The final day of the Vancouver Folk Music Festival got off to a smooth start thanks in part to my discovery of a magical healing elixir I like to call honey water. Water is the life blood of planet earth, but there is good reason honey is known as the nectar of the gods. Combining the two proved genius. I covered a lot of ground on day three thanks to honey water, and by 1pm I was exactly where I was supposed to be.
I caught part of Bobby Dove’s charming performance on Stage one. Like many artists of the classic folk-country genre, witty onstage banter comes part and parcel with stringed instruments and songs about woe. Dove’s rapport is engaging, and her music is a wonderful blend of vintage sounds and contemporary lyrics. I’m sure we’ll be hearing a lot more from her as her latest album “Thunderchild” is already three years old.
When I met with Liv Stevens, there was only half an hour before she and her band, Copperhead performed on stage one with Luca Fogale and Lucy Rose. I offered my backpack as a makeshift chair in the shade and she very politely obliged while we chatted about how Copperhead was formed, her inspirations and her aspirations as a musician. It was a delightful conversation and I can’t wait to share more details with you about this surprisingly focused, yet very much go with the flow artist.
Sunday’s workshop was a mellow affair, a good thing on a hot summer day. Burnaby’s Luca Fogale MC’d and I’m quite sure melted a few hearts with his soulful and reflective style and soft as satin vocals. Lucy Rose was a lovely female counterpart to Fogale, and I sort of wish I had discovered her before her final performance. She has a luscious, yet airy voice and a minimalistic, melancholic sound. I loved that she has a little bit of sass to her personality which belies her angelic looks. Her latest album Something’s Changing was inspired by a tour of South America where she basically stayed with fans. It also spawned a documentary that I hope to watch sometime soon.
Though Copperhead elected to play some of their more mellow tunes for this workshop, they were easily the most up-tempo act on the stage. As much as I appreciate listening to all three acts, the mix was a bit odd in my humble opinion. I’m ok with odd, especially if the thing that makes it odd is wickedly enchanting sonic sampling helmed by Liz Stevens. I described them on Day one as Jefferson Airplane-esque and I stand by that. Sundays set was like a sepia-toned afternoon hallucination, all sorts of amazing.
I was enjoying Stage One so much I only managed to catch the last ten minutes of the mayhem happening nearby on Stage Three. Dwayne Dopsie and the Zydeco Hellraisers were throwing down one last time alongside the Dardanelles and Danny Boudreau. At that point Dwayne Dopsie was leading the troupe in an all-out jam while Dardenelles front man Tom Powers scrambled off stage and led a few lucky fans in what looked like a maypole dance without the maypole. It was a very rambunctious ten minutes!
My loose plan after that became to simply cram in everything I possibly could into what was left of the afternoon. I briefly checked out Cuban Legend Pablo Menendez on my way to the baking hot Stage Five for some of Nano Stern’s infectious vibe. Menendez and his band Mezcla were piecing together some sweet, laid back Cuban dance music for fans near the stage and in the beer garden.
He also made a point of letting people know that it was difficult for them to even be here because of politics. It seems that the Cuban government does not take kindly to critics and there are reports of incarceration and harsh travel restrictions imposed on those who speak their minds. My best guess is that’s what Menendez was referring to, but if anyone can confirm or knows more details, I’d love to hear more.
That inspired performance made me a little late for Nano Stern Trio on Stage 5 who were in a workshop with Vancouver’s favourite Latin inspired folk band, Locarno. The bands had decided to mix it up a little and instead of taking turns playing songs, they played for twenty-five minutes each. Which meant that while I was bummed about missing almost all of Locarno, it meant I caught all of Nano Stern.
The first thing the passionate troubadour from Chile did was request that people sitting in front of the stage move to the side so that people could dance in the front. It seemed a popular decision and the trio had an impressive and enthusiastic crowd in front of them for the duration of their performance. It felt like a celebration.
Much like Menendez, Stern took the opportunity to express some of his political views. He asked the audience to raise their hands if they were born in Canada, which ended up being almost three quarters of those who chose to dance and those who remained seated. Then he asked everyone with parents born in Canada to raise their hands. My best guess is that approximately on half of the hands went down. Finally, he asked who had grandparents born here. My hand was probably one of about ten that were still in the air.
There. See, now remember that we are all migrants.
The cheer that followed was perhaps the loudest of the day. The thing about Nano Stern is that he doesn’t shout his proclamations. Quite the opposite, he simply speaks with sincerity and I think that’s what translates and makes him so magnetic. The people of Chile are lucky to have a man like that in their midst.
I stayed at Stage Five for the Rad Trads, a quintet of five young men out of Brooklyn, New York. They were polished and disarming, and I can see them doing very well among the college crowd.
I was moved watching Tsatsu Stalqayu on the main stage. The name means Coastal Wolfpack in Salish and I believe they were the first traditional aboriginal performance by Coast Salish artists in the festival’s history. Pretty significant considering that for 41 years the festival has been held on Unceded Coast Salish territory. The artists wore traditional clothing and ranged in age from around six to perhaps fifty. They told stories by way of dancing and singing, which captivated their audience. Myself included.
I also caught a few songs from Sarah Shook and the Disarmers. I may be imagining things, but it felt like Sarah Shook gave me the stink eye when I snapped a few shots of her set. There will always be a special place in my heart for furious women, having spent a good chunk of my adulthood as one myself. Fuck you too, Sarah Shook. (That’s furious female speak for basically every greeting or salutation, btw).
I still don’t know how I missed Kitty and the Rooster, but I did. I’m sure they were great as always, though I would have LOVED to see how the crowd reacted to the in your face raunchy humor of this duo. I did manage to catch Steve Dawson on the main stage. I sort of hate using trite, overused phrases like “cool cat” … but Steve Dawson is a freaking cool cat. I don’t know how he manages to make playing guitar look so easy, but he does. And I think he was also the only person to not break out in a sweat in 30-degree weather.
I’d been hearing about The Hamiltones all weekend as the amazing band that accompanied Ry Cooder last year. If I had discovered honey water one year earlier, I might have known what the buzz was all about. They were worth the wait and a perfect way to close out a full weekend of music. They were funny, engaging, energetic, uplifting and very, very talented. I recognized a good chunk of the songs they performed as classic hits by other artists, and to be honest it was great to be able to sing along with everyone.
That’s what it’s all about, right? Finding new music to love, but also finding connection.
I stayed for the finale too because I suffer from FOMO on a consistent basis. As a slew of people swayed on stage singing “Goodnight Irene” I reflected on the last three days. The experience as a whole is amazing. I’ve covered it three years in a row and I am blown away every single time by the talent that finds its way to the shores of Jericho Beach without fail.
I’m planning on being back next year!