and City and Colour headlined the opening night of the festival, Twila and I began our assimilation process into the Winnipeg Folk Festival culture. There will be more to come in regards to this process in the next few days.
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.
Photography by Twila and Miss. Sable
Road trip Timeline
5:09 AM Farewell Edmonton!
7:57 AM Roadside continental breakfast at the Lloydminister Husky…
12:21 PM Full-serve gas pump in Lanigan, Sask. Luxury!
1:08 PM Foam Lake – THE best place on the world to live.
1:59 PM Yorkton – Home of the Cardinals.
2:48 PM Langenburg – Home of the Future! Where we finally found our 3G network again!
3:02 PM We’re in Manitoba! Farewell, Sask.
3:07 PM Roblin. Almost like Goblin.
4:00 PM Internet cafe and ATM access spotted in Stratclair.
5:25 PM Photo stop in Gladstone with the Happy Rock.
6:56 PM Hello, Winnipeg!
Cross-posted on The Choir Girl Blog.
We’ve arrived just in time for the Winnipeg Folk Fest.
Photo: Twila and I formulating our plan of attack for Winnipeg Folk Fest
I consider myself a relative newcomer to the Folk Fest crowd. I didn’t grow up in the Folk Festival culture. My first Folk Festival experience was at the 2005 Edmonton Folk Music Festival. My family never attended any outdoor music festivals even though extra-curricular music studies were valued. I can still hear my mother questioning my sanity for being willing to sit outside all day in the sun just to listen to music and feed the mosquitoes. I was reluctant to purchase my first weekend pass. I thought I would buy the evening ticket to ease my transition to the folkie world. However, lured by the peer pressure of more folkie-oriented friends, I decided to purchase a four-day pass since I was guaranteed that the afternoon workshop sessions are “where the magic happens”. I have not looked back.
During my Edmonton Folk Fest attendance over the years, I began to notice a continuing trend of Winnipeg inspiration. It is a location that has cultivated many Canadian talents and provide inspirations to other Artists. Danny Michel recorded his live album at the Winnipeg West End Cultural Centre and one of the lines from Dala‘s song Anywhere Under the Moon is: “The last power line, my cell phone died/I don’t even know your number/So I drive all the way to Winnipeg.” Even local Winnipeg band, The Weakerthans, communicates the poignant phrase, “I hate Winnipeg,” in their song One Great City. From my perspective, Winnipeg has a mystical music quality to it.
What is it about this prairie community that has captured the hearts of so many singer/songwriters? What is it about the Winnipeg Arts scene where it is able to cultivate such talent? My goal this next week is to investigate the folkie allure of the Winnipeg Folk Fest. I will be traveling with my fellow Edmonton folkie, Twila, to the Winnipeg Folk Festival. Neither of us have been to the Winnipeg Folk Festival before. We will update readers on our roadtrip and festival experiences this week through tweets, posts, and pictures. Follow us in our experiences as we adventure beyond Gallagher Hill towards Birds Hill Provincial Park.
Cross-posted on The Choir Girl Blog.
For most young singers, if their voice teacher handed them three books of folk music and told them to record a C.D., they may dismiss their suggestion with an air of disbelief… and question their teacher’s sanity. However, this was not the case with singer Adrienne Findlay when her voice teacher, Heather Johnson, made such a statement. Instead, Findlay felt another dominant emotion at the prospect of recording a C.D.: excitement.
In addition to being a Cantilon Choirs chorister for many years, Findlay was also a private voice student of Johnson’s. Findlay cycled through the typical song genres of many budding singers, but when Johnson began introducing folk songs, Findlay realized that folk music was her niche. Findlay reveals Johnson’s role in inspiring the production of this album.
“She was at the very beginning of it. From me learning how to sing in the first place and introducing me to this type of music and then to get this project started. Nothing of this would have come close to happening without her help and guidance,” she states.
Thus, after receiving those songbooks from Johnson last September, Findlay began learning folk songs leading up to December. At the start of this year, Findlay met Jia Jia Yong, a long-time student of local harpist Keri Lynn Zwicker, to begin rehearsing the songs with harp accompaniment. Findlay describes a musically generative relationship with Yong.
“We can just be sitting there and she can just play something and it works. She comes up with amazing accompaniment. She’s a great person to play with as a singer. She can tell if I’m going to be slowing down, or holding notes longer, and she can tell that with my body language and breathing. She’s as much as wrapped up in the song as I am.”
Findlay’s love of folk singing is due to the malleable nature of folk music.
“Every time I sing one of the songs it’s different than the time before. You can add little ornamentations and have different musical arrangements. And it can be changing and evolving but it’s so personal. A lot of the songs are about real-life and it’s easy to put yourself in that place. I really feel it. I can then play with the songs in the way that they speak to me. And I would do that differently from anybody else. Anybody can take these songs and put their special mark on them. It makes our version different than anybody else’s version. You get this beautiful, basic, melody and you get to make it completely your song,” she reveals.
Some of the tracks on the album particularly close to Findlay’s heart are “Rich and Rare,” one of the first traditional folk songs she has performed, and “Leaving of Liverpool,” which is one of two a cappella songs on the album, “Lagan Love” being the other. It was important for Findlay to include a cappella recordings because this is how she first began performing her folk repertoire. While she notes that it is more exposed, and naturally, more scary, she loves the vocal freedom to experiment with the song.
As for the future, Findlay realizes that the most important thing right now is to just keep performing and moving forwards. She does reveal a future aspiration of performing at the Edmonton Folk Music Festival. However, she humbly balances her expectations: “If it’s something that moves forward, great, if not, it’s an awesome project that we’ve done together and a great learning experience.”
Their C.D release party will be an opportunity for audiences to hear Findlay and Yong make their official live music debut in Edmonton. Their CD release will be a casual drop-in music event complete with food, wine, and short musical sets throughout the evening. Upon taking a preliminary listen to Findlay and Yong’s refreshing interpretations of this folk music repertoire, I am certain this C.D. is bound to be more than just another learning experience.
—This entry is cross-posted on The Choir Girl Blog—
C.D’s will be available at the release party, future Cantilon Choirs concerts, and on iTunes in mid-December.
Singer: Adrienne Findlay
Harpist: Jia Jia Yong
Recording Engineer: Corey Haberstock
She moved through the fair
Leaving of Liverpool
Rocky road to Dublin
The wind that shakes the barley
Dear Irish boy
Rich & rare
The parting glass