Arts & Entertainment
3 min

Talent first at the Vancouver Folk Music Festival

Getting festival airtime for queers

Credit: Photo courtesy of Andrea Bona

There is no question that the Vancouver Folk Music Festival has a solid share of queer artists in its fold.

From Fruit and Cris Derksen the cellist, to Brigee K and Ruthie Foster, these performers attract a steady stream of gay and especially lesbian audience members, resulting in a queer kumbaya between the ocean and the trees.

Performers aside, the Vancouver Folk Fest also has a high contingent of queer programmers deciding just which artists will reach your ears.

As was the case last year, Meegan Maultsaid (Under the Volcano, Rock for Choice) will be bringing her love of hip-hop to the weekend, while wordsmith Ivan E Coyote will add his spoken word love to the festival fare. Local promoter Nadine Davenport is also involved this year, contributing another Grrrls with Guitars stage to the programming.

New to the festival this year is an interesting and challenging project entitled Collaboratory 2.8; much like Peter Gabriel’s Real World recording project, a wide variety of artists are grouped together, blind-date style, and given a week to create new music, with the tailor-made bands debuting their compositions in front of Folk Festival audiences.

This event-named to commemorate the 28th year of the Folk Fest-allows Maultsaid and Coyote a rare chance to work together, combining their programming skills with their love of challenging art.

Both producers are very excited about the opportunity to participate in this new project. “I’ve been able to contribute by programming a handful of artists who I thought would bring some fresh and interesting dynamics to the collaboratory,” Maultsaid explains.

“I invited Allison (from Po’ Girl), Brigee K, Versus (a Metis MC from Prince George) and Cris Derksen, who I think is a genius and is a big part of the future of music.”

With all of these queer programmers, one can’t help but ask the question: does having more queer programmers result in a festival with more queer performers? Should it?

According to Coyote, the answer is clear: “What I do first of all is go by talent and whether the person’s work moves me. Then I decide who I want to program based on their artistic merit. After I’ve gone with my heart, then that’s how I decide what I’ve got.

“What moves me is people talking about their experiences and it is usually more organic than ‘choosing’ diversity,” Coyote continues. “I don’t really have to go back and fit people in; what I like is diverse in its nature because that’s the kind of guy that I am. Buddy Wakefield, for example, is there ’cause he’s a fucking great poet; he happens to be a fag as well.”

As far as Maultsaid is concerned, “Dugg [Simpson, the festival’s artistic director] is an incredibly progressive person, and I know he works hard to ensure different communities are represented. Obviously with myself and Coyote being more involved, there’s gonna be more queer faces, but that’s easy math. We’re involved in the queer community and have been for a long time, so it’s more organic for us to choose queer artists.”

“With Folk Fest and also my work with Volcano, I try and program with my heart, not with my intellect,” Maultsaid continues. “Having said that, I feel it is incredibly important to be conscious of representing diverse communities. I think it’s natural for queers to choose artists from their community, so I don’t think it presents a conundrum.

“In terms of actual responsibility, I think it’s crucial to program artists that come from marginalized communities (which includes queers), because those voices don’t always get airtime. Especially in a format where there’s thousands of people who wouldn’t normally get to hear their experiences.”

Davenport says that as far as a ‘queer quota’ is concerned, “it has never been about excluding or exclusively including. It’s about empowering talented local women on stage together who can actually play guitar, write and sing.

“I guess my twist is to program on the basis of great songwriting not whether you’re gay, bi, straight or trans-but then have all the grrrls sing something like ‘She Shook Me All Night Long’ by AC/DC,” Davenport adds.

“I guess that is my way of stirring things up with conscious song programming. That’s almost more fun and everyone loves that kinda stuff.”