Tag Archives: mariposa folk festival

Interview and Preview with Birds of Chicago

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The New Moon Folk Club prepares to welcome Birds of Chicago, comprised of Allison Russell and JT Nero, who will be performing this Friday.  This is Birds of Chicago first Canadian tour and Edmonton audiences will be delighted by their soul, gospel, and folk inspired tunes that conjure images of sultry summer heat. JT Nero, takes some time to chat with Folk on the Road before the show.

How has the tour been going so far?

Great.  The rooms have been full of humans, folks have been spoiling us … there are homecomings at a lot of these stops for Alli, who has family scattered across the country — and, of course, I made this trek a fair few times with Po Girl.

How do you feel audiences have been receiving Real Midnight since its release in February?

I feel like it’s been hitting em them in the sweet spot we hoped it would. It’s a cathartic bunch of songs for us, and it seems as though a lot of folks are needing to wring themselves out in a similar way.

 

You’ve discussed the transformative and healing power of music, could you share a moment in which this was true for you?

There are lots of instances in which people will let us know that a lyric or a song has helped them through a particularly rough patch, and nothing in the world makes us happier than that… but as far as personal healing, it’s literally a daily thing – sort of a small and abiding miracle: you can feel miserable, sing a song about feeling miserable, and come out feeling LESS MISERABLE. Where else can I get that kind of trusty magic? Nowhere. Not that you feel miserable every day. But that you can transport through song — get yourself to a different place.. that’s the thing.

JT, you’re identified as the main writer for Birds of Chicago and Allison as the song interpreter – what does this collaborative process look like when you are beginning to work through a song for the first time together?

I play her a new song I’ve written for her … while she’s listening to it for the first time, I’ll hit pause every few seconds and say “do you like it? Do you love it?? You hate it, don’t you!!? I KNOW YOU HATE IT!!”
Uh, seriously, I try to skeleton a melody for her and a phrasing — but I am careful not to box her in too much, since she is such a masterful phraser and can do so much more with her vocal instrument than I can… I make sure to leave as much room for take it where it needs to go.

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Folk on the Road first saw you perform at Mariposa Folk Festival in 2014. At that time you had a little one with you on the road, has touring with the family changed at all in recent years?

Our babe is not a babe anymore – she’s a toddler with the disposition of a grizzled rocker. In all seriousness, she’s 3 months shy of her 3rd birthday, which I am fairly certain is a challenging stretch for all parents (right?) and it’s no different for us on the road. She’s a wonder of a human, with endless energy, and we have to make sure we are building park and library stops and such into our schedule. It actually makes for healthier touring all around

Any concluding thoughts you would like to mention?

This is our first proper Canadian tour, and we are so jazzed by the response. We are going to get back in the studio in January, then hopefully make it back to Canada in the summer for some fests.

 

The performance is Friday, October 14. The performance is sold-out. There will be no tickets at the door.

This preview is co-written by Sable and Twila.

Upcoming shows at the New Moon Folk Club include: Tom Russell and Danny Michel. For more information on their season, please see their website.

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Two Souls in Harmony, An Interview with Dala

After a seven month break, Dala reunites at the Mariposa Folk Festival and celebrates with a series of workshops and Sunday Mainstage. Dala, comprised of Sheila Carabine and Amanda Walther, were on hiatus because Amanda had a new baby boy and, in that time, Sheila also completed a French language intensive. The break allowed the duo to both percolate on topics, write music, while making sure to continue to foster their relationship, even if that just meant curling up and watching episodes of Arrested Development together.

Sheila masters an endearing delivery of sarcastic humor during their performances which balances Amanda’s genuine and gentle energy on stage. They are a harmonious pair in every sense of the word from their perfectly match singing voices to knowing when to finish one others sentences. When seeing them reunited on the Mariposa workshop stages, it is evident that no time has past. However, even though Sheila reveals that they were both nervous starting rehearsals again for Mariposa, they were able to pick up exactly where they left off, adding that the rest was good for their voices and they are now refreshed and excited to sing their own songs again.

Toronto girls, born and raised, Sheila and Amanda both see the Mariposa Festival as the perfect homecoming.  “[Music Festivals] are an idyllic atmosphere for music, ” Amanda states, “We’re really a community. A lot of the time, [Artists] are on their own for tour and you pass like ships in the night and you can’t exchange stories but in this setting you do. You take a step back and see the community you’re part of.”

