You need to discover Balfolk … and there’s a festival for that!
Emilyn Stam is a fiddle player, pianist, accordionist and composer – one of the most creative and virtuosic musicians in Canada today. As a young musician, her mentor was the late Oliver Schroer, and today, she works with top musicians all over Canada and beyond. Emilyn plays in the eastern European party punk super-band Lemon Bucket Orchestra, with the Dutch band Té, and – with renowned Canadian fiddlers Anne Lederman and James Stephens – in the band “Eh?!” She is also one of Canada’s most in-demand studio musicians and appears on at least 25 CDs by other artists, as well as having released eight of her own.
In a little under two months’ time, Emilyn and her musical friends will be putting on the first of what she anticipates will be annual Balfolk weekend festivals: the Big Branch Festival Sep. 7-9 near Shelburne, Ont.
Emilyn got turned onto the Balfolk movement while studying in Europe a few years ago. In France, the Netherlands, Belgium, Germany and Italy, the revival of these often ancient traditional folk dances has taken off. Many of the dances come from France, and there have been additions to the repertoire from all over Europe. It has been Emilyn’s mission to introduce Balfolk to Canada.
Balfolk Toronto has been going for five years now, with small Monday night dances held in local restaurants or parks in downtown Toronto, weather permitting. Attendees learn Schottische, Bourrées, Waltz, Polka, Mazurka, Polska, Chapelloise, Circassian Circle, and the very hypnotic Breton chain dances, to name just a few. Not all are partner dances, so single dancers feel very welcome.
Big Bal events are held perhaps two or three times per year, depending on the schedules of guest musicians visiting from Europe. A large hall is rented and becomes filled with dancers. It’s all about participation while you listen to some amazing music.
The Big Branch Festival, to be held at Unicamp near Shelburne, Ontario, is widely anticipated.
Three days of dancing and jamming will immerse participants in Balfolk. The Toronto Balfolk community will join with other such groups from all over Ontario and Quebec. There will be outdoor dance and music workshops, forest hiking, swimming in the two ponds on the property, shared cabins or camping, and great opportunities for jamming with the amazing Balfolk musicians who are coming to Unicamp. The food will be deliciously homemade vegetarian fare.
The performers include Laüsa, from Gascony in southwestern France, a duo of young musicians who play fiddle, accordion, bouzouki, mandolin, percussion and vocals. They sing in both French and Occitan, the regional language of their home province, and bring to Balfolk the traditional music of Gascony.
From Limousin, France, the Duo Rivaud-Lacouchie brings repertoire collected there, for a diversity of sounds and dances using fiddle, diatonic accordion and voice.
From Bretagne, France, the Duo LeBour/Bodros has been playing for over ten years for Balfolk events, using the unusual combination of soprano saxophone and accordion.
From Canada and Italy respectively, Emilyn Stam and Filippo Gambetta bring a transatlantic approach and sensibility to the music. Their shared insatiable musical curiosity and prolific imagination bring to the music of Balfolk something that transcends the limitations of the ocean that divides their home countries. With organetto (diatonic accordion), fiddle and piano, you never quite know where the music will take you this time.
The dance instructor for the weekend will be Louise Marius from the Netherlands.
“Connection and fun are really important,” said Louise. “The basics are simple; everyone can join in quickly.”
Over the three days of Big Branch, Louise will be teaching various regional dances from France and other parts of Europe, as well as leading workshops in improvisation and communication in partner dancing.
With such a stunning lineup, the Big Branch Balfolk festival is bound to sell out. Come join this energetic and caring community of dancers and musicians. Register right away to be sure of a spot.