When Vancouver is pretty, it sure is pretty. Few sights in the city can beat the summer light streaming through Jericho Beach Park’s willow trees, sending a glow onto the waving arms of festival-goers and the white sails scattered along the Pacific.
The festival was fun before the music even started. Walking through the gates on Friday, one could sense the excitement vibrating through Jericho as Vancouverites and out-of-towners gathered by the shore to experience Vancouver’s 35th Annual Folk Music Festival.
To say that Friday night’s lineup was impressive does the music little justice. Festival veterans Pied Pumkin kicked off the main stage with their traditionally folky and joyful sound. The New Jersey band River City Extension especially impressed crowds with their layers of horns and strings and Joe Michelini’s lyrical intensity. Popular artists Serena Ryder and Lucinda Williams delivered strong, crowd-pleasing sets.
Dan Mangan’s music has grown much more atmospheric and enigmatic since his 2009 “tweener” appearance on the festival’s mainstage; his voice and demeanor are as lovely as ever. And leave it to Mangan to turn a beautiful evening into a magical one. As paper lanterns streamed through the crowd, he hopped into the audience on a stepladder for a heart-wrenching performance of “So Much for Everyone.”
While the festival lineup reverted its roots of a folkier vibe this year, it was still abundant with great world music. Sidi Touré, an award-winning singer from Mali, mixed modern blues and rock influences with traditional Malian music and Songhai culture. Other stages featured music from India, Tunisia, Colombia and Hungary; Canada’s own K’NAAN headlined Saturday’s line-up with his mix of hip-hop, reggae and Somali music.
A highlight of the festival were Saturday and Sunday’s workshops, where multiple musicians collaborate on smaller stages. These shows fostered the spirit of the festival, allowing artists to feed off each other’s sounds to produce something organic, intimate and fun.
Certain bands especially shine in these contexts: Vancouver-based Wake Owl’s own songs were devastatingly lovely and their fiddler added spontaneous solos to Mark Berube’s already stellar music. During a Sunday workshop titled “I-5 Meets the 99” the five-woman Vancouver band e.s.l. rallied fellow performers into a hilarious rendition of a cheeky tune presumably titled “Super Baked.”
Other lighthearted moments stand out: at the Peak’s stage, Seattle trio the Cave Singers got their audience laughing and dancing as the young caveman on vocals, Pete Quirk, grinned and made class-clown jokes, equally infectious as the band’s rootsy tunes.
Saturday evening, the Head and the Heart induced tears with their polished-but-dancy folk-pop tunes; the crowd sung especially loud during “Lost in My Mind” and sentimental nostalgia permeated the audience as the band closed with “Rivers and Roads.” Newfoundland band Hey Rosetta! overcame a flight delay on Sunday evening
and played an awesome set that peaked with confetti exploding into the audience as the sky faded pink to blue.
The festival finale was as bittersweet as always, as a diverse cast of musicians, including Veda Hille and Ani DeFranco, led classic songs on stage as the crowd-turned-community reluctantly filtered out. The good news is that with each day after the festival the anticipation for the next year slowly builds, until finally the third week of July rolls around and the gates open again on Friday afternoon. 2013 can’t come soon enough.