Dala reflects on their early day as budding artists. Amanda went to OCAD University, lauded for their visual Art and Design programs, and met Artists that would soon comprise a local Arts Collective. It was made up of 15-20 Artists from the school as well as members in the Artistic community. They rented out Holy Joes, a cozy venue decorated with couches and suspended Christmas lights. Although Holy Joes no longer exists, Sheila notes that “it was an exciting time, [dancers, visual artists, musicians were] just finding their voice in their own medium.” The importance of debuting as Artists in such a inspiring and supportive atmosphere was important in Dala’s early career years. “We were the original Broken Social Scene,” Sheila jokes in her characteristic comedic drawl.

While Dala acknowledges they enjoyed those early days, they are both looking towards the future. “There is a freedom and excitement getting to know North America,” Amanda states and Sheila continues, “travel has been so exciting and eye opening. We try to create that excitement every night in the way we talk to each other and talk to the audience. So even if it’s a big room, we can make it feel like we’re right back at Holy Joes. Those early shows really set the tone for us.” Having the experience of speaking to their Artistic peers, Dala expands upon these skills whether it is a house concert or in front of thousands at a Music Festival.

Humor plays a large role in their performance since it is a tool that breaks the ice for themselves as well as the audience. “We want it to feel inclusive so that we’re breaking down that wall every night and make it feel like we’re just in someone’s living room,” states Amanda. “Sometimes we are in their living room,” says Sheila picking up on Amanda’s thought, “house concerts gets you right back to the essence of your act, chemistry as Artists, and your song. If you can’t deliver a song in the setting like that then, what is the song? If you strip it down to its scaffolding or skeleton and nothing is left then that says something. We try to write song we can play right up close.”

Dala had such a debut at their Guide to Aspiring Performers workshop at Mariposa where they sang a work by Amanda that is only weeks old entitled, Only You. “We try to put ourselves in situations like that for new songs. Just to get a sense of whether the song holds up to the standards we have set for ourselves,” says Amanda before clarifying what those standards are, “we want the song when we perform them to bring them into a moment of emotional authenticity. We want there to be ‘the moment’. If there is a point in the song where we coming out of it…” says Amanda “…on autopilot,” adds Sheila “…embarrassment or a lyric we can’t feel confident singing, then it has to go. Something has to change. We have to be 100% behind everything we’re saying. It’s why we don’t play a lot of our older songs because it takes us out of the show,” Amanda says while finishing the thought they seamlessly wove together.

Dala’s earlier albums from This Moment is a Flash (2005) to Best Day (2012) have matured in the female perspective of their songwriting narrative. “We’re continuing to grow as Artists. Hopefully we’re not regressing!” Sheila laughs before continuing, “for our writing, it’s a reaction to whatever we are going through. So it is born out of experiences of the time. We try to be honest. Songwriting is the most honest moment for me in my life.” Amanda supports Sheila by stating that showing vulnerability is never easy but they have become more comfortable in sharing those feelings and, as a result, they notice that these are the pieces that audiences connect with most. Honesty is at the heart of their songwriting approach. “If I am being pushed to write a song, it is difficult for a reason. It’s difficult if I don’t have the personal tools to deal with them so music is a way to deal with it,” reveals Sheila.  Amanda continues the flow of Sheila’s thought: “It’s always hard but you push yourself to be that honest because it’s always the next thing you’re not dealing with or talking about. The thing you’re afraid to do, that’s exactly what you need to do,” she states with resolve. Living life is a constant source of songwriting inspiration. “We’re like sponges soaking it all up. And it will come out in different ways,” says Amanda. Sheila describes the inspiration process to her: “Something consistently rising to the surface, above the white noise in your mind, after a few days you notice it and think I need to be writing about it or paying attention to it.” Amanda continues by noting that she is not as lyrical as Sheila but she finds the process more subconscious: “I find I go with the melody. I find my mouth reaching for certain words or sounds. I start with the sound that I hear in my head and then it turns into a word and after the fact I realize I am writing about something very current and personal. But it’s because my subconscious has led me there musically. It’s funny, [Sheila and I] often come from different directions,” she says with a smile after making that last statement.

“Is it frightening to be a vessel?” I ask.

“Totally! ” exclaims Sheila, “sometimes you’re writing and it’s an out of body experience. You are aware you are composing. You can feel end result before you get there. It’s like a magnet, you feel yourself being pulled towards it and it’s relentless. The process is so all consuming. When you finish it’s such a sense of relief, unburdened, and that it exists apart from you.” Amanda reveals: “I found the same thing as a visual artist. I’m sure it crosses over genres. You perceive things as a gut, physical feeling, you go for it and take it as far as it take you and you look act and go ‘oh, I have lots of issues about death or I need to work on my relationship with my mother!” she exclaims gently in surprise and Sheila laughs in assent.

