At this year’s Vancouver Folk Music Festival, there were many themes incorporated into workshops, concert pairings, and headlining acts. There also seemed to be a theme in discovering new favourites at Stage 2, at least for myself. I saw many acts at the stage in the woods, a more secluded stage with a greenhouse roof for all natural lighting and a wide field to sit in. I also saw some old favourites at this stage, but in settings and with pairings that were completely very new.
Playing for Change was the group I vowed to see whenever and wherever they performed. Their first show was at Stage 2 and was part of the “Music to Change the World” workshop, alongside emma’s revolution (host), Tao Seeger Band (Pete Seeger’s grandson, just so you know), and United Steelworkers of Montreal. All the bands played amazing songs and created a beautiful atmosphere of collaboration right from the first note. Tao Seeger played some amazing distorted banjo while Playing for Change hammered away at their hand drums and USWM joined in with heavy guitars and great harmonies.
All this happened just 20 minutes after the “Troubadours” workshop (hosted by Po’ Girl and featuring Sarah Harmer, Matt Epp, Ladies of the Canyon, and Luluc). Although I am a big Sarah Harmer fan, this was my first time seeing her play live and I was of course blown away by her talent and great voice. Although there was less collaboration on stage in this workshop, each artist demonstrated amazing skill and musical ability.
Whether it was the great harmonies and country grooves of Ladies of the Canyon, Luluc’s soft melodies, Epp’s very personal song writing and harmonica playing, Po’ Girls energy and humour, or Harmer’s catchy pop-country tunes, each act never failed to impress.
On Sunday there were many other great Stage 2 performances including bringing an Alabama gospel church to Vancouver in the form of Jim Byrnes, Naomi Shelton and the Gospel Queens, and Grandpa Elliott with Titi Tsira and Jason Tamba – members of Playing for Change. This was Sunday morning, and there was no other church I wanted to be in than the one preaching music and love to the crowd from the heavenly lit Stage 2. Thin, wispy clouds floated over the roof as the trees swayed in seemingly perfect time to the music and birds chirped lightly in the breaks.
Colin Hay, Men at Work’s former front man, finished the festival for Stage 2 in a very fitting way. After having many workshops with enormous amounts of people crammed onto the stage, Colin sat alone in the centre with two guitars and a mandolin and sang heartfelt songs interspersed with hilarious stories of life as a musician and being an Aussie-Scot in between. Although the sounds of Nathan Rogers and Namgar on Stage 1 were rather disrupting and could have slightly dampened the mood, Hay quickly cracked a joke and moved right along unfazed and with the same feeling as before. The crowd was full and swaying in time with his subtle Meton guitar, some humming or singing along with closed eyes, some having an early dinner and taking some quiet time before the evening’s festivities.
There were a few Stage 2 concerts that I did miss. On Saturday evening, Massachusetts band Crooked Still had an hour-long concert full of great “Nu-Grass” melodies, spine-tingling singing, and instrumental performances like none other. I missed most of it because of an interview with Matt Epp, but I was fortunate enough to catch the last two songs and was very glad I did. Crooked Still was my “discovery” of the festival. I have never heard music quite like theirs before and although I found many other bands as well, they took the prize of quickest to catch my attention. Fortunately I was able to see them in a short set at the main stage that night.
I also missed almost all of Playing for Change’s last show, a workshop with Las Alegras Ambulancias, a Columbian family band making their first trip to Canada. I was called away shortly after the second song to do an interview with Valdy, but during the two songs I did see I realized that this was the most energetic concert of the Festival.
Clarence Bekker, a lead singer with PFC, always has an abundance of energy on stage, but even I was surprised when he started dancing with a very senior member of Las Alegras Ambulancias, getting rather risqué by the end of the song in the way only Central and South American dancing can be. I think even he was a bit surprised!
In all, Stage 2 was probably my favourite stage of the eight stages at Vancouver Folk Music Festival. I discovered some new bands (to me) and saw some old favourites. I spent time with family and friends, and complete strangers. I danced, I sang, I praised, I sat, I watched, and I even cried a little during Grandpa Elliott’s heart-wrenching rendition of “Amazing Grace.” By the end of the week it felt a little like a second home. Walking out the main gates on Sunday had me passing just 100 feet from Stage 2, and glancing to my right I said my goodbyes…until next year at least.