Dispatches from Summerfolk, day three (Sunday) daytime
Sunday morning opened with a 90-minute gospel blues show on the main stage. The Lee Boys (from Miami) were in fine form, and according to Saturday night’s host, David Newland, promised redemption for those who showed up. We got there a little late and found the ampitheatre absolutely packed, because so many people had heeded that call.
What we saw of the show was awesome. What’s not to love about blues riffs that compel you to get up, move your body and dance?
First up on the Down By The Bay stage on Sunday afternoon was RedFox Band with Meteor Heist, who filled in for the absent band Shred Kelly. Their gig was called Jam Junction, with the deliberate intention of facilitating cross-pollination between the bands.
Meteor Heist, from Toronto, is one of Summerfolk’s youth discoveries of this year. The program is called Youth Discoveries: Road To Summerfolk 2023. Musicians applied to audition at an adjudicated concert. Of 11 finalists, five were chosen to play at Summerfolk, one of which was Meteor Heist.
At the start of the workshop there were plenty of spare chairs in the tent, but as the music grew and blossomed, the enticing soft rock and pop sounds spread, and the tent quickly filled.
Our fave moments of the set involved those jams. All the young musicians on the stage joined in on each other’s tunes. Often, all 10 were jamming, and that made for a magnificent, full sound.
Meteor Heist had been invited to play at the last minute, so had little time to bring new tunes for this gig. But they have a nice repertoire of songs, some originals, some covers, which serve well the aim of jamming with RedFox.
RedFox Band won the CFMA last year for New/Emerging Artist of the Year. Such great news for this young band. Their roots in bluegrass show every now and then when they pull out a Johnny Cash song and they tell the banjo player to let’er rip. Skills in jazz improvisation let the players from Meteor Heist go to town in the breaks too.
We were pleasantly surprised by the confluence of these two bands. There are superb musicians in both, and every one had a chance to really shine.
Second up on the Summerfolk Down By The Bay Sunday schedule was the Fiddle Nations workshop. On the bill were Jocelyn Pettit, Ellen Gira, Everest Witman, Joe Phillips, Jess Wedden, Jessica Pearson and Shane Cook.
We had three fiddles on the stage along with a double bass, a cello, and two guitars. There were seven musicians with the promise of lots of cross-pollination and jamming. The premise of the workshop was the idea that fiddle tunes come from everywhere. Historically, the fiddle, being small and very portable, travelled everywhere in the world.
Hosted by Shane Cook, the whole gang opened up with a set of fiddle tunes that spanned New Brunswick, Ireland and America. It included “Mouth of the Tobique” and “Whiskey Before Breakfast,” which made for a fun set.
Jess Wedden, (from Sharbot Lake, ON), with her guitarist, Jessica Pearson, was asked to fill in for absent Morgan Toney. Jess played an as-yet-unnamed original composition. It was amazing. She played with incredible skill for such a young person. Shane declared her tune sounded like something he would love to play. Jess is only 21 years old and was mentored as a fiddler and stepdancer by none other than trad champion Cindy Thompson.
Shane and Joe Phillips next decided to play “Llewellyn’s March” and “Pierre’s Right Arm,” both composed by the incredible Canadian composer Brian Pickell. The March started with some very muscular work by Joe on his double bass. Joe is one of the most accomplished bass players of his generation. Together with Shane, who has won virtually every fiddle contest in North America multiple times, they make a formidable team on these, some of Brian’s more complicated tunes.
Jocelyn Pettit (fiddle) and Ellen Gira (cello) were joined by Everest Witman on guitar. They joked that their band name should be BCDC – Jocelyn hails from British Columbia and Ellen from the District of Colombia. Jocelyn brought foot percussion into the mix on the Québec tune they opened with, and stepdanced on their second tune.
Jessica brought another brand new composition to the table based on the idea that you and your soulmate might have a red thread looped around your fingers like an old Japanese tradition.
Shane brought a new tune: “The Suitcase Surprise, ” a jig that was inspired by him finding a gift from a dog in his suitcase while staying in a hotel during songwriting sessions with Cape Breton musician Troy McGillivray. Shane had both Everest and Joe accompanying him. He followed that up with a series of lively reels, making tricky passages sound so incredibly easy to play.
Pretty soon, he switched to tunes that everyone knew, and they were back to jamming.
Ellen and Jocelyn next took us to the Appalachian tradition with the famous tune of Scottish origin, “Cumberland Gap.” Melodic and thoughtful, it was quite an audible change from Shane’s fast-paced jigs and reels.
Jess next sang a song of her own and accompanied herself on fiddle. Not a small accomplishment there. That’s a feat that few fiddlers can manage, especially since Jess confessed that the arrangement was only finished last night!
“Old Dangerfield” by Bill Monroe was Shane’s next choice, wanting to see a bit more bluegrass incorporated into Summerfolk 2023. What’s not to like about a tune that honours an old dog? Joe did a fantastic intro on the bass.
Jocelyn came back to play a set of Scottish tunes: “The Last Trip to Glasgow,” and then Jess came back to play a set that included a tune she wrote for her mom. This young gal is quite a composer! All of her tunes are fun to play, with complex themes and lots of ornamentation. She threw in some barefoot stepdancing during the break in the tune. We wished she’d had shoes we could hear!
The finale was a grand set of tunes. You always want to finish a workshop with what the east coasters call “a blast of tunes.” These guys made that happen to the great pleasure of the dancers up front on the lawn as well as those dancing in their seats.
Last up on the afternoon program on the Down By The Bay stage was a workshop titled A Joyful Noise.
We had Coco Love Alcorn substituting for Morgan Toney, who had to leave the festival to attend to a family emergency. Dave Gunning, J.P. Cormier and the duo The Small Glories made up the rest of the assembled company on the stage.
Small Glories led off with a cheerful song that incorporated harmonica on the breaks. Fun stuff.
J.P. and Dave followed with what they called their “hangin’ song.”
Coco came next with her fantastic voice and ukelele, irrepressibly cheerful, as always, and encouraging everyone else, on stage or off, to join in her blues number. Banjo, harmonica and two guitars all took solos during the breaks and then Coco practiced her scat singing.
Archie Fisher’s “Witch of the Westmoreland” made an appearance with Small Glories. “Buckle in,“ they said. “This song has 79 verses!” If you’re used to hearing Archie’s or Stan Rogers’ arrangements of this fabulous song, you’d wonder what a duo would do with it. The Small Glories did it impeccable justice. Two guitars and strong, powerful vocal harmonies made for a magnificent arrangement.
Next, Dave and J.P. sang a slower song about a tree destroying mill coming to a beautiful songbird valley. Nice, coming from the pen of Stompin‘ Tom Connors. We never knew he was an environmentalist.
Coco continued in her choral director vein, singing about water, healing and living in the moment. We think you get plenty of healing just hearing Coco’s incredible voice.
Sadly, the second half of the workshop was not for us. The evening main stage was about to begin with the Allison Lupton Band. Gotta go!