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Winterfolk is happening virtually this year … and it’s free!

Now into its 19th year, the Winterfolk Blues and Roots Festival is side-stepping the COVID-19 pandemic and presenting a virtual edition for 2021.

The two-night festival, on Feb. 19 and 20, features  some of the best performers who have appeared on Winterfolk stages. Half-hour videos of the artists produced for Winterfolk are being streamed both nights.

Virtual Winterfolk features blues, jazz, folk, roots, soul and rock, performed by a lineup of sensational artists: Ariana Gillis; Chris Whiteley & Diana Braithwaite; Donné Roberts; Jack de Keyzer; Ken Whiteley; Laura Fernandez; Mandy Goodhandy; Melanie Peterson; Q&A; Sue and Dwight; Suzie Vinnick and Julian Taylor.

Julian was introduced to Winterfolk while he was working as a bartender at the Dora Keogh pub, a Winterfolk venue, during the years the festival was on Toronto’s Danforth Avenue.

“I remember being so envious of people performing there. I really wanted to be onstage and part of the celebration, all the camaraderie and community,” he said.

Julian Taylor headlines the festival he once dreamed of playing

“It goes back to the whole ideology of what you think about. Your thoughts matter and they become real. Those hopes and dreams, if you can just keep holding on and thinking about them and lifting them up in your own spirit. It’s funny how yesterday doesn’t seem so long ago.”

At Winterfolk XIX, for his fourth festival appearance since 2015, Julian is performing songs from his latest roots album, The Ridge, along with some soul, blues and rock.

He’s been nominated for two 2021 Canadian Folk Music Awards for the biographical record, a followup to his 2019 biographical R&B-oriented album, Avalanche, with the Julian Taylor Band

Julian wrote the title track of his new album after he lost his grandmother. “The Ridge” has a shuffling rhythm with some lovely fiddling by Miranda Mulholland. In it, sadness can be heard in Julian’s gentle voice as he looks back at the times he spent on his grandparents’ farm in Maple Ridge, B.C.

“They didn’t grow crops, but they had a dog, horses and a stable and a chicken coop. I just remember the smell of that place, the nature, the surroundings,” he said.

Recalling childhood at his grandparents’ home

He reflects on his memories – his grandmother singing lullabies to him, catching frogs with his sister and preparing feed for the horses. He paints an idyllic picture of his young life, but the song’s refrain hints at an ominous wind blowing through the ridge, and we are aware the house has been sold.

“That particular song brought me back to memories that I often think about. I wanted to dive into that and at the same time show in the song that innocence goes away,” Julian said.

The Ridge is Julian’s 10th album. His previous recordings are diverse, including roots music, soul, blues and rock. A musical chameleon, he fronted the rock band Staggered Crossing in the early 2000s.

“Most of the stuff I’ve performed and sung over the last 20 years really is acoustic based in the skeleton form of it,” he said. “It doesn’t really matter whether I go back and perform things from Staggered Crossing or in the Julian Taylor Band. It’s all in the same vein when I began writing it, usually on an acoustic guitar or piano, so it has that acoustic feeling in it.”

One reviewer compared Julian’s vocals on The Ridge to Gordon Lightfoot and James Taylor’s. Yet on his R&B-oriented recording, his vocals are reminiscent of some of the classic soul singers of the 1960s. Julian doesn’t see that there’s such a big gulf between the two vocal styles.

Suzie Vinnick didn’t envision herself as a professional musician

“I enjoy James Taylor as a soul singer. When I feel somebody’s empathy and personality within a vocal take, I’m inclined to think they’re a soul singer,” he said.

Growing up, Julian remembers the pleasure he got from singing, even as a four-year-old. His dad was a pastor, and, like many outstanding singers, Julian developed as a vocalist singing in his church choir.

“I was always singing and making things up. People playing hockey with me – that’s what I did as a youngster – I would still be singing on the ice,” he recalled. “It would just confuse people all the time. They would go into the corners with me and I would be humming and singing away.”

Saskatoon native Suzie Vinnick also started out early on the road to becoming an award-winning guitarist, bassist, singer and songwriter.

“I always gravitated towards music when I was a kid,” she said. “I loved singing and music, but I didn’t feel, ‘I’m really good. I’m going to be a musician when I grow up.’”

She discovered the power of her voice at an open stage when she was 15.

“I sang one song and people freaked out. It was kind of neat. And I said to myself, ‘Maybe I’ve got something going on here,’” she recalled.

Since then, Suzie has developed a vocal style that’s robust enough to belt out the blues and sweet enough to mesmerize audiences with tender ballads. She’s a two-time winner in the blues category of the International Songwriting Competition. She won the 2011 Canadian Folk Music Award for Contemporary Vocalist of the Year and the 2012 Sirius XM Canada Blues Artist of the Year award.

Suzie’s first instrument is guitar – she started playing when she was nine years old – and in high school,  at 13, she picked up the electric bass.

Streaming weekly

“I joined the stage band (jazz band), and there was no bass player, but there was myself and another guitar player, and he knew more of the jazz chords, and I knew the folkier chords, and part of me said, you need to learn another instrument, and there was an electric bass just kickin’ around,” she said.

Suzie made her Toronto debut with the Women’s Blues Revue Band. Almost annually since the mid-90s, she’s displayed her amazing bass and guitar chops and revealed her vocal gifts to thousands of people at the Toronto Blues Society’s popular Women’s Blues Revue.

“A big audience and regular exposure over a long period of time definitely can’t hurt,” Suzie said. “It was definitely one big piece of my musical performance pie in Toronto.”

She became part of the Toronto music scene, performing with several groups, including Quartet and Betty and the Bobs.

With the onset of the pandemic, Suzie has been streaming a weekly show from the website streetjelly.com.

“It’s been really nice as far as developing and building community. I get email from folks that are there every week, saying thank you so much for doing this. It’s nice to have a vehicle and a place to go to connect with people even though I don’t see them, and also just getting the opportunity to sing and play,” she said.

Coming together during the pandemic

Suzie’s Winterfolk video promises to be atmospheric, as she recorded it in the former United Church building in Wainfleet, Ont., that she calls home. She’s performing covers and original songs from her latest album, Shake The Love Around, and her five previous releases.

Suzie said she’s excited to be part of Winterfolk this year.

“I participated in the festival when it was on the Danforth. It was always kind of cool, getting to bop around to the different venues and getting to perform there,” she related. “It’s nice to be part of the online festival.”

Winterfolk festival director Brian Gladstone said the challenges the past year has presented are all the more reason to celebrate the festival’s 19th birthday.

“For the first time, Winterfolk will not be live in-person. This year’s virtual celebration is affirming what we in Toronto have long recognized: this city has an unwavering commitment to musical excellence, and especially in times like these, an equally great commitment to our communities,” he said. “There is nothing stronger than the power of music, not even a pandemic.”

Winterfolk XIX Schedule:

Feb. 19 – 7 to 10 p.m. EST

  • Donnie Roberts
  • Mandy Goodhandy
  • Ken Whiteley
  • Q&A — Tony Quarrington & Zoey Adams
  • Suzie Vinnick
  • Julian Taylor

Feb. 20 – 7 to 10 p.m. EST

  • Melanie Peterson
  • Sue and Dwight
  • Laura Fernandez
  • Jack de Keyzer
  • Diana Braithwaite & Chris Whiteley
  • Ariana Gillis

Winterfolk acknowledges the generous support of the Department of Canadian Heritage.

Winterfolk registration is free, with the option of making a donation to Toronto’s Daily Bread Food Bank, at: https://www.winterfolk.com/registration-is-free/.

 

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