This past weekend I performed at the Mariposa Folk Festival in Orillia. And I had a great time. I heard everything from the Idlers, a Newfoundland band playing ska and reggae, to Adonis Puentes, a fabulous Cuban singer, to Elisapie Isaac, an Inuit from Northern Quebec who sings in French, English, and Inuktitut, to Yeshe, a world traveller who plays instruments from all over the globe.
Now if you don’t know about folk festivals, or if you think you’re not a folk fan and are therefore put off by the idea, there’s something you need to know. Over the past 20 years or so, these festivals have changed. They’re no longer a series of WASPy folks earnestly strumming acoustic guitars and singing mournful, lengthy ballads about Scottish maidens dying on the moors.
Now it’s true that Mariposa did feature a fair number of white, North American singer-songwriter types (me included) – though given that this is Canada, at least 4 of the Canadian acts played in French, or in French and English (me included). But there were even more acts that represented or melded all sorts of genres and influences, such as rock, blues, bluegrass, classical, jazz, country, world music, spoken word, and more.
That’s because the definition of folk music, and folk music itself, has become pretty elastic. As Louis Armstrong once observed, “All music is folk music; I ain’t never heard no horse sing a song.” Sure, there are still some traditionalists out there who won’t listen to anything that involves a drum kit or an amp or that wasn’t written by Anonymous, but for the rest of us, there’s plenty of variety at these festivals, which is what makes them a delight.
So next time you hear about a folk festival happening not far from you – and there are lots in Ontario in the summer: see http://www.northernjourney.com/cdnfolk/canfest.html for a list – even if you don’t think of yourself as a folkie, take a chance and check one out!
Marie-Lynn Hammond is a co-founder of Stringband, a seminal Canadian folk group, and a critically acclaimed songwriter living in York Region. In past lives she’s written plays and magazine articles and hosted national CBC radio shows. In between working on two new CDs, she freelances as an editor of both fiction and nonfiction. www.marielynnhammond.com