Review and photos – Mavis Staples and more at the 2009 Vancouver Folk Music Festival
– by Shawn Conner/photos by Jessica Bardosh
Saturday, July 18: After a lifetime of being dry, like some Mennonite town in the midwest, the Vancouver Folk Music Festival has joined the rest of the 21st century by adding – wait for it – a beer garden. Hey folk festival, don’t embrace the Industrial Revolution too soon. Not only that, but the beer – Big Rock – is actually decent, and the price, $5 per, not too wallet-damaging.
It’s also located a breeze away from the water on one side and viewing distance of the main stage from the south. After watching a lovely hour-long set of pop-folk by autoharp enthusiast Basia Bulat and her band, we made a bee-line for this latest addition, where we were within earshot of a solo set by former Barenaked Lady Steven Page.
Somewhere around this time, Jessica Bardosh started taking pictures.
Sunday July 19: We arrived in time for the beginning of the set by the Bop Ensemble. Because of the name, I was hoping for something high-energy and exotic. Instead, it was a guy who used to be my neighbour and covers of Bob Dylan songs.
Actually, the trio – two grizzled vets, Wyckham Porteous and Bill Bourne, along with a young lean female bass player named Jas, from Alberta – sounded fine, if typically folky, and the Dylan cover, “Buckets of Rain”, was beautifully done.
Still, I wanted something more. Instead we found ourselves at a workshop called, “A Wise Woman Once Told Me.”
Now, if you’ve been to folk festivals, you know the workshops can be pretty hit-or-miss. Once in awhile, a disparate or like-minded group of musicians who might otherwise never play together hit on magic. Most times, though, it’s a grab-bag of half-decent and self-indulgent.
The idea behind A Wise Woman was to take a bunch of female singer/songwriters and have them do a song along the lines of wisdom gleaned from other chicks. No, not Carrie Bradshaw, but grandmothers, sisters, dental hygienists.
Anyway, no surprise here, everyone just basically did their own thing and tried to tie it in with the theme. Actually, there were some wise words in Cheryl Wheeler‘s tune about empathy, but another song by one of the other singers just went on and on to the point where I thought the arms were going to fall off the person doing the sign language (yes, it was that kind of workshop).
But the 20 minutes or so we were there was well spent, because I discovered dub poet D’bi Young. Now, I can’t vouch for the originality of her sentiments contained in her social-issue discourses, or point to any particular insight that can’t be gleaned from the op-ed page or a decent documentary, but this woman can put words together and is an outrageously dynamic performer. I literally could not take my eyes off her long enough to refill my cup of vodka lemonade.
After a little more time in the beer garden, I zoned out for a bit to the chill Pacifika sound system. The Vancouver trio basically sounds like it could easily fit on one of those Cafe del Mar compilations, which by this time of the day was high praise indeed.
More 2009 Vancouver Folk Music Festival photos: