As the Vancouver Folk Music Festival continues to grow and, arguably, to morph into a better version of itself, its queer contingent of performers remains strong.
With Ani DiFranco, Tret Fure, Holly Near, evalyn parry and esl, this year’s lineup spans the rainbow-coloured folk spectrum enough to whet your palate, although it would be wonderful to see a more musically and culturally diverse batch of queers hit the festival’s stages — not to mention a couple of openly gay men.
Still, the Folk Fest is always worth its weekend pass; it’s a dreamy place of love, peace and five-part harmony that is as feel-good as Vancouver gets.
Here’s a quick look at some of the ’mos performing at this year’s festival.
One part musician, two parts performance artist, three parts quirky, evalyn parry could very well be dubbed Laurie Anderson Jr. Like so many eccentric artists, parry spells her name with lower-case letters, has an asymmetrical haircut and frequently uses a bicycle onstage as a percussion instrument. (Okay, admittedly that last part is unique to her.)
Her most recent full-length collection, 2011’s Spin, showcases, according to parry, “historic connections between women’s emancipation around the turn of the century and the history of the bike. It includes the story of the first woman to ride around the world on a bike, in 1895, an amazing story.”
It is that very love of stories that weaves its way continually throughout parry’s work, and the musician continues to make a living as a multidisciplinary artist, songstress, actor, producer and playwright. “There’s always been an element of very personal storytelling, but there’s also been an element of being inspired by issues in the world. I think my work is always trying to straddle those two things, and I hope and think that I’m better at doing that.”
Holly Near & Tret Fure
Holly Near and Tret Fure have both been performing folk and women/womyn/wimmin’s music fests since the early 1970s, but their days of inspiration are not restricted to the past. Though it is true they were “out” performers at a time when people like kd lang and Melissa Etheridge were pre-pubescent baby dykes, both Near and Fure have continued to make music and inspire activism throughout their careers, from their 20s to their 60s.
In recent years, Near was part of a collective of women nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in 2005, an unrelated but interwoven group known as 1000 PeaceWomen. “This proposal was in keeping with the idea that it not only takes a village, it takes a global force to make huge change,” she tells Xtra.
“My work as an artist is to heal, inspire, educate, challenge, articulate, imagine and entertain. It matters to me that I do my job well. I practise my cultural activism in the same way a tennis champ practises. Some days,” she chuckles, “it hurts more than others!”
Fure’s work has been equally groundbreaking, as she tried to create space for herself and other women in the male-dominated music industry.
In her early 20s, Fure learned to be a music engineer, as she wasn’t being treated as an equal in the studio. She later went on to found her own record company — Tomboy Girl Records — offering a DIY model to other indie artists, such as Ani DiFranco (who could not be reached for an interview despite repeated requests). Fure is also the president of Local 1000, the Traveling Musician’s Union, of which DiFranco is a member.
Now 61, Fure remains very much fuelled by her passion for music. “I can’t imagine myself ever retiring. I play to new people every show, and that inspires me. People feel connected to what I do, and I walk away from shows feeling that I’ve contributed. That keeps me going. The travel is hard, the long hours are hard, but when I’m onstage it all falls away, and that’s where I feel the magic.”
Yup, yet another Folk Fest project with lower-case letters and asymmetrical haircuts! Sassing aside, esl is a gorgeous and graceful Vancouver troupe of women delivering achingly orchestral melodies that are heavily influenced by another place and time. The band’s cellist — celebrated solo artist Cris Derksen — loves spreading her proverbial wings and playing with the East Van outfit.
“esl is completely different than my solo project,” Derksen says. “It is a five-person female band. We call it ‘Polish chamber pop,’ but we don’t sing in total Polish; we sing in Polish, French, English. It is completely fun — not that my music isn’t fun!” she laughs. “We’ve been together seven years now; we’re completely family, so I enjoy the community. I also get the opportunity to do something a little simpler for me, ’cause I only have to do one part; I don’t have to do all the parts.”
In addition to playing on the smaller stages, the quintet will join Veda Hille on the main stage on Sunday, July 15 for a performance piece to commemorate the 35th anniversary of the festival.