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

Cost: $45-$170


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.

Cash Spell
More Music...
Unseasonal Sounds
Say no to Christmas creep

Christmas creep is real.

This year, I saw my first Christmas display the day after Halloween. I walked into a store in downtown Bellingham expecting to see marked-down candy and costumes and instead walked smack into Kris Kringle, his associates and some of their accoutrements. I’m…

more »
Jazz Walk
Of musical meanderings

Bellingham is a town of walkers.

I’m not talking about the flesh-chewing zombies of The Walking Dead—Bellingham might have its issues, but it’s a far cry from being a post-apocalyptic hellscape.

I’m referring to actual walking, an activity that is boring on its own, but, when…

more »
Cornering the market

You can’t walk half a block in Bellingham these days without running into a brewery or a music venue. Places to grab a pint or see a band—or both—are nothing if not plentiful and we are nothing if not proud of that. To be frank, we can be a little smug about our embarrassment of…

more »
Home for the Holidays

5:00pm|Ferndale Events Center

The 39 Steps

7:00pm|Sehome High School Little Theatre

Little Women

7:00pm|Ferndale High School

Peter and the Star Catcher

7:00pm|Squalicum High School

Romeo, You Idiot!

7:30pm|Heiner Theater


7:30pm|Mount Baker High School

Craft Bazaar

9:00am|American Legion Post #43

Holiday Festival of the Arts

10:00am|Meridian Street

Hot Cider & Cool Art

10:00am|Morgan Block Studios

Used Book Sale

10:00am|Everson Library

Red Barn Handpicked Holiday Market

12:00pm|Northwest Washington Fairgrounds

Holiday Gifts from the Kitchen

3:00pm|Lynden Library, Ferndale Library

It's Where the Sidewalk Ends

6:00pm|Bellingham Arts Academy for Youth

New Music, New Dance

7:30pm|Performing Arts Center Concert Hall

The Big Short One-Act Festival

7:30pm|McIntyre Hall

Bellingham Repertory Dance's Emerge

7:30pm|Firehouse Performing Arts Center

Backyard Brawl

8:00pm|Upfront Theatre

VFW Breakfast

8:00am|VFW Hall

Pancake Breakfast

8:00am|Ferndale Senior Center

Pancake Feed

8:00am|VFW Post 1585

Holiday Bazaar

9:00am|Hillcrest Chapel

Christmas in the Woods

9:00am|Garden Spot Nursery

NSEA Work Party

9:00am|Acme Elementary School

Turkey Trot

9:00am|Squalicum Creek Park

Climate Reality

10:00am|Bellingham Public Library

South Fork Winterfest

10:00am|Van Zandt Community Hall

Fall Gardening

10:00am|Lynden Library

Cheese Fest

10:00am|Everybody's Store

Bellingham Farmers Market

10:00am|Depot Market Square

Rexville Grange Holiday Art Show

10:00am|Rexville Grange

Holiday Farmers Market

10:00am|Port of Anacortes Transit Shed Event Center

Lynden Book Club

10:30am|Everson Library

Salmon Sighting

12:00pm|Haynie Creek

Conquering Writer's Block

2:00pm|South Whatcom Library

Fishboy Holiday Show

2:00pm|FishBoy Gallery

NaNoWriMo and Indie Publishing

3:00pm|Everson Library

Skagit Wine & Beer Festival


Homeless Summit and Cold Weather Giveaway

3:00pm|Maritime Heritage Park

i.e. artists talk

3:30pm|i.e. gallery

Small Works Opening

4:00pm|Matzke Fine Art Gallery and Sculpture Park

Smith & Vallee Artist Talk

4:00pm| Smith & Vallee Gallery

WA 129 Poetry Reading

6:00pm|Maple Hall

Giving from the Heart

7:00pm|Depot Art Center

A Light in the Darkness

7:00pm|Church of the Assumption

Welcome Home Celebration

7:00pm|Village Books

Ruach Consort

7:00pm|St. Paul's Episcopal Church

Contra Dance

7:00pm|Eagles Hall

Michael Kaeshammer

7:30pm|Mount Baker Theatre

Legends of the Blues V

7:30pm|Byrnes Performing Arts Center

Peter and the Star Catcher

7:00pm|Squalicum High School


7:30pm|Mount Baker High School

Holiday Festival of the Arts

10:00am|Meridian Street

Bellingham Repertory Dance's Emerge

7:30pm|Firehouse Performing Arts Center

Rexville Grange Holiday Art Show

10:00am|Rexville Grange

Cheese Fest

10:00am|Everybody's Store

Holiday Farmers Market

10:00am|Port of Anacortes Transit Shed Event Center

Rabbit Ride

8:00am|Fairhaven Bicycle

Community Breakfast

8:00am|American Legion Post #43

Rabbit Ride

8:30am|Fairhaven Bicycle

Getting in on the act


Sound of Music Singalong

1:00pm|Lincoln Theatre

A Musical Thanksgiving

2:00pm|McIntyre Hall

Harmony from Discord with Whatcom Symphony Orchestra

3:00pm|Mount Baker Theatre

The 25th Hour

4:00pm|Village Books

Southside Community Meal

5:00pm|Our Saviour's Lutheran Church

Way North Comedy Showcase

7:00pm|Farmstrong Brewing Co.

Rutie Dornfeld, John Miller

7:00pm|YWCA Ballroom

Bellingham Farmer’s Market Cascadia Weekly Subscribe Ad 1
Holiday Festival of the Arts

10:00am|Meridian Street

Wander + Camber Beer Dinner

6:30pm|Camber Cafe

Rocks & Gems

7:00pm|Bloedel Donovan Community Building


9:30pm|Green Frog

see our complete calendar »

Cascadia Weekly Subscribe Ad 1 Village Books Bellingham Farmer’s Market Trove Kaeshammer