Dispatches from the Mariposa Folk Festival nightime stages day three (Sunday)
Despite the weather app’s prediction of cloudy skies, I woke up to a beautiful day in Orillia – most welcome after last night’s rain – and headed to the Mariposa festival site for Day Three.
First up was the “Phone, Keys, Wallet, Glasses” workshop at the Pub Stage. With old Mariposa favourites Steve Poltz and Danny Michel, and first-timers Carsie Blanton and KT Tunstall – who’d made great impressions in their Saturday appearances. The venue was so crushingly crowded you could barely find an inch, anywhere, to stand, sit, or crouch. KT, originally from Scotland, began with a song, “The Other Side of the World,” inspired by falling in love with a guy from Vermont “who crushed my heart,” and by the story of a couple who actually broke up while they were visiting her at home. Carsie, her voice sounding a little bit like that of Dolly Parton, sang “God Help the American Kid.” Steve told a long, very funny story about going to rehab at Radical Honesty in Virginia. The friend who drove him there, Lou, was present in the audience and stood up at Steve’s request to be acknowledged. Steve also mentioned that the rehab was run by Brad Blanton, whose young daughter, Carsie was, in fact, the same woman standing onstage with him right now. That led into the beautiful song by his friend and fellow singer-songwriter Jewel, “You Were Meant for Me,” after which he purchased $20 of Mariposa lottery tickets, then asked the salesperson to hand them out to random festival-goers. Danny and Steve sang a sweet duet, eventually joined by all the voices onstage, of Tom Waits’ “Time.” Ultimately, the workshop on aging ended up landing on its final result: death. KT talked about the inability of Western culture to accept death, then introduced her song “Crows” by explaining a Tibetan Death Sky ritual, in which the family of the deceased gather, the body of the deceased is dismembered, and the mourners wait until vultures come down, grab the body parts, and fly off into the sky. Carsie sang a song she wrote about John Prine the morning after his death from COVID-19 in 2020, quoting lines of his songs, and sporting her own line, “All those angels lined up in a queue / Just to go fishin’ with you.” Steve and Danny did a song they wrote together, “Devices,” that urges listeners to “get off your devices” – but ironically, Danny had to look at Steve’s cellphone to recall the lyrics. Then Danny did “Who’s Gonna Miss You When You’re Gone,” there was another quick round of songs, and it ended with an all-hands-on-deck, rockin’ version of David Bowie’s “Ziggy Stardust” that brought everyone to their feet.
Next on the Pub Stage was “Shelter From The Storm,” which ended up as an incendiary jam session between the three acts, with all the musicians playing on all of each other’s songs – in the tradition and spirit of a true workshop performance. The Doghouse Orchestra led them in sometimes hot and funky brass band directions, sometimes down Eastern European klezmer paths; OKAN steered the ship in the direction of Afro-Cuban music, still with an incredibly funky base; and the family trio The McDades, who describe themselves as “an Americana, Celtic, folk, jam, traditional, World group from Edmonton,” lived up to the billing, and singer Jeremiah McDade showed off some wicked throat-singing skills. Suffice to say, every one of these players is super-skilled at their instrument.
After a late-afternoon break, I was back at the Main Stage for Jeremy Dutcher’s set. “I’m from Wolastoqiyik, far out East,” he said, introducing himself, “and I’m here to sing River songs with voices from 110 years ago.” As on his 2018 Polaris Prize-winning debut album, he joined those voices of his ancestors through the magic of playing back some very early recordings. Whether loud or soft, slow or fast, Jeremy plays with passionate intensity and great sensitivity. And he’s all about teaching his audience, and sharing his culture with them, in as loving a way as possible. Among his lessons: “We’re living in a new time, with no domination”; “We’re all caretakers of the land, you don’t have to be Indigenous [to do that]; and calling the almost all-white audience “my unmelanated brothers and sisters.” He played an Iris Dement song, “When My Morning Comes Around,” and allowed that “For me to sing in English, it’s like ripping off a band-aid.” He told the story of his elder, Maggie Paul, singing a song to him in English, and telling him he had to sing it to the people; but it was only one verse, so his friend Basia Bulat helped him to complete it. The result is the slow, mournful, and gorgeous “Take My Hand and Walk With Me.” His trumpet player was superb, ranging from powerful and anthemic, to sounding like a flock of birds.
Morgan Toney followed, with a short pop-up set that combined his Mi’kmaq heritage with Celtic music, playing lively, uptempo guitar-and-fiddle tunes, sung in his own native tongue. At one point, he was joined by a dancer in a shiny, sequined gold dress.
The big revelation of the night was Judy Collins, who at 84 years young, armed only with a 12-string guitar, a piano played by her musical director Russell Waldon, and her voice, could still hit all the high notes, tell very engaging stories, and wrap a crowd around her finger – and she recently released an album, Spellbound, of songs written entirely by herself (which she’s never done before… and the songs are great). A star of the ‘60s, Judy started the set as expected, with classics of the era, like The Beatles’ “Norwegian Wood” (which she dedicated to “King Charles and his girlfriend”), and Joni Mitchell’s “Both Sides Now,” which she covered way back before anybody even knew who Joni was. Then she told the fabulous tale of first meeting Leonard Cohen: her friend Mary Martin had told her that “he’ll never go anywhere, because his songs are too obscure,” but Judy still agreed to meet him, and when the young, handsome poet showed up at her door, she took one look at him and said, “I don’t care if he can’t write songs, we’ll think of something to do.” In the end, he inspired her (a great interpreter) to write songs, and she inspired him (a great songwriter) to play his own songs onstage. While she did play a stellar version of “Suzanne” later in the set, she preluded that with some excellent new ones of her own, like “Spellbound,” “Hell on Wheels,” and “When I Was a Girl in Colorado.” Like many performers in this first year of Mariposa without Gordon Lightfoot on hand, she paid tribute to him – covering “Early Morning Rain” so tenderly that it made some grown men in the audience weep. All in all, an astonishing performance.
That was the perfect segue into The Gordon Lightfoot Band and Friends. After Tom Wilson read a touching poem about Lightfoot, The Weather Station (aka Tamara Lindeman) sang a sweet version of “If You Could Read my Mind.” Tom Wilson and his son, the bassist Thompson Wilson, sang the lesser-known but equally brilliant Gord classic “Cold on the Shoulder.” Lightfoot’s daughter, Meredith Moon, played her banjo and sang his song “Pony Man,” with a lovely whistle part to close it. The finale of the tribute found the Wilsons, Colin and John-Angus Macdonald of the Trews, Steve Poltz, and David Francey all singing “Sundown” together. Mariposa’s Pam Carter then welcomed the entire crowd to The Lightfoot Stage – the official new name for the former Mariposa Main Stage.
Steve Poltz, who seems ever-present, everywhere, at every Mariposa, was called on to do a short pop-up set. So he played “Four Strong Winds” and told a hysterical story about the lengths he went to in order to prolong his first meeting with John Prine, when he was only supposed to drive him across the street. He then regaled the crowd with Prine’s “Spanish Pipedream” and told another funny story about touring with Rufus Wainwright (due to follow him on the stage) in the ‘90s, when they both opened for Lisa Loeb. He closed with his own loving wish of a song, “I Want All My Friends to Be Happy.”
Rufus Wainwright just walked right onto the Main Stage without an intro, and introduced himself. “I grew up in this folk environment, so it’s so nice to come back to it,” he said. “When I lived in Toronto, I used to go to Mariposa on the Toronto Islands.” Me, too. As on his new album, Folkocracy (also the name of his new band), and his only-available-at-live-shows Road Trip Elegies, Rufus takes all that he’s learned making sophisticated, highly melodic pop music, and writing two operas, and applies it to classic, traditional folk songs. Whether he’s leading his entire band in a choir-with-piano version of the ancient folk song “Wild Mountain Thyme”; singing that beautiful ballad of the South, “Shenandoah”; or adapting Nina Simone’s gospel-ish version of “Cotton Eyed Joe” while trading vocals with his half-sister, Lucy Wainwright Roche, the results are dramatic, and often quite breathtaking. And Rufus knows how to create excitement, calling up Feist (due later on the Main Stage) to duet on the murder ballad “Down in the Willow Garden” (also known as “Rose Connelly”) and Judy Collins to join in on “Wild Mountain Thyme.” He also has a strong sense of style, sporting a huge white beard (makes sense for a folk phase), and dressing himself and the entire band in matching, hooded black tunics with sparkles on the front, and blue scarves. He joked that we had to buy his merchandise, because the band needs new outfits. He then amplified the fun by saying that the tunics were pajamas. He added that, ”It’s an old McGarrigle [his late mom Kate’s folksinging family] trick – ‘Just go on in your pajamas.’” He closed by introducing his final song as “an old sea shanty discovered in, like, 1978, or ’80, ’81,” then had a playful romp through “Islands in the Stream” – written by the Bee Gees and made into a hit by Dolly Parton and Kenny Rogers. He looked like he was having a lot of fun.
A couple more pop-up sets happened before the closing act. California-based duo Lisa Sanders & Brown Sugar played a sweet cover of “Wonderful World,” then a fine original, “Tell Me Daddy.” Newfoundland folk duo Quote The Raven played a short but strong set of originals, with terrific close-harmony singing, and a perfect blend of voices. And they may be the first act to ever find a solution to the Mariposa Main Stage night-time bug swarm: netting helmets – the kind worn by beekeepers, to cover their faces! Future Main Stage performers, take note.
Feist closed the festival – the second night in a row it had a female headliner (after Tegan and Sara Saturday). Go, Mariposa! She took the stage with confidence and style, opening with a strapping version of “My Moon My Man” that ended with her proving that she can deploy a looper as effectively as she strums her guitar. She was warm and engaging as well, suggesting that we take a look at the cool shadows she happened to be casting on the trees because of the stage lights, and commenting that “the folk festival is a truly Canadian experience,” that it’s just not the same anywhere else. “How Come You Never Go There” was another highlight of the set. After she joked that, “We should all go hang out on that yacht over there after the show,” she fittingly played “Any Party,” the chorus of which is “I’d leave any party for you.” Feist closed the song with a multitude of improvised bits against that line, ultimately saying that a party of two, with a soulmate, or potential soulmate, is the only one you really want to be at. So, because my husband Howard Druckman was exhausted, and nudging me to go, that final chorus line was my cue to leave. And that’s a wrap on another great Mariposa weekend.