Entertainment Local

Folk Fest celebrates 40 years

By Zoe Grams

Barenaked Ladies. (Submitted Photo)

Barenaked Ladies. (Submitted Photo)

What better way to celebrate an iconic Vancouver tradition than in the company of 40,000 fellow merry-makers?

The Vancouver Folk Fest marks its 40th anniversary weekend at Jericho Beach Park - the stunning expanse of green space framed by the panorama of the city’s skyscrapers, mountains, and cresting waves.

When asked to describe Folk Fest offerings for rookies, Artistic Director Linda Tanaka glowed with excitement.

“It’s a musical smorgasbord,” she says. “There’s six different stages in the daytime. It’s a little community. There’s all different kinds of music. We’re right on the beach. It’s beautiful. We have a beer garden, 40 different food vendors and 100 vendors at an outside market.”

 To truly mark its 40-year milestone, the Folk Fest will offer a free concert on Thursday, July 13 that celebrates another anniversary important to many: Canada 150. Canada Far and Wide: Grands Esprits combines musical talent from across genres into an evening of celebration and collaboration. Artists including C. R. Avery, Women in the Round, Funk Hunters, Carolyn Mark and Jim Byrnes will perform songs from Canadian songwriters. Each chose three songs to perform from a Top 40 compiled by various Folk Fests across Canada, designed to reflect the breadth and scope of Canadian culture.

As Tanaka explained: “Some are folky, some pop. We included Aboriginal artists, French songs, and a little bit about the history of the country.”

For regular Folk Fest enthusiasts, the lineup is sure to encourage a weekend on the shore. It’s always challenging for visitors to choose which of the 65 acts from 20 countries to experience but thankfully Tanaka offers some potential highlights.

“Blick Bassy is an artist from Cameroon. He’s really innovative; people will be excited when they hear his music,” she says. “We have four young artists from Quebec, including Matt Holubowski and Gabrielle Shonk, who played Montreal Jazz Festival and all the major festivals. They are young rising stars, and those artists are a lot of fun.”

Eclectic artistry is a driving principle behind Folk Fest’s programming, visible in the main stage acts which include beloved Canadian pop icons Barenaked Ladies, current chart toppers The Revivalists, and alternative country favourite Kathleen Edwards. Other headliners include Blind Pilot, Cold Specks and Mbongwana Star.

In addition to musical sets, audiences can enjoy watching workshops interspersed throughout the weekend on each of the six stages around the park. Three or four artists take to the stage to explore a theme — think Billy Bragg, Rhiannon Giddens, Grace Petrie, Ramy Essam and Si Kahn jamming about Working Class Heroes. The end result is as diverse as the lineup: some workshops entail singalongs or solos; others new creations from introduced collaborators. Always they’re fun and spontaneous.

Tanaka also draws attention to an overlooked chapter in Canada’s musical history with Native North America: A Gathering of Indigenous Trailblazers. In 2014, a remarkable album was released: Native North America (Vol. 1): Aboriginal Folk, Rock, and Country 1966-1985. It was the first time much aboriginal folk music was heard by a wider audience, after being wrongly ignored by the industry for decades. The Folk Fest will celebrate this expansion with live performances, poetry, and storytelling of Duke Redbird, Willie Thrasher and Linda Saddleback, Willy Mitchell, Lloyd Cheechoo, and Gordon Dick Sr., some of whom appeared on the original album.

These programming highlights speak to one of Folk Fest’s greatest offerings for audience members: the opportunity to make musical discoveries and connections that could never happen on Spotify.

“There’s a lot of music that people don’t know, and when they come to the site will be amazed by the performances. It’s a whole different community here,” says Tanaka. “Some people say it’s what they would like for the rest of the year. It’s a friendly festival.”

Vancouver Folk Fest runs from July 13 to 16 at Jericho Beach Park. Tickets and full lineup can be found at thefestival.bc.ca.