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The Best of the Fests



It’s the morning after a long weekend here at Roots Music Canada, and it’s time to take stock of the summer that was. For the past two months, our writers hit festivals across the country – 20 of ’em in all! – sacrificing sleep, getting way too much sun, and braving sketchy porta-poties all in the name of reporting back to you about what they saw and heard.  But what stood out for them?   Today we bring you some of their personal favourite moments. 

Deborah Holland – Vancouver Folk Music Festival and Dawson City Music Festival

Favourite performance:   Would have to be Ry Cooder

Favourite new discovery:  The Small Glories

Favourite festival meal:  The veggie burger at the Vancouver Folk Music FestivaL

Favourite festival moment:  Watching everyone dance to Old Man Luedecke at Dawson City and realizing everyone knew each other, and it was just a big party.


 Josh Forbes – Calgary Folk Music Festival


Favourite performance: A highlight for sure was Sunday morning, when I got to spend the morning sitting in the grass with my son, Brenden, listening to the soulful, gospel sounds of Shakura S’Aida, Rev. Sekou, Mission Songs Project and Mr. Harrison Kennedy. When I got to see and hear Shovels and Rope take to the stage and do their thing, I became an instant fan.  Another special moment happened when Reuben and the Dark sang a tribute to Gord Downie by singing “Bobcaygeon.”

But the true highlight for this old country music fan was seeing Leanne Womack take the stage and sing her biggest hits.

Favorite moment volunteering: My favorite part of volunteering at CFMF was just the fun I had interacting with the general public. I made some new friends with the other volunteers and coordinators but the laughs and smiles I shared with random strangers were some of my favorite moments.

Favorite festival food:I have to say I had two favorites when it came to the food trucks along vendor alley. The Family Squeezed Lemonade truck was a lifesaver when the mercury began to climb. The large ice-cold drinks made with all fresh ingredients hit the spot perfectly every time.

The other food truck that I became a frequent patron of was, of course, The Perogy Boyz. Their perogies and sausage filled a hole in my soul that I never knew was there.

Broose Tulloch – The Winnipeg Folk Festival

Favourite performance: A workshop featuring A Tribe Called Red, Las Cafeteras, and Nehiyawak. Archie Roach sat side-stage for most of the workshop, as members of his band were called up to join the jam, as were the wonderful women of duo Rising Appalachia (take the blues out of Romi Mayes and replace it with bluegrass).

Favourite new discovery:  The War and The Treaty.  Their mainstage set was life-affirming, and the talk of the festival.  A husband and wife duo, much like Ike and Tina, belting out southern soul on top of driving rock and rhythm.  They are absolutely beautiful people, and so deeply in love with what they do and each other.  I am a better person simply for meeting them and being able to chat with them for half an hour.

Favourite festival meal:  My perennial favourite is pickerel tacos from The Walleye Wagon.  In Manitoba we call walleye, pickerel, and it is far and away the best freshwater whitefish.  A breaded deep-fried pickerel fillet with a light coleslaw and a touch of tartar sauce in a crisp taco.  It’s always my first meal at any festival.

Favourite festival moment:  My favourite two moments were quite personal ones, both involving children.  Bringing our one-year-old daughter, Daisy, to her first music event – the TD Winnipeg International Jazz Festival when I was hosting the mainstage.  She loved it, and everyone loved her, especially when she felt the need to dance to Leaf Rapids covering David Bowie, and several other little girls joined her.  The other was Roger Roger opening the Winnipeg Folk Festival.  Twins Madeleine and Lucas are outstanding talents and impressive young adults, and they are the children of my friend Lloyd Peterson, who is a local music legend/icon.  I have never seen a bigger smile on Lloyd’s face.  Twenty-plus years ago, the baby twins were introduced to the Folk Fest audience when their dad was hosting workshops as a CBC representative. 


Roger Roger

Richard Flohil – The Mariposa Folk Festival, Orillia, Ont.

Favourite moments:  

Larkin Poe, two sisters from Atlanta, GA, who spent most of the summer playing stadium shows with Keith Urban. I sometimes think I know what’s going on (or people tell me that), but I had NO IDEA of who these women were. Two amazing guitarists with sibling intuition — and Mariposa was only their second date in Canada. Blues based, their evening mainstage performance was riveting (with bass and drums to give it rock and roll power), but it was a workshop they played with Kevin Breit and Cecile Doo-Kingue that’s my best memory — the look on their faces as they played with two amazing guitarists they had probably never heard of was a mixture of awe and sheer surprise.

Buffy Sainte-Marie is someone I’ve listened to since her early Vanguard releases from the ‘60s, and I’ve seen at least a dozen of her shows. This time, on the mainstage with one of the tightest bands ever, she delivered a passionate, powerful, perfect performance, exceeding everyone’s expectations. At 77, she sounds more in control and more joyful than ever, and her hits keep coming. “The War Racket” — a new song — is a tour de force…

Most surprising workshop: The Heavyweights Brass Band, Kevin Breit and Jenie Thai. On the face of it, this couldn’t work — a drummer with four brass players doing neo-New Orleans marching music, a guitar player whose music occupies some sort of distant outer space, and a young pianist with an electric keyboard and flying hair. I went expecting a train wreck and got an exultant, powerful performance with all the artists — with no rehearsal — playing in sync. Kevin’s unusual songs and eccentric playing worked surprisingly well with the band, and Jenie Thai (who surely has the fastest ears in history) took the music by the scruff of its neck and found a place where her blues-based boogie fitted perfectly.

The Fast Romantics is a Toronto-based rock band that energized a packed afternoon beer tent audience with a rootsy, energetic performance. Folk festivals, these days, usually program a pop band or two — in part to relate to a younger audience. As the audience left this rocking hour I noticed that everyone — old folk, moms and dads, teenagers, little kids — were smiling, and I was too. And smiles are what folk festivals — music festivals — are all about.

This was Liz Scott’s first Mariposa as the festival’s new artistic director. Boy, did she ever get it right!


Buffy Sainte-Marie on the Mariposa main stage. Photo by Mark Olexson.

Heather Kitching – The Live from the Rock Folk Festival in Red Rock, Ont., and the Trout Forest Music Festival in Ear Falls, Ont.

Favourite performance: It’s a tie between the Lonesome Ace String Band at Live from the Rock and Murder Murder at Trout Forest.

Favourite new discovery: Another tie! This time between ethereal female vocalist and Tannis Slimmon protégé Annie Sumi and delightful harmonizing family band the Janzen Boys. 

Favourite food: The vegan casserole at Live from the Rock.

Favourite moment: During the Sunday morning god-themed stage at Trout Forest when Barry Miles of Murder Murder launched into a faux tent-revival gospel preacher act worthy of Billy Graham.

Elizabeth Szekeres – Festival Mémoire et Racines and the Sutton Fiddle Festival

Favourite performance: At Sutton, Alexis Chartrand and Nicolas Babineau, with ÉTÉ and Andrea Beaton and Véronique Plasse tied for a close second. At Memoire et Racines, the Gypsy Kumbia Orchestra, hands down. Second place goes to Genticorum.

Favourite food: Crèpes Breton and Chips Maison at Mémoire et Racines.

Favourite moment: At the Sutton Fiddle Festival when the crowd spontaneously rose to its feet in stupendous admiration at the astounding fiddling of Alexis Chartrand during the Saturday night finale. He hadn’t finished his set, but the crowd was gob-smacked at what he was doing with his bow to make his music absolutely memorable.


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