Flautist and singer Allison Lupton with her excellent band opened the evening on the main stage. It was a lovely sunny afternoon with beautiful views of the Georgian Bay water.
We are quite convinced that Allison knows how to design the perfect trad band, cause she has it: none other than Tony McManus on guitar, internationally renowned artist Shane Cook on fiddle, the equally renowned Joe Phillips on bass and the highly accomplished Andrew Collins on mandolin and fiddle.
Allison has a gorgeous voice on both her own pipes and her wooden flute. Whether she’s singing or playing, you hear crystal clarity. Put that together with Shane’s equally clear and fluent fiddle playing and you have a really winning sound.
We heard Brian Pickell’s “Burnt River Jig” played as the break in Allison’s song about the Home Children. She was inspired to write it after learning about the experience of her uncle, who was brought from an English orphanage to work on Canadian farms.
Tug-o-war was important in the rural Ontario community where Allison grew up. So she wrote a song “Over The Line” about girls seeing for the fist time the young men competing in tug-o-war at the Chicago fair.
Alison went on to sing “Rising Star,” a duet with Joe Phillips. The twin fiddles of Shane and Andrew filled the breaks as lyrics concerning constellations, a rotating earth and a returning lover filled the air. Lovely.
Lots more historical story-songs ensued. We heard about young female workers in the wool mills of Hespeler as well as the war brides who followed Canadian soldiers home from Europe.
The late afternoon crowds began to enter the ampitheatre as Allison’s set concluded. The sun was beginning to create longer shadows as the evening progressed.
Scott Cook (guitar) and Pamela May (double bass) were up next on the Sunday evening main stage. This duo, from Edmonton, is in the middle of a cross-Canada tour. They go to Michigan and Nova Scotia, among other places, before they can head home. Their first song was, therefore, a tribute to their camper van named Rosetta.
Scott followed that with a complicated story song about his journey to becoming a full-time singing, songwriting troubadour. It was many, many words, but a fantastic song.
“Leave a light on in your heart for me” was the refrain in the next song, a beautiful ballad. The song that followed it lamented the loss of fairness for ordinary people in the US.
“They don’t spend money, they just buy politicians,” he writes, making a list of what’s wrong on The Hill.
Audience participation was next in a sardonic song about “uppity women.” “Fellas get outta the way,” he sang, advocating for allowing women to run the world. Men have apparently not done such a great job!
Scott’s stuff is always pithy, on point, environmentally conscious, feminist, and possessed of a fantastic sense of social justice. He’s got books, CD’s and vinyl for sale hoping to appeal to “whatever age you live in.”
We have not yet created the world Scott writes about, the world we need. We are urged to take action when we leave this intentional caring community of Summerfolk.
Third on the Sunday evening program for the main stage was Julian Taylor. This is his first appearance in decades. He was last here in 1999 with his first band, Staggered Crossing.
Julian opened his set with “The Ridge,” a song evocative of his childhood summers spent at his grandparents farm in Maple Ridge, B.C.
Turned out that that was the song, and the album of the same name, that kickstarted his overnight success story 20 years in the making.
This year, Julian was nominated for the 2023 Juno Award for Contemporary Indigenous Artist of the Year. In 2021, he had also won the Canadian Folk Music Award for Solo Artist of the Year and was nominated for English Songwriter of the Year. There is a long list of other nominations including the Polaris Prize.
Tonight’s performance at Summerfolk sees him with a full band. Keys and synthesizer, electric guitar and bass, and percussion all give a solid backdrop to Julian’s vocals and his own guitar work.
His songs are beautiful. You can sit and let the music wash over you while you bathe in the setting sun and evening breezes from the Kelso Beach shore. Just lovely.
Summerfolk 2023 was nearly finished.
While there would be the official closing just prior to 9 p.m., the last performer was Matt Andersen.
Matt is from New Brunswick. He was supposed to play Summerfolk 2022, but events conspired against him. We are glad to see and hear him this year.
Matt, his voice, and his blues guitar were alone on stage tonight. They say that the last time he played Summerfolk, every last piece of his merch sold out. That gives you a clue not only about how popular he is, but about how darned good he is. The multiple nominations and awards listed on his Wikipedia page are not there for no reason.
Blues guitar players invariably write songs about girlfriends, love gone wrong and booze. Matt performed a song here about when a friend has a girlfriend that nobody likes.
“I’ll play the fool for you,” he sings, in between making his acoustic guitar sound almost like a resonator guitar.
We kinda think his primary relationship in life is with that guitar. He’s a wizard on it.
“You Are My Home” is his song that celebrates the fact that it doesn’t matter to Matt where he lives, as long as he lives with the lady he loves. “It’s one of the few times in my life that I said the right thing,” he said, describing the time they were discussing a household move.
Matt played a song for his mom. Her kitchen table is his therapy session, complete with brown bread and Cheez Whiz. The feeling of being safe there pervades the song.
“What would your momma say?” Asks the next song, talking about the prevalence of bad language among people today. And then, Matt sang a song about being pushed by the tide and then being pulled back in, feeling like you have no control over your life. His voice resonated powerfully through many important themes.
Matt invited Dave Gunning onto the stage near the end of his hour. Coal mining was the topic of this one. It’s the story of a mine disaster – all too common on the east coast.
Following that, Matt and Dave did “People Get Ready.”
“There’s a train coming, don’t need a ticket, just get on board” went the lyrics by Curtis Mayfield. And here was Matt with Dave, arranging the audience to sing it with them. The ampitheatre vibrated with a thousand voices while Matt and Dave kept the train rhythm guitar riffs going.
“All aboard, get on board,” we sang.
In honour of the passing of Robbie Robertson, Matt finished his set with Neil Young’s song “Helpless.”
It was the song The Band sang together at the end of their film.
Twilight had given way to the approaching darkness around the Summerfolk ampitheatre and hundreds of cell phones were glowing and swaying to the music.
One last encore from Matt was an upbeat song about a woman: “You Should Be the Devil’s Bride!”
The Summerfolk finale ended as it always does. We sang “Goodnight Irene” and then “The Mary Ellen Carter” in honour of Stan Rogers. The stage here bears his name. It is always fitting.
And so ended the last performance on the Summerfolk main stage for 2023.
The dancing continued with The Lee Boys until the wee hours at the Down By The Bay stage, under the big tent, where beverages of a sociable nature would continue to be served until closing time.
Until next year, Summerfolk!