Stepping onto the bus an hour and a half away from Jericho park, I could already feel the pre-festival vibes in the soles of my feet, twing-twanging their way up to my heart strings.
By the time I reached the main gate, the air thick with anticipation (and, quite frankly, sweat and humidity), I found my place in a crowd of hundreds of other blanket-laden-patchouli-scented people all bursting to see how the first night of the 36th Vancouver Folk Music Festival was about to unfold.
With such a culturally diverse mix of music, there was an equally flavourful mish-mash of folk fest-goers this year, and – though the fans were varied, the sun was relentless, and the evening was a tad on the chilly side – I think it’s safe to say that nobody left disappointed.
Before I knew it, I found myself nestled in amongst the hundreds of picnic blankets and foldable lawn chairs listening to Hannah Georgas ring out the opening notes of “Robotic”, which wasn’t what she opened with but I was too busy being awe-struck by everything to process what was going on properly. Luckily she didn’t stop there and continued to play an incredibly pitch-perfect show, bringing out her friend and fellow Folk Fest performer Kathleen Edwards to back her on vocals.
Needless to say, this was not a bad way to start the evening. My mind was still taking in the venue itself – which, set right next to Jericho beach would still be picturesque on a bad day – when Hayden stepped onto the stage and tucked himself behind a keyboard. Despite the fact that the soft-spoken man was sitting on a piano bench off to the side of the stage, he immediately captivated everyone’s attention with the merry plunking of his keyboard as his lanky guitarist (Taylor Knox) paced the stage with all the grace of a musically prodigious stork.
As if his playing and singing weren’t impressive enough, Hayden, true to his ability to play every instrument under the sun, whipped out a harmonica as his band followed suit and swapped positions without batting an eye. The trio proceeded to play a flawlessly enthusiastic and tri-dexterous set. If you haven’t heard Hayden before, I recommend a grassy field on a sunny day, ideally next to one of the nicest beaches in Vancouver. However, if that seems like too much trouble, choose a more convenient setting and I can still say with complete confidence you’ll be blown away by the sounds that man can produce.
Somewhere in between some MC banter and an impromptu birthday announcement, Aidan Knight popped out with two of his band members (Oliver Clements and Julia Wakal) and played a boomingly soft set from a corner of the stage. Apparently that corner is something of a hot spot, because though it was short, the set of three songs he performed were anything but small.
Soon enough, the sun slipped behind us and Kathleen Edwards teased out the moon with a lovely duet played with Colin Cripps that had everybody trying to dislodge their hearts from their throats. We never did get the chance though, because she was immediately followed by Mo Kenney who, with a few notes of finger-picking and a few lines of her brilliant lyrics, had us all swaying in the grass like awe-struck reeds in the wind.
As the evening set in and the sea of people shifted to pull on sweaters, the stage crew pulled a canoe onto the stage, and I got my first taste of the cultural diversity (not literally, though the array of food stands was pretty impressive) as Delhi 2 Dublin took the stage and started playing… well… what seemed to be an electronic folk fusion of Celtic and Bollywood music.
While that sounds like it wouldn’t work due to the fact that the fusion of those two genres sounds impossible and kind of makes you wonder where on earth they congregated (Vancouver, actually), within seconds of their first song, they had everyone up and dancing and while it can’t be said of the dance moves going on in the grass, the music was great. It had just enough of the Celtic sound to carry the vibe of the music played earlier in the day, as well as the radical flavour of Indian influence – not to mention an inexplicable canoe – that got everyone up and on their feet.
And so, it was the sounds of Delhi 2 Dublin and a horde of happy folk-festers that carried me out of the festival and into the warm summer night where I began to make my way home back the way I came, my head filled with fantastic music, and my heart already grooving to the sounds of tomorrow.
This is it: the Vancouver Folk Festival has officially taken off. There are costumed raffle vendors, perfumed porta-potties, and bare-footed children playing Stella Stella Ola in the grass. There’s food, and beer, and sun, and sea, but most importantly, there is a delightful collection of brilliant folk artists playing more fantastic music than you can fill your ears with.
All. Weekend. Long.
Needless to say, it’s going to be a goooood weekend.