Dispatches from Summerfolk day one (Friday)
The Friday night audience at Summerfolk was captivated and entranced by singer-songwriter Mimi O’Bonsawin’s performance. Her voice is glorious. She sings of powerful women, the land, farming, water, and dreams. Everything she does is infused with a singular spirituality.
Hailing from northern Ontario (born in Sudbury), Mimi’s roots are firmly in the Abenaki and Franco-Ontarian cultures in which she grew up, and this is reflected in the languages in which she sings as well as the driving rhythms in her music.
Mimi travels with garlic she and her husband grow on their farm. Music lovers are encouraged to take home flavour along with their tunes!
Mimi is currently touring her brand new CD, Willow. We can’t wait to listen to it.
Summerfolk Youth Contest winner, Magenta was the “tweener” after Mimi O’Bonsawin.
Let the dancing begin!
Le Winston Band has brought their lively music to the Summerfolk scene from their home in Montréal, QC. They blend their Québecois traditions with Cajun and Zydeco music from Louisiana. It’s fantastic music with accordion, bass, guitar and two percussionists. The iron triangle, called the “ti-fer,” features strongly in the rhythms as does the vest frottoir, a wearable metal washboard played on the body with spoons.
The dancers to the left of the stage were having a blast, and many of them will surely show up to the midnight-to-the-wee-hours Le Winston Band Cajun dance party that’s scheduled for later Friday night.
East Coast songsmiths Dave Gunning and J.P. Cormier were up next on the main stage.
If you’ve loved these guys as solo performers, you’ll love them even more when you hear them perform like this, as a duo, trading lines and singing harmonies with twin guitars.
Dave and J.P. have released a CD, their first together, called Two. “Having come up with that title,” says Dave, “I figured we had to write a song.” And a beautiful one it is, too:
Golden mornings, wide open fields, hearts open, leather and dust. Summer fields, calloused hands, old wheels and rust. “We’ll stick it out forever, cause we must.”
These are songs of heart, love and nostalgia. You might call this country music, but these are not your usual hurtin’ songs. JP’s finger style guitar picking and the guys’ Maritime musical sensibility takes them to another level altogether. They lament the olden days in a beautiful song “There Was A Time” by an almost forgotten artist named Tom Pacheco.
We even had a set of Scottish fiddle tunes played together on the two guitars. Move over fiddlers! You’ve not heard reels played like this before! Amazing!
The guys next came up with a song inspired by the Pete Seeger documentary. “What shall I do with these hands of mine?” the song says, asking how each of us can contribute to make the world better.
That one was followed by “a hangin’ song, introduced by Dave with his gallows humour in full bloom.
Finishing their set with a beautiful love song, Dave and J.P. evoked the hills of Scotland, and especially so when they added bits of another fiddle tune at the end of the song. It was a lovely way to end this segment of Friday’s main stage in the ampitheatre.
The final performance on Friday night’s main stage was Loreena McKennitt.
As we waited for the set to begin, the audience spontaneously sang Stan Rogers‘ Northwest Passage, which was playing on the house speakers. Quite apropos since this is the Stan Rogers Stage.
It’s been a long time since we’ve seen Loreena on a folk festival stage. Here, she was backed by a six-piece band whose members played a mellifluous cello, harp, fiddle, piano, guitar, accordion, banjo, mandolin, bass and whistles among other things.
Loreena is doing a small series of intimate performances at festivals this month and is having them recorded for a live album to be released next spring.
“An act of musical travel writing” is how Loreena describes her pursuit of the music of the Celts in places where they themselves travelled. This is music of a long-past age, stories out of time, all informed by Loreena’s early life, becoming inspired by the Winnipeg music scene. She references the work begun by Mitch Podolak, founder of the Winnipeg Folk Festival, among many great initiatives of the Manitoba scene, all of which inspired her to begin her own musical journey through Celtic lands.
And it’s a driving, tight band that’s behind Loreena in this performance, with a terrific British cello player who can make her instrument go from soulful melodies to rockin’ reels. I hesitate to use the phrase ‘heavy metal cello,’ but this might come close at times.
There were some new tunes but also some newly arranged songs from some of Loreena’s earlier recordings. Nice to hear these classics revisited and made new.
It was a fun show, but also a bit wistfully nostalgic. There was a simply beautiful rendition of “The Lady of Shallot,” and then the performance ended with a multi-layered arrangement of a set of Celtic fiddle tunes.
An encore ensued – a medley, including “Wild Mountain Thyme” with James Keelaghan as the invited soloist. The audience loved it and sang along with great pleasure.
What a great ending to a night of really exceptional music at Summerfolk.