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8 reasons why Mariposa 2024 will be a feast for my hungry ears

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EFFLO 2022

The Mariposa Folk Festival unfolds this weekend in Orillia, and as always, it’s a veritable smorgasbord of talent. After a long winter of watching music indoors, it’s time to kick off the season of enjoying it out in nature, and this year’s line-up is a feast for my hungry ears. Here are eight reasons why.

1. Amanda Rheaume

Métis singer-songwriter Amanda Rhéaume, also a proud member of the 2SLGBTQIA+ community, is expanding the boundaries of heartland rock to make space for Indigenous perspectives on resistance and resilience – ones that do indeed come from the heart and the land. For example, her anthemic song “100 Years” is a driving journey through a willfully, harmfully misrepresented chapter in a violent colonial timeline, which makes a powerful statement about history and identity. Similarly, “Do About Her” offers a frank look at living as a bi-cultural person, in between the double heritage of her Indigenous and white communities, facing either “a bullet or a blanket.” Her latest single, the painful post-breakup ballad “Intruder,” moves into a more heavily produced, orchestral direction, so it’ll be interesting to see how that translates in a live acoustic setting.

2. Crystal Shawanda

Born in Wiikwemkoong First Nation on Manitoulin Island, Crystal Shawanda might be the only woman to have won Juno Awards for both Aboriginal Album of the Year (in 2013, for Just Like You) and Blues Album of the Year (in 2021, for Church House Blues). Her latest, Midnight Blues, is her eighth studio album and fifth since switching from a chart-topping career as a country artist to singing the blues. As befits someone with such eclectic tastes and wide-ranging skills, Crystal can apply her full-throttle, raspy voice to a glorious soul ballad like “Why Do I Love You,” a rockin’ shuffle like “What Kind of Man is This,” and a lowdown blues like “Rumpshaker” and make them all sound fantastic. Should be a great live performance.

3. Shawnee Kish

Mohawk and 2SLGBTQIA+ singer-songwriter Shawnee Kish is like an Indigenous version of Adele, deploying her big, soulful voice on beat-heavy anthems of self-reliance (like “No Evil” and “Stella”) and big-production pop ballads (like “Dear Dad”). With only two EPs to her credit so far, the young artist has already enjoyed songwriting and production collaborations with Arkells frontperson Max Kerman, Serena Ryder, Sara Quin of Tegan & Sara, and Dan Wilson (who’s co-written with the aforementioned Adele and Taylor Swift). Her powerhouse vocals and introspective songwriting have landed her on Billboard’s 2019 list of Musicians You Need to Know, and she was the first Indigenous winner of CBC Music’s Searchlight competition in 2020. A voice of determined passion, Shawnee is all about the strength, survival, and inspiration she experienced during her struggle to come out as Two Spirit and during her struggle with depression. She’s driven by empowering youth around her to use music as she does. “Whenever I’m faced with a struggle, I go right back to music,” she has told SOCAN’s Words & Music online magazine. “I don’t think I’d be here today without music.”

4. William Prince

I saw William Prince several years ago at another folk festival, and he’s so humble and quietly potent that when his guitar sound kept feeding back repeatedly, he simply turned it down, walked to the edge of the stage, and kept playing and singing without amplification. The sound crew quickly fixed the situation, but his calm determination spoke volumes. I’ve seen this gentle giant perform several times, and he never disappoints. In that deep authoritative voice, armed only with his acoustic guitar, he captures the eternal truths of the human condition with an enthralling sense of kindness and wonder. I can’t wait to see him play the newer songs from his latest album, Stand in the Joy.

5. Maestro Fresh Wes

Following his induction into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame at the 2024 Juno Awards, Maestro Fresh Wes continues to live up to his dictum, “Don’t make records, make history.” No doubt he’ll slay it onstage (as he did on the Juno Awards televised gala) with the all-time rap classics that started it for him back in the day: “Let Your Backbone Slide,” “Drop the Needle,” and “Conductin’ Thangs.” But I’m also looking forward to seeing Wes perform the equally great material he’s released since then: “Stick to Your Vision,” “416/905,” “Black Trudeau,” and from 2023, “Still Winning’” (which he is). Drake has called Maestro “another legend, another guy from our city [Toronto] that broke down a wall and had a song that just went farther than anybody at the time… and ‘416/905’ was the first time anyone ‘bigged up’ where we were from.” Since Wes has gone deeply into acting, writing children’s books, and making children’s music, his live performances are rare, so this is a special treat.

6. SHAD

SHAD has made the Top 10 Shortlist of the Polaris Music Prize for the best album of the year in Canada no less than five times in the organization’s 19-year history—more than any other artist. The Toronto-based rapper has pushed his unique style of playful but socially-conscious hip-hop across five increasingly ambitious, acclaimed albums, with coverage in Rolling Stone and NPR, among others. His songs most often deal with the realities of Black life: For example. in “The Fool Pt 1 (Get it Got It Good),” he sees deeply enough to understand that the real villain in racism isn’t a person, but their fear, while “Black Averageness” counters the constant striving for Black excellence in order to celebrate the truth and beauty of the mundane daily life of an ordinary person of colour. But these songs don’t feel like lectures or lessons, because the beats are great, the verbal flow is awesome, and the melodies are super-catchy. I’ve never seen SHAD live, so this ought to be fun.

7. Onion Honey

Onion Honey – a Kitchener-based act that was originally a duo, but is now a quartet of Dave Pike, Esther Wheaton, Leanne Swantko, and Kayleigh LeBlanc – play folk music like an old-tyme string band. The lineup are all multiple threats – singing lead and harmony, songwriting, passing around banjo, guitar, mandolin, and acoustic bass in performance. Three years of weekly “Banjo Church” live-streamed performances throughout the pandemic lockdowns have polished their musical skills, onstage rapport, and banter to a high shine. The band released Foul Weather Friends in 2023, their first professional studio album after more than a decade of self-produced music. Roots Music Canada praised the album’s “out-of-this-world harmonies and sweet, tart, string-band sound” and the band’s “catchy-as-hell little ditties that could easily pass for traditional, with a sense of humour.” I’m eagerly awaiting them playing their high-spirited covers of songs like Gordon Lightfoot’s “Steel Rail Blues” and The Eagles’ “Take It Easy”; traditional bluegrass material like “Black Eyed Suzie”; and fun-loving originals like “Vegetable Love” and “Get Out from Under My Feet.”

8. Dylan MacDonald

Years ago, Winnipeg-based singer-songwriter Dylan MacDonald was the electric guitarist in a superb power-pop trio, The Middle Coast. After that band broke up, all of its principals found success in other areas. Liam Duncan has been crushing it as a sardonic indie pop-rocker Boy Golden; Roman Clarke is an in-demand session musician and solo artist; Dylan has re-invented himself as Field Guide, making hushed, solo-acoustic music – just voice and guitar, for the most part – about affairs of the heart and matters of the soul. Perfect listening during the lockdowns of the pandemic, his well-written, quietly entrancing songs invited the audience inside his inner monologues – not unlike those of Nick Drake or Leif Vollebekk (with whom he’s toured). Field Guide’s songs thrive in the push-and-pull of contradictions, like those between loving someone dearly while being drawn toward something new; feeling joy in melancholy; and experiencing gratitude for deep friendship and uncertainty of one’s place in it. “Melody is what makes words fall out of my mouth,” he said. “It’s disarming. When I find a melody that represents my internal world, I drop my guard. I allow the words to appear out of thin air without judgement.”

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