The first workshop stage of Saturday morning was titled The Voice – Owen Sound.
Windborne from Massachusetts, doing their Summerfolk debut, led off with a gorgeous four-piece harmony a cappella piece, a very old protest song.
Next was Cara Luft’s duo, Small Glories. Orlando the Banjo was the centrepiece, accompanied by harmonica on their song, an American old time lovers’ lament.
Up next: The Pairs, a trio of three young women, with their song “Wrong Side of Life.” It reminds us to find those who are hurting and to bring them in, help them to find healing or at least, to take them away from their pain for a while. The song’s arrangement was magical, with a lone guitar accompanying three voices in perfect harmony.
This workshop perfectly described diversity in voice. Here we had a quartet, a trio and a duo.
Windborne continued with a song by Ewan McColl. They sing in the best English traditional a cappella harmony style, with powerful stirring voices.
Small Glories went on to sing “Second Hand,” a song they wrote with James Keelaghan. All the voices on the stage joined in the great choruses of the song. What a powerful moment.
The Pairs’ next song talked about learning how to be a witness to pain. “Really Good Bad Day” is the title. Hearts break. If you’re lucky, you’ll get older. It’s okay to cry. Those are some of the heartfelt themes explored in the song.
Windborne went on to sing a Corsican song, in which “the song of the dove and the partridge held us dear.” All four singers stood close around one microphone and created something of a tone poem. It was a gorgeous exploration of harmonies, rhythms and ornamentation.
“Oh My Love” was the next piece by The Small Glories. They were aiming for a sing-along jam with everyone on stage and in the audience. They say be careful what you wish for. This audience loved the nine person power!
Getting other people’s energy to rub off on you was the subject of “Poison Water,” The Pairs next piece. So groovy, both adults and kids got up to dance.
Windborne finished the workshop with “Which Side Are You On,” a classic labour song from the struggle of workers to unionize. What a blast! Voices in counterpoint, like a round, and a finale of nine voices singing in harmony.
Celebrating Gordon Lightfoot was our second choice for Saturday. David Newland, one of RMC’s founders, hosted.
The idea was to have a charcuterie session, snippets of Gordon’s songs, by a variety of performers, keeping the songs alive even though Gordon is gone.
Scott Cook with Pamela May sang about a young man making bad choices: “the big steel rail gonna carry me home to the one I love.”
Mia Kelly with Shane Pendergast were up next: “find your way back home before you die.”
Shane, who is from PEI, did a song solo that captured Gordon’s lovely way of fingerpicking. “Go Go Round” is a story of a girl sad and lonely in the big city, a girl in love with someone who didn’t care.
The Pairs were back on stage doing their harmony arrangement of “If You Could Read My Mind.” We like to think Gord would have loved this way of covering his classic song.
David Newland remarked on how you always wish Gordon’s songs would go on forever.
He sang “Did She Mention My Name.”
Mimi O’Bonsawin dressed in her flowery aura and playing ukulele, covered “Old Dan’s Records,” bringing a bit of her garden to the songs. Her guitar player added cool layers behind Mimi’s cool voicing.
Gord spent time during his life mentoring young musicians. He’d be proud to see all these young artists covering his music. Julian Taylor is one. Here, he sang “Carefree Highway.”
Small Glories, from Winnipeg, did a winter song from Gord to celebrate their city. “Song for a Winter’s Night” sounded great with banjo, guitar and harmony voices.
Dave Gunning has written some of the best songs of our time, said David Newland. Here, Dave paid tribute to Gord’s legacy with “Go My Way.” It was amazing how he channeled Gord’s phrasing, voice and fingerpicking.
J.P. Cormier, who once did a whole album of Lightfoot songs, did “The Canadian Railroad Trilogy.” Yet again, it was a song you wished went on forever.
The finale of this workshop saw 16 performers on stage, lead by James Keelaghan. “Sundown” verses were traded among the voices. Several guitarists wailed with harmonica on the breaks and the audience massively joined with the choruses. Great fun was had by all.
Windborne did an early afternoon unplugged set at the Sharing Circle stage and attracted lots of lawn-sitting harmony lovers.
We were really captivated by Windborne’s cover of Joe Jencks’ song “Lady of the Harbour” about the politics of immigration. There were other stirring and inspirational songs of social justice and conscience too.
The group sang a carol in the Occitan language from the south of France that described dilemmas of Satan. There were complex rhythms created by hands and feet that made this piece fascinating listening.
The sheer virtuosity of this a cappella foursome is remarkable. Their harmonies are so tight, and the band is so in tune with each other, you just know they have spent hundreds and hundreds of hours together refining their craft.
We look forward to their main stage performance tonight.
The Down By the River stage was completely rocking by mid-afternoon with Digging Roots, Morgan Toney and a whole bunch of invited guests including Trevor Mills and David Newland. What we got was just plain and simple, great music with elements of jazz and funk. You couldn’t help but shake your booty. Can you dig it?
The Wine Bar stage mid-afternoon had Coco Love Alcorn singing solo, with the help of the audience.
“Sing if you feel like it, she said.”
Coco recently moved to Owen Sound. She said she was inspired to relocate because of her Summerfolk experiences.
Coco’s shining soprano led us phrase by phrase through beautiful songs while she accompanied herself on ukelele.
The songs in the performance were Coco originals except for “This Little Light Of Mine.”
She had a sequencer recording of a group of pretty groovy campers to accompany the singing of the audience.
Next, Coco brought up to the stage the principal of the local French school to help write a song in French. Coco speaks little of the language, so Mme. Cherie used all of her bilingual capabilities to help make it happen. Such hilarity!
Coco’s skills as choir director were very much in evidence. She was as animated as she is talented.
Late afternoon at the Sharing Circle, we had Dave Gunning and Cara Luft in a workshop called Stories from the Road.
“Celebrate The Crop” was sung by Dave Gunning just after he told a hilarious story about a dope-sniffing dog informally continuing his work after being thrown out of work by legalization.
Cara told a tale of an almost broken ankle, sharing a room with a guy who didn’t love her back, and having an allergic reaction to a new dress. She set up a tent to avoid the room sharer, and her friends came to console her, sat on the cot, and broke it. After that tale of multiple woes, she sang a song inspired by two Catholic folkie nuns who had been posted to a hockey-mad small town. They gave her a gift: glow-in-the-dark rosary beads…
Cara and Dave finished by jamming John Prine’s “Fish and Whistle” on guitar and banjo. A very fun toe-tapping song about forgiveness.
Last on the Down by The Bay stage in the afternoon was the Angelique Francis band from Ottawa with The Lee Boys from Miami sharing the stage. Dancing happened. We couldn’t help it. This was really excellent blues, funk and soul.
We had eight musicians on stage. Double bass, saxophones, trombone, guitars, electric bass, drums and pedal steel were all hopping.
“We gonna have a good time” sang the Lee Boys, and they made sure we did.
Angelique Francis headlines her band. She plays stand-up double bass and cuts a striking figure in black and white polka dots with striking gold accessories. Her all-female brass section repeated the black and white polka dot theme and coordinated their dancing while they played the backing music. Quite the choreography.
“So much to live for,” sang The Lee Boys, all seemingly overdressed for this warm summer day in bright red band-logo hoodies. What did we expect from a Miami-based band coming to Canada? The band’s simple, but meaningful themes were lit up by a terrific driving beat.
On many stages at festivals, bands sharing the stage each do their own thing. Here, everyone joined and jammed the other band’s songs. Double the fun. “Every song is absolute fire,” said Angelique. Isn’t that the truth.