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The Mariposa Folk Festival: the songwriters

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The Mariposa Folk Festival, taking place this weekend in Orillia’s Tudhope Park, is one of the premier showcases for Canada’s greatest songwriters, and the 2024 lineup is no exception.

For me, Donovan Woods just might be the best Canadian songwriter of his generation. Against all odds, he has not only maintained the extraordinarily high quality of his songwriting but has actually grown even better at it. What I find most striking is how concise he can be, writing lines where a few words convey so much densely packed information. For one example, in the first verse of “Empty Rooms,” about a couple breaking up and moving out of their shared space, the line “two carefully negotiated piles” tells us all we need to know. One of his new singles, “Back for the Funeral,” takes a universal experience – I imagine we’ve all gone back to our hometowns for a funeral – and compresses whole worlds into each line, so a three-minute song feels like a Raymond Carver short story, or a Richard Ford novel. To wit: “Your family’s just strangers you know like the back of your hand”; “It’s a penthouse view of a brick wall”; “We’ll pretend we’re all only sad”; “Somebody’s gotta die before we’ll call each other back.” And it’s so heartbreaking, it just might make you weep. His new album, Things Were Never Good If They’re Not Good Now, comes out July 12, so we’ll likely hear a lot of these new songs.

On his new album She Told Me Where to Go, which came out a month ago, Old Man Luedecke has temporarily stepped away from his usual banjo/yodeling/bluegrass approach to expand the sonic palette with his fellow Nova Scotia-via-Toronto resident Bahamas in the producer’s chair. The title track is a dark, distorted-electric-guitar blues; “The Raven and the Dove” rides a hip-hop beat and is so full of ear candy that it made the CBC Music Top 20 Countdown; and “My Status is the Baddest” – a sideways re-write of the Steve Miller classic-rock staple “The Joker” – features Bahamas’ fascinating, hooky electric guitar parts sprinkled throughout. Bahamas is also attending Mariposa this year, so perhaps he’ll add the same flavours to Old Man’s live performance. But either way, Luedecke’s simple but compelling melodies and deft, timeless lyrics are sure to captivate a folk festival crowd (as they have many times before).

On his 2023 album, O Sun O Moon, an ailing Bruce Cockburn stares down the barrel of his own mortality and similarly faces the looming extinction of human life on the planet as we continue burning it to the ground ever faster. “To Keep the World We Know” is typical: to a steady groove, a catchy strum (not sure if it’s a dulcimer or mandolin), and the sweet backing vocals of Susan Aglukark, the expert songwriter states his simple case. The root of the evil? “Willful ignorance and greed prevail while wisdom sleeps.” The solution? “Gotta think past your bank account to keep the world we know.” Along with his eternal, iconic Canadan classics, I’m looking forward to hearing the new ones live, from the sprightly bounce of “To Keep the World We Know” and “On a Roll” to more atmospheric and meditative pieces like “Us All” and “Colin Went Down to the Water.” After his performance, Bruce will, most deservingly, be inducted into the Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame – which ought to be a treat to see.

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