“Folk music”, as it’s commonly known, brings up images of a bearded, dusty dude with a laissez-faire attitude concerning his appearance. His hair is greasy and the guitar is inside a hard, beat-up case. His songs range from a ballad about a lost dog to penetrating social commentary. Folk singers, when narrowed to frames held by the Dylans and the Youngs, are political troubadours that criticize The Man and question His authority. Yet, originally, folk music was, simply, traditional music. Songs passed down from parent to child over many generations through oral tradition. On Friday, the first day of this year’s Vancouver International Folk Festival, crowds were given a glimpse of the eclectic range possible from artists deemed folk-worthy.
Perma-grin Elage Diouff (Senegal), singer Lisa O’Neill (Ireland) and charmer Lisa Leblanc (New Brunswick) all performed traditional music from their respective homes. Lee Fields wowed with his soul, M.Ward crooned softly and The New Pornagraphers demonstrated some homegrown talent at its finest.
Elage Diouff, a Senegalese singer-songwriter falling under the world music category, played an upbeat set of traditional African rhythms. His genuine joy was infectious. A talented percussionist, Diouff moved the crowd to their feet. Two masses of flailing limbs formed on either side of the seated crowd in the center. The blanket dwellers that had plopped in the middle eventually rose and joined Diouff’s body-snatching rhythms.
Lisa O’Neill performed following Lee Fields & The Expressions. A hard act to follow. An Irish folk singer, O’Neill was one of a several artists sandwiched between bigger acts to sing mini-sets while setup for the next artist was happening. During this setup, announcements were made by a man wearing a hideous, knitted sweater stamped with the CBC logo. Later on, said man cracked a joke about paternity leave and Jian Ghomeshi that was heavy on cringe, short on funny. Crickets and a distant cough were heard.
M.Ward (Monsters of Folk, She & Him) performed a cozy, easy-going set. His fingerstyle guitar playing was smooth and bluesy. Jaunty, at points, too. Lisa Leblanc followed with her quick, stringed fingers. She charmed the crowd with her jokes and “casual Motorhead tune on banjo.”
Obviously, without question, music is the most important part of a festival. It’s the soul and blood. Without it, there would be no festival. Duh. But, what brings everything together to create that special atmosphere is a combination of: people, food, and moments.
A cute old man eating an ice cream cone. Everyone who bought poofy, acid pants at one the shops. The guy in acid pants, most likely tripping on acid, dancing like a kaleidoscope. Dreadlocks and hairy pits. A father teaching his son how to whistle. The son who failed to learn how to whistle. The lady who was spit on by the son who failed to learn how to whistle. A group of kids who all had too many lemonades. The mom who hadn’t had enough lemonades. This collection of moments, people, and food (remember the cute old man and the ice cream) are what separate festivals from a regular concert.
The weather beat off some threatening clouds and delivered a postcard sunset. A lovely omen for the rest of the weekend. With warm weather, festival-goers can skip to the beach for a swim and a break from the heat. Fingers crossed it stays that way the entire weekend. Toes too.
As far as food is concerned… the garlic chicken skewers in a cup were okay. Salt Spring Coffee Co., set up at the end of the main entrance, are slanging coffees and teas all day and night for caffeine fanatics. Earnest Ice Cream is scooping out ice cream to young and old alike. And, Chickpea is handing out delicious vegetarian treats.
The first day proved fruitful. So far, the Folk Fest feels are real. The sun was shining, the music was soothing, and the food was satisfying.There’s a lovely beer garden (presented by Big Rock Brewing) that I’ll have to check out on Saturday. There was even an ATM machine disguised as a VW bus. Although, with a terminal fee of $3.75, avoid at all cost.
See you, Saturday.