As the Vancouver Folk Festival enters its 33rd year (July 16–18), it continues to morph, moving further away from its reputation as a patchouli parade, and more in the direction of patchouli’s slightly rebellious brother or sister.
Severe funding cuts a few years back forced the Fest to bring in a beer tent, horrifying some long-term attendees, who were concerned that belligerence might break out.
In the end, dehydration was the only casualty, and the boost in revenue gave organizers the cash to continue to bring in noteworthy performers, such as the golden-toned Sarah Harmer, the sexy ’60s soul singer Bettye LaVette, and guy-candy crooner Brett Dennen, one of Rolling Stone’s 10 Artists to Watch.
Lesser-known acts to watch for this year include Malahat Review (featuring indie buzz-ers Jeremy Fisher and Hannah Georges), Calcutta slide guitar virtuoso Debashish Bhattacharya and the sincere songwriting talents of PEI’s Catherine MacLellan.
Out queer performers are mighty slim in number this year, but duo Madison Violet promise to bring an alt-folk-emo party to the lineup. Brenley MacEachern and Lisa MacIsaac (yup, sister of famous fiddler Ashley) say their latest album, No Fool For Trying, sounds as “if Lucinda Williams was banging Gillian Welch and asked Steve Earle to be their sperm donor.”
Comparing yourself to the incredible Gillian Welch is heresy in my world but, admittedly, the duo have received some high-profile accolades, including Group of the Year at the Canadian Folk Music awards.
Emma’s Revolution is the other out queer band at the Fest, and their music is much more of an old-school, womyn-with-a-y sound that will likely find favour with you if you are a fan of Pete Seeger, Ferron or the Raging Grannies.
So let’s talk turkey: if you haven’t gone to the Vancouver Folk Fest, you’ve at least seen the dreamy looks in the eyes of your friends who do attend. That look of wonderment happens to thousands of attendees annually, and for good reason. In one weekend, you can hear a hundred musicians you’ve never heard before, eat incredible food, have openhearted conversations with strangers who aren’t threatened by each other (imagine that!) and be surrounded by queers and queer allies.
Agreed, $85/day or $160 for three days is a lot of cash, but it’s a freakin’ utopia, it’s Little House on the Fairie, and it is one of the highlights of summer for almost all who attend.