Amanda suspects the connection that audiences have with their lyrics is because their songs deal with primal feelings: “Even if we’ve written a song about a specific moment, person, or experience, if we are being authentic, it is an emotion that is shared by other people. It’s really about shedding away the pretense and getting to the point of that feeling and emotion. We have had people connect to songs in very different ways than they were intended. The feelings are the same but we come from very different perspectives.” Sheila summates Amanda’s thought into a perfect lyric: “Feelings are the currency of emotion,” she says with a chuckle. Sheila continues in a more serious tone: “You have to be respecting of it too. The music is a part of the fabric of your own life. These songs that you carry like layers of yourself… you just say thank you.” and Amanda adds that there is a sense of honor in people allowing their music to be a part of their lives.

Even though Dala has its newest baby member, that doesn’t mean there is a slowing of momentum for the group. They just need to get baby a passport and they have tour dates to the US and Calgary in the Fall. As well, they note that they have both been writing a significant amount and they have enough material for a new record, hopefully to be recorded and released in the next two years. However, Amanda reveals the next album will have a touch of melancholia: “There’s some heartbreak, I’ve written a couple of songs about my family. Memories of my Grandmother. A song for my Mother. It’s about looking inward, at our families and where we come from.” Sheila manages to find the silver lining: “I’m excited! Back to blue! The essence of what we do hasn’t changed. It really comes down to the harmony. I’m so excited when I sing with Amanda. It’s something I can’t even put words to.” Amanda manages to find the words: “Harmony in every possible meaning of the word.”

Thanks for the Good Times Mariposa Folk Festival

As the sun sets on the Mariposa Folk Festival, I wonder where the three days have gone. Just the other day I was setting up camp with Twila next to grassy patch near a baseball diamond in Tudhope Park. I knew the festival culture was upon us when I could hear the quiet strumming of a few acoustic guitars at the campsite. A baby on a tarp playing with an array of plastic toys as his mother arranged the coolers and a metallic thud came from his father hammering in the tent pegs to secure their family sized tent. This site would be our temporary home for the weekend.

Lining up at the festival gate to get into the grounds for Mainstage, the sensation that was immediately prevalent was this sense of calm.

“What is going on?!” Twila asks me in disbelief.

There was no frenzied 7 AM color lottery to set up a tarp, no snaking lines out into the parking lot, just smiles from the festival volunteers and courteous patrons. A mini utopia created for a few days with great music, friendly people, sunshine, and a festival site bordered by the lake. There were also many activities for families with children. It was lovely to see children running around in their barefeet with woven wreaths in their hair, wading into the shallow waters of the lake to cool off, and and peeling off corkscrew segments of a Tornado Potato.

I felt calm in this idyllic atmosphere. I would often set up my chair under the shaded canopy of trees to work on my iPad while enjoying the breeze from the lake and the musical tinkering from children at the musical petting zoo. Every volunteer I met was so friendly, whether they were helping to sort through my compostable trash or find me areas with charging stations for my electronics. It felt like I could do no wrong as a guest. Not once was I told to vacate an area I shouldn’t be in or have my ID and bag checked at security. I was even allowed in the backstage performer area to work on my laptop because I was sporting a golden ticket wristband. It gives me a glimpse into a classless society and how it works when its community is united in this vision. All the staff, volunteers, vendors, artists, audience members – they’re all working together to produce something greater than themselves: a safe haven for music and people. Mitch Podoluk mentioned that Mariposa is his hometown festival and I can see why.

I really shouldn’t have been surprised at how quickly Twila and I were accepted into this community. All we brought with us on our 2.5 day commute was an open mind and memories of how other folk festivals function. My folk festival crowd survival instinct was subdued and attending Mariposa felt more like a vacation than anything else. There is a chill energy that comes from rolling out of a tent, successfully washing ones hair from a water bottle, grabbing a breakfast frittata from a foodtruck, and sauntering over to a workshop stage by 11 AM. I’m glad Mariposa has been able to return home to Orillia after being hosted at other locations throughout Ontario. Orillia has something really special and I’m glad I got to be a part of its world for the past few days.

Mariposa…sounds familiar.

