The Stan Rogers Folk Festival: an Atlantic icon for every generation
If there was ever any doubt about the depth and breadth of musical talent produced by Canada’s Atlantic provinces one need only look at the line-up of this year’s Stan Rogers Folk Festival for a refresher.
Out of approximately 33 acts on the bill, around two thirds of them hail from the East Coast, but the line-up looks as hot as anything you’ll see from a mid-size festival that’s importing talent from around the world. If this was a line-up aimed at saving money – I wouldn’t know. I haven’t asked festival artistic director Troy Greencorn – it reads more like a boast, frankly.
The headliners – Joel Plaskett, Ashley MacIsaac and Rawlins Cross – are veritable Atlantic music icons, each to a different generation. Order of Canada-winning songwriter Lennie Gallant and Stan Rogers’ internationally acclaimed brother Garnet add additional heft to the main stage. And then you’ve got the next-generation stars such as Catherine MacLellan and Rose Cousins; powerhouse up-and-comer Irish Mythen; teenage country sensation Makayla Lynn; and beloved bluesman Matt Anderson.
The U.K. singer-songwriters who hold the bulk of the rest of the spots on the bill seem like no-names by comparison.
Let’s have a listen, shall we, to some of the offerings.
Before there was Great Big Sea, there was Rawlins Cross, a Newfoundland-based Celtic rock outfit of a different tint and hue. Founded by brothers Dave and Geoff Panting, the band exploded onto the scene in 1989 with a single called “Colleen” from its debut album, A Turn of the Wheel, which charted at that once legendary Toronto alternative rock radio station CFNY. Their sound ranges from tender traditional instrumentals to gruff roots rock with bagpipes. The band took a few years off in the early 2000s, but they came back in 2008, and they just released a new EP last year. This is a lyric video for one of the new songs.
The daughter of the legendary Gene MacLellan, author of hits for Elvis (“Put your Hand in the Hand”), Anne Murray (“Snowbird”) and others, Catherine clearly inherited her father’s gift for songwriting – as is evidenced by the Juno on her mantle for her 2015 album the Raven’s Sun and the nomination that same year for Songwriter of the Year. She couples that songwriting talent with a dreamy, wistful delivery all her own. Of late, Catherine has been doing a lot to memorialize her father though an album and a series of performances of his songs. You can find videos of her singing “Snowbird” and others online. But here’s one of her originals: the title track from the Raven’s Sun.
Irish was born in, wait for it, Ireland, and lived and worked in Sweden and Australia before settling on the East Coast of Canada in 2009. In fact, it all started with the Stan Rogers Folk Festival. They brought her over to play in 2006, and she’s had a steady gig there ever since. It seems strange to describe a veteran performer like Irish as an up-and-comer, but let’s face it, she’s not near as well known as she should be in this country. She’s got a massive weathered voice and an equally massive stage presence to go with it, and she deserves to be better known.
Teenage country artist Makayla Lynn made her first songwriting trip to Nashville at 12 and has been commuting back and forth ever since. She got a big leg-up last August when Rolling Stone named her one of “Ten New Country Artists You Need to Know,” saying that she “straddles a refreshing line between modern pop-country and a style that evokes the nineties one-name queens (Faith, Shania, Trisha).” Makayla has been writing and performing since she was eight, and she’s currently supporting her sophomore album, On a Dare and a Payer.
Shreem continues in that newfangled tradition pioneered by acts like Shooglenifty and Ashley MacIsaac of mixing traditional Celtic music with beats. As a matter of fact Shreem, a.k.a. Jay Andrews, co-produced Ashley’s FDLER album. Jay’s own new album, Shreem x Celtic Remixing, is a damn fine record in its own right, chalk full of special guests, such as Cassie and Maggie MacDonald. These days, every festival needs at least one artist mixing up tradition with electronica, and Shreem sounds as good as anyone out there.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t end this heaping ball of praise with one obvious oversight in the StanFest line-up: seriously folks, you’d think there were no people of colour in Atlantic Canada. In a year that saw Jeremy Dutcher, a member of New Brunswick’s Tobique First Nation, shortlisted for the Polaris Prize; Nova Scotia native Russ Kelley involved in the Afro-Métis Constitution project, and Viola Desmond immortalized on the ten dollar bill for goodness sake, the province’s Indigenous and African Canadian heritage has never been more in focus. If StanFest can look this good with a nearly all-white line-up, imagine how great it would be if it included ALL of Atlantic Canada’s hot properties.