Owen Sound, Ontario, seems like an unlikely place for a major folk festival, but for the past 35 years the Summerfolk Music and Crafts Festival has become the place to be over the third weekend in August.
The event now simply known as Summerfolk was initiated in 1975 by John and Tim Harrison in cooperation with the Grey-Bruce Arts Council. Kelso Beach Park, the festival’s current location, was at the time literal wasteland, and where the Stan Rogers Canopyed Stage now stands was flat, wet, low parkland. To quote a former member of The Friends of Fiddlers Green, “I’m cold, I’m wet, It must be Summerfolk”. It rained so frequently in the festival’s formative years, that the event is lovingly dubbed Summersoak.
However, what made it successful was a special spirit, one which remains to this day. Tim Harrison was mentored by Mitch Podolak who in turn was mentored by the late Estelle Klein. From the outset, Harrison treated the volunteers and the hired acts as equal and valuable members of the same community. Tim brought in acts like Bruce Cockburn, David Amram, Odetta, Tom Paxton, Gamble Rogers, Michael Smith, Richie Havens, Tom Rush, Joni Mitchell, John Allan Cameron and of course Stan Rogers, who played the festival countless times.
Appearing in the video in order post-foot-stomp solo: Grit Laskin, Bluegrass Workshop, The Dardanelles, Dehli 2 Dublin, Lickin’ Good Fried, (beer tent jam), Namgar, Eco-Andno, Baskery, Artisan, Colin Linden, Sarah Harmer, toute la gange.
The theme of this year’s Summerfolk was Believe In The Magic. From the moment the Piper opened the event, until he reappeared after the finale, one was transported to somewhere special, somewhere where the ghost of Stan Rogers walks. The current Artistic Director, Richard Knechtel – now in his fourth year – has caringly embraced the tradition by creating a truly eclectic mix of musicians from all folk genres. This year’s performers, who graced the main stage ( Stan Stage ), the Down By the Bay Stage ( pub tent ) and the daytime session stages, featured no shortage of what one could refer to as traditional folk music from, for example, England, the Metis Nation, Cree Nation, New England, Quebec, PEI, Mexico, Boliva, Peru, Acadia, Mongolia, the Carolinas, and Cape Breton.
A high point for me was the inclusion of Lickin’ Good Fried, a great traditional country-oriented band from Toronto, featuring the singing and songwriting of Tom Parker and dynamic singing of Alex Pangman. Parker’s grandfather, Harry Parker, is a legendary Owen Sound musician. The festival also included a tent covered dance stage, which was almost exclusively for dance instruction; clogging, step dancing, Irish dancing, street dancing, Newfoundland steps, Quebecois steps, African dancing, contra dancing, and even patter squares. Not since the days of former celebrated Mariposa Artistic Director Estelle Klein have I seen so much emphasis placed on dance.
If there was magic at the festival perhaps it came in the form of giving. Throughout the event, Richard Knechtel attemped to raise about $2000 for Danny Brooks, who had been hired to play, but could not due to illness. Richard carried a bucket around his neck for the entire festival asking for donations, and he met his goal.