Finding Folk

Run for the border

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

I’m told it’s wrong to sit in judgment of others, but I’m not ashamed to admit that I’m a person of many strong opinions that I express too freely and probably too forcefully.

For instance, if you were to tell me you were planning a summer vacation to a far-off exotic locale, outwardly, I would express interest and might even feign envy. Inwardly, however, my only thought would be “Why the hell would you ever leave the paradise that is this region during the summertime?”

Summer in Whatcom and Skagit counties is the entire reason many of us endure the days and weeks and months of gray skies, perpetual drizzle and bouts of Seasonal Affective Disorder. But when the sky clears and the sun shines bright, there’s nothing quite like it.

Leaving all this, even for a minute, is either the result of poor planning or some kind of lunacy I don’t ever want to understand.

Even so, the argument can be made that the magic of summer extends beyond our region, and some would even go as far as to say it crosses international borders.

That’s right, it’s summer in Canada too, and I have it on good authority there’s seasonal perfection to rival our own just across the border. If you must take to the road in search of summer entertainment, both the Vancouver Folk Music Festival and the Mission Folk Music Festival are worthy destinations for some folk-filled fun in the sun.

Taking place July 17-19 at Vancouver’s Jericho Beach Park, the Vancouver Folk Music Festival is no low-key pickin’ party where everyone gets together to hold hands and sing “Kumbaya.” Now in its 38th year, the festival draws talent from the world over to play on its seven stages (that’s right, seven stages) during the three days of the event.

Because it is a forgiving genre with a focus on inclusiveness rather than the arbitrary rules and posturing of many other musical genres, the “folk” you’ll find at both the Vancouver and Mission festivals takes many different and compelling forms.

In Vancouver, folk can be taken to mean the radio-friendly indie rock of Said the Whale, the bluegrass-tinged music of Trampled by Turtles, the practiced shreddery and stellar songwriting of Richard Thompson (whose songs have been recorded by everyone from David Byrne to the Blind Boys of Alabama), the insightful love songs of singer/songwriter Phosphorescent, the foot-stomping beats and polished harmonies of the Melbourne Ska Orchestra, or the West Coast Americana of Blind Pilot. For fans of Leonard Cohen, it can also mean discovering the music of his son, Adam Cohen, who continues his father’s considerable legacy by creating one of his own. Or witnessing a performance by the inimitable Angelique Kidjo, who has been called the “undisputed queen of African music.” Or finding out what kind of music Frazey Ford makes when she’s not playing with the Be Good Tanyas. Or being one of the first audiences to watch Nickel Creek’s Sara Watkins, Grammy-nominated Sarah Jarosz, and Crooked Still’s Aoife O’Donovan take the stage as the cheekily named I’m With Her.

However, part of the delight of attending such an expansive festival lies in the potential for musical discovery—and with seven stages to choose from, finding new bands and artists to add to the personal rotation is a task as easy as it is enjoyable. In that vein, feel free to flirt with Lindi Ortega’s outlaw country while carrying on a dalliance with the retro-modern stylings of tall drink of water Marlon Williams. Sidle up for a heaping helping of the rock ’n’ roll of the always-excellent Sadies and go for seconds with Bongeziwe Mabandla’s urban-Afro-folk. Whatever form your Vancouver Folk experience takes, it’s safe to say that anything goes.

The same is true for the Mission Folk Music Festival, which takes place July 24-26 at Fraser River Heritage Park in Mission, BC. Although smaller in scale than its big-city counterpart, the Mission Folk Music Festival (or MF2, as it is known) is worldwide in scope, with a viewpoint that is probably best described as “folk without borders.”

You don’t have to walk the hundreds of miles of the Camino de Santiago (aka the Way of St. James) to hear the music of that region; you can simply travel to Mission in time for Ialma or Quentin Dujardin. If it’s music from the Carpathian Mountains that captivates your curiosity, Poland’s Volosi, with their utterly singular sound, is the band for you. Ross Ainslie and Jarlath Henderson will whistle and pipe their way through their Celtic roots and into your heart—or at least, that’s their intent. And it wouldn’t be the Mission Folk Festival without an emphasis on African music, this year courtesy of Black Umfolosi, and if you miss Bongeziwe Mabandla’s set at Vancouver (or would like a repeat performance), you can catch his soulful South African folk in Mission as well.

Unlike festivals that originate in Whatcom County (Summer Meltdown and Subdued Stringband, I’m looking at you here), the Vancouver Folk Music Festival and the Mission Folk Music Festival take place on different weekends, which means that choosing one does not necessitate rejecting the other. And who knows—once you’ve left the summertime paradise that is the Whatcom/Skagit region, you might just find you’ve developed a taste for repeated adventuring. Should this be the case, I shall reserve the right to judge you accordingly. Consider yourself duly warned.

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