So after hatching this crazy plan nearly a year ago, I find myself amid piles of clothing and camping supplies wondering what to expect from Mariposa, destination number one. The furthest distance to travel from Edmonton on this adventure, Mariposa has taken on a bit of a mystical quality for me, even though I can count the things I know about it on one hand (without using my thumb):

  1. Orillia, ON.
  2. Mariposa is the name of the town in Stephen Leacock‘s Sunshine Sketches of a Little TownReading material & bug spray.
  3. Gordon Lightfoot‘s hometown is Orillia (does that mean that Early Morning Rain is about Orillia? anybody?)
  4. Stringband never played Mariposa.

All and all, not a particularly illustrious base of knowledge, but hey, everyone has to start somewhere.

Digging further than my personal cache of information, I found out the Grande Dame of Canada’s Folk Fest’s line-up will be anchored by women of influence in both culture and music. But more than just the great music that will be infusing the air at Mariposa, what makes this festival so enticing for performers and audience members alike?

Mariposa’s image has a bit of an underlying edge of education. We all like to understand what’s going on in general, and in music it’s no different. The Hand’s On Experiences area promises interactive workshops of drum circles, singing, crafting, dance and more. In addition to the Hand’s On Experiences is the Ukulele-Building Workshops on Saturday and Sunday morning. Mariposa U, run in conjunction with the festival and Lakehead University but taking place in downtown Orillia before the gates open on Friday, offers interactive workshops with festival performers and other professional musicians. Attendees are warned that “All workshops are interactive, instructional and, most of all, participatory: come to work and learn, not to be entertained!”

Then there are archives to visit, yoga or tai chi in the morning. And of course the music. Mariposa is known to boast an eclectic array of talent, and this year is no different. Some favourites of mine from past folk fests are going to be at Mariposa so I will have to fit my visits to the Hand’s On Experiences area and Ukulele-Building Workshops around them, but a little careful planning and I should be able to get to everything.

Mariposa promises to be an unforgettable experience, and I hope that it will never lose that mystical quality that invades my anticipation for it…if you need me I’ll be building a ukulele.

Looking forward to hearing, among others, these three acts:

The JD Edwards Band

Dala

The Barr Brothers

 

 

 

Preparing for Departure

I’m not much of an outside girl. I love my first world amenities: wardrobe, accessories, flush toilets, soft bedding, running water, and  high-speed internet. I’m aware this sounds a bit ridiculous since I’m about to embark on roadtrip that will take me across Canada and also involves rough camping at the Mariposa and Winnipeg Folk Festival. However, in order to partake in this Folk Festival rite of passage, I am willing to embrace the elements. The hardest part is just preparing for departure.

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After weeks of organizing my departure from my work as a Speech-Language Pathologist, fulfilling all my other choral singing commitments with Pro Coro Canada and the Edmonton Opera Chorus, and completing my projects over at The Choir Girl Blog, I have finally had the last few days to plan for my month long departure from home. Thus, I have been more stressed than excited when people inquire about details regarding my roadtrip. I know that once I am on the road, these preparation insecurities will subside.

I am thankful Twila has been in charge of all outdoorsy camping supplies. All I have are a sleeping bag, a thermarest, and a chair. However, I have organized quite the array of festival wear options and SPF skincare depending on the weather. I also have compiled all the electronics I plan to bring as well as plan for how to maintain the charge for these items. It wouldn’t be very good festival media coverage if I couldn’t post anything. I do get these scenes of horror in my mind where it is absolutely pouring rain outside my tent, I am clutching all my electronics to my chest, and shielding them from water damage. My hope is that in mentally preparing for these crises, they are less likely to occur, or at the very least, surprise me.

One thing people have commonly asked is why Twila and I have chosen to drive for this media project. We could have flown to Toronto and then rented a car to get to Mariposa. However, in doing this, we would have missed out on the journey on these Canadian highways and stories from the open road. As it is with many things, it is as much about the journey as it is the destination. Understanding the process of travel between each of these festivals is just as important as the music that is performed at each of these festivals. These roads are constant source of inspiration for many Folk Music Artists, and in order to understand the context in which they come from, one can gain insight from embarking on a similar journey.

So that is where Twila and I, as Folk on the Road, are different from other traditional media outlets. We will not be driving up in a company sponsored media van, breezing through backstage security to obtain minute interview segments with Mainstage Artists, and driving home at the end of the night. We are arriving in Orillia, Ontario after a 2.5 day cross-Canada commute and over 30 hours of driving, just in time for Mariposa Folk Festival Mainstage on Friday night.

The open road is calling.

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