Home Feature Anthony Stonechild gets a history lesson about the Vancouver Folk Music Festival

Anthony Stonechild gets a history lesson about the Vancouver Folk Music Festival

It is not a VFMF without the stilt walkers.

Back in the day I used to do an arts report for the local college radio station. It was frankly more of an excuse to squire my elderly aunt about town, taking in what Vancouver had to offer artistically. Her taste tended to be somewhat twee, leaning toward operas, ballets, large musicals and major plays. You know, “something with a program” – and more importantly assigned seating. So I have to admit that I’m a bit of a newbie to the folk music festival circuit. With that thought in mind, I decided to call up an old friend of mine who used to be a publicist for the Vancouver Folk Music Festival, among other festivals about town.

“The person you really need to talk to is Lorenz von Fersen. He’s still about, and he’s been here since the beginning.” Even in retirement, Kevin Dale McKeown is ever the the publicist: referring me on to someone else.

Lorenz now runs the information booth at the festival, a volunteer position he has taken on to keep involved with the action every year. He was, however, among the founding staff, back in 1977, a site manager working with visionaries like Mitch Podolak.

Now Mitch at the time was the artistic director of the already established Winnipeg Folk Music Festival. Turning his gaze westward, he decided that Vancouver would be a fine place to put a second stamp upon the landscape.

To that end Mitch recruited Chris Wooten, who was helping to manage a multi-arts festival with the Vancouver East Cultural Centre. Chris managed to hook him up with Ernie Fladell, who became the Vancouver Folk Fest’s first producer.

When I called him up, Lorenz greeted me with a cheery “Happy Folk Music Festival “ and proceeded to take me down a winding trip through memory lane. And I learned a few things I didn’t know.

The first folk fest in Vancouver was actually 1978 at Stanley Park’s Brockton Oval: the “front porch” of Vancouver at the time. Traffic was a logistical nightmare though, so next year, they cast about for a new location. They settled on Jericho Beach in Point Grey, just past Kitsilano.

It’s a beautiful location, but securing it every year has not been easy. There were, of course, environmental concerns, which they partnered with the Naturalist Society to address. And of course there were the neighbours, whose peaceful lifestyle had to be respected. To that end, the whole show stops every night at 11 p.m. sharp.

Even with these concerns addressed, getting Vancouver’s notoriously prickly city council on board was not an easy feat, nor a given in subsequent years. Lorenz remembers that the vote for approval went “four ayes to three nays” for years. Eventually it seems to have settled into a celebration Vancouverites could rely upon, so the cancellation due to COVID hit everybody hard.

Restarting was a logistical nightmare, as many of the vendors were reluctant to sign on again without some guarantees, but let’s face it: the artists are always the first to be paid, so if you are supplying the toilets, you’re a little far down the list.

But the miracle has happened: the phoenix has risen, and the 2023 Vancouver Folk Music Festival opens it gates again this year on Friday.

“And what can we expect? “ I asked.

“Well, we have food, and we have beer…”

Thank you Lorenz. Sounds like it’s going to be a fun weekend. Now to pull up my schedule and decide which acts I want most to see. So many to choose from…


Sent from my iPhone


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