Will the Folk Festival Keep Shining as Long as the Skies Remain Clear, or is More Needed?

Photo by Mariko Margetson

The weather was again idyllic on Saturday, as the crowds danced in the sunshine to beats from around the world. Stage 4 kicked off with an excellent workshop featuring the incomparable Wazimbo & Banda Kakana.

There were other highlights on the day:

Stage 3 featured a late day set by Gordon Grdina’s Harem. The audience delighted in the duelling horns (Clarinet, sax and flute) with a middle eastern flair. It often takes a session like this to realize that despite artists from around the world attending the celebration in Jericho Park, we have some pretty inspiring local talent available year round right in our backyard. That was also the realization when BC bred Alex Cuba took the same stage later in the evening. The Cuban rhythms were pounding from the BC outfit.

Perhaps the main stage’s most compelling act was Ukrainian quarter DakhaBrakha. They have an original sound, plenty of chops and the greatest headwear to be found all weekend (including the always colourful 50-50 ticket sellers).

So, as the festival ticks off another successful year, it is fitting to ask, is this enough? New Executive Director Laurie-Ann Goodwin was seen perusing the site with the festival’s production manager, likely asking herself the same question. It is fair to say the answer is not entirely clear.

On the one hand, it is remarkable that this festival is free of visible sponsor signage to spoil the beautiful beach and mountain vistas. It remains one of the most family-friendly settings, where security is kept to a bare minimum and patrons are welcome to re-enter at will and can bring in all kinds of food and drink.

On the other hand, one can certainly ask if there were a greater corporate support would the calibre of artists go up a notch. Indeed it could be concluded from talking with friends and other attendees, that this year’s program while solid and of course entertaining, did not contain many ‘must-see’ acts among those surveyed. This compares to previous years and festivals in smaller urban areas (kudos to Edmonton and Winnipeg) that in some ways attract more talent.

Diversity is also called into question, and some witness a severe sense of entitlement amongst the audience, many of whom have attended for decades and are perhaps strolling down from Point Grey or Dunbar to install their tarps for exclusive main stage seating, as opposed to rubbing elbows with folks from other parts of town. Should the better part of the main stage be more accessible?

One can also ask if the festival is leaving money on the table. It was a big deal when the festival installed a beer garden (beer jail, some like to call it) adjacent to stage 4 a few years back. Even that, it is believed was highly controversial. Provincial liquor laws have relaxed and other local venues (Malkin Bowl) enable patrons to sip a beer throughout their venues. Would more beer consumption change the flavour of the festival, or would it merely enable it to attract better artists, and perhaps even install a video screen by the main stage, so those of us that work on Friday and can’t get our tarp down by 11 AM can also see the headline artists up close. Questions that should surely be asked. So let’s see everyone next year to find out!