Vancouver Folk Music Festival
Run for the border 2016
What: Vancouver Folk Music Festival
When: Fri., Jul. 15 -17
Where: Jericho Beach Park, Vancouver, BC
Wednesday, July 6, 2016
Owing to the splendor and wonder that is summer in this region, it can be hard to convince any Whatcom or Skagit county resident to leave and go anywhere once shoulder season shines down around these parts.
After all, putting up with nine months of rain and wind and more rain and more wind and then come bone-rattling cold has to have some kind of reward, and around here, the payoff for months of seasonal suffering is glorious indeed. That’s why you won’t catch me taking tropical or exotic vacations when summer strikes. To waste a precious minute of all this splendor would be just plain stupid.
But that doesn’t mean I have a need to plant myself in a lawn chair in a patch of sun and never leave until I’m buried in autumn’s falling leaves. I’m all for a little regional exploration, and I have it on good authority that, along with reasonable gun control laws and an impossibly dreamy prime minister, Canada also has a pretty spectacular summer, at least the part of Canada that is easily accessed by all of us.
If the promise of seasonal bliss in enlightened foreign lands isn’t enough to tempt you to run for the border, perhaps the prospect of seeing 60-plus world-class musicians and bands from 18 countries on seven stages over three days at a scenic waterfront locale will be all the catalyst you’ll need.
The event I’m talking about is, of course, the Vancouver Folk Music Festival, which has been a yearly tradition for some four decades now.
Despite its size—and it is an ambitious undertaking, drawing nearly 40,000 people each year—the VFMF remains a community-oriented, largely grassroots affair, staffed by a crew of some 1,500 dedicated and passionate volunteers. In an era of increasingly corporate music festivals, events and organizations such as the VFMF are becoming ever rarer, and its ability to exist without selling out speaks not only to the ethos behind the festival, but also the widespread community support it receives.
But the authenticity of the festival itself is mirrored by the kind of music it exists to represent: folk, in all its many different forms.
Those of us who consider ourselves music fans believe deeply and wholeheartedly in the power of music to be an agent of change, and no type of music has embodied that belief more than folk, which is far more than just another genre or means of classification. Instead, it is a worldwide tradition that has been used for generations to pass down stories and legends across various cultures, speak truth to power and, in some cases, has helped to spark and document revolution.
Pretty decent legacy for a type of music we often dismiss as hippies who play acoustic guitars while holding hands and singing “Kumbayah.”
In fact, folk is a tradition that knows no time period and transcends all borders, and differs in style and execution the world over. Since its inception, the Vancouver Folk Music Festival has worked diligently to try and encompass folk in all its many forms—an impossible task, but with three days and seven stages, they do their level best to cram in as much as they can every year.
As they do with each iteration of the festival, the 2016 VFMF organizers have chosen a lineup that mixes more-recognizable artists with those that are lesser known. This pretty well guarantees that attendees can see some old favorites while engaging in some wide-ranging musical exploration with no more effort than it takes to meander from stage to stage.
I’m sure that if you wanted to see no more than just a few minutes of each set, it might theoretically be mathematically possible to see all 60 or so bands and musicians playing the festival, but I can’t imagine anyone wanting to do that. As such, you will have to use your discerning taste and inborn curiosity to create for yourself a VFMF schedule tailor-made to your particular proclivities.
Festival organizers have tried to aid you in this goal by sectioning the schedule into bite-sized bits, grouping bands of similar styles or abilities into easily digested morsels.
For me, that would mean spending the afternoon of Fri., July 15—the festival’s opening day—taking in the “Vancouver Specials” (A C Newman and Kathryn Calder, Dominique Fricot, and Jolie Holland & Samantha Parton) on Stage 4 and then “Back Porch Blues” (the Crooked Brothers, the Ragpicker String Band, and Hubby Jenkins) on Stage 1 before planting myself in front of the Main Stage for the duration for Lee Fields and the Expressions, M. Ward, and the New Pornographers.
But Friday’s somewhat abbreviated schedule is just the warm-up. Saturday, July 16 is when things get more complicated and choices must be made. The offerings are plentiful enough to be overwhelming, which is why I suggest you throw careful planning out the window and let your ears be your guide. Since I’m a sucker for a clever name, I’d probably find myself at “The World Accordion Too…” (Geoff Berner, the Young’Uns, the Bills), “The Good, the Bad and the Funky,” (Henry Wagons, Les Hay Babies, The Crooked Brothers), and would not miss stand-alone sets by Birds of Chicago or the provocatively named Ten Strings and a Goat Skin. Once again, near the end of the day, I’d find myself at the Main Stage, this time for Shane Koyczan and the Short Story Long, Oysterband ,Yemen Blues with Ravid Kahalani, and ending my night with the electrifying Nahko and Medicine for the People.
Globalism would be the order of the last day of my personal VFMF 2016 journey, and it would begin Sunday morning with “Aloha, Bonjou, Bom Dia” (Kaumakaiwa Kanaka’ole with Shawn Pimental, Lakou Mizik, Elida Almeida). I might be inclined to follow that with a little “Equatorial Soul” (Flavia Nascimento, Elida Almeida, Betsayda Machado y La Parranda El Clavo) or “Wavemakers” (Mexican Institute of Sound, Trad.Attack!, Les Noces Gitanes) before wandering wherever my inquisitive nature would take me. If I happened to miss Hayes Carll’s set as part of “A Bad Liver & A Broken Heart” (also featured: Terra Lightfoot and Henry Wagons), I’d be sure and catch his sunset set on Stage 3 before hitting up the Main Stage for Leftover Salmon, Bruce Cockburn, and Lord Huron.
Unlike most festivals, artists at the Vancouver Folk Music Festival—even the Main Stage musicians—play multiple sets, all weekend long, meaning if you miss them the first time they perform, you’ll most likely be able to catch them a bit later on. Along with the music, you’ll also be able to peruse a variety of goods from the world over at an artisan market and folk bazaar, enjoy kid-friendly activities in the Little Folks Village, satiate your hunger with exotic foodstuffs from various vendors, and support an award-winning festival with a community-minded ethos that dates back almost half a century. I’d say that’s well worth a run for the border.
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