Stories and songs from the 38th annual Vancouver Folk Music Festival

Son Little
Son Little


What better way to wake up for day two, in the exhaustively hot ~28 degree heat, than with blaring bagpipes? The mostly Scottish group Breabach essentially greeted early birds at the stage closest to the main gate at 11:20 a.m. Beginning with the jig, “The Poetic Milkman”, the band recited songs in both English and Gaelic. Their tunes ran from “quite mournful” (“Scotland’s Winter”) to anecdotal (the pipes fired up for a song about one of the member’s grandmother’s Gaelic-speaking budgie, during which fiddler/singer Megan Henderson broke out her tap shoes to a burst of applause). Breabach even offered a dose of Canadiana, not just in the form of their lone member from Edmonton but in their cover of Jimmy Rankin’s “The Orangedale Whistle”. With an assortment of instruments that also included bouzouki, acoustic guitar, and double bass, Breabach helped kick off day two in, well, festive style, while capping off their month-long tour.

Immediately following Breabach, Jasper Sloan Yip filled stage three with a six-piece band. Half of the backing musicians comprised the string section, which buzzed like a swarm of bees around the spoken word clip intro of “It Must Be True”. The buzz continued as keyboard bounced. Again, it wouldn’t have been a folk fest without a few tales, and Yip prefaced a few songs with personal stories. He introduced “Slowly” as “a song about quitting your job and playing music.” “When I wrote it, I was singing about this stage – this exact stage.” How marvelous, time can be.

Ontario siblings Matt and Jill Barber played a sweet, intimate set under the shade at stage two. Carrying only acoustic guitars, they recounted stories from their childhood, such as when they first began picking away at their instruments. The duo strummed through a sleepy, breezy mix of originals and covers including Townes Van Zandt’s “If I Needed You” and Gordon Lightfoot’s “Steel Rail Blues”. An idyllic scene in a hush arbour.

AB: Over at a workshop entitled “Heartworn Highways” on stage four, Lindi Ortega was stealing the spotlight with her signature attention-commanding vocals. Here was a woman who really sang like she meant it. Such was explicitly evident in her first song, “High”, and was evident again during her searing cover of Nancy Sinatra’s “Bang Bang”.

I found myself at the dance-crazy “Transatlantica” workshop back at stage three doing something I had been doing at other workshops as well: trying to distinguish song from song. Which band was which? It was at this point that it became clear: at these workshops, one’s focus should be less on trying to sort out which band is which and more on realizing that with all the jamming that goes on, there is essentially a new superband being created – one that will exist only at this festival. Just another unique factor that differentiates Vancouver Folk Fest from the other “Fests.”

LKC: L.A.’s Son Little injected the festival with subtly grooving riffs. “Alice” contained doses of wah pedal and guitar virtuosity over cool finger-snap percussion. Jesse Maynard doled out jazzy drum breaks while bassist and sampler-player Stephen Greenberg rolled out hypnotic synth beats, most notably on “Cross My Heart”. Like on many of Son Little’s songs, the riff guitar riff on “Cross My Heart” didn’t so much snarl as it sneered. The sparseness of Son Little’s songs allowed him to showcase his smoky voice, especially on “Your Love Will Blow Me Away When My Heart Aches”, which began with zero instrumentation. They closed with the smoldering “The River”.