music

Brave new directions

NICHOLAS JENNINGS July 11 1988
music

Brave new directions

NICHOLAS JENNINGS July 11 1988

Brave new directions

music

The scene resembled ones from the glory days of folk-music festivals in the 1960s: a young, mop-haired singer strummed an acoustic guitar on a stage by a pond as trees swayed in the breeze and listeners danced in the afternoon sun. But the Mariposa festival that ended last week in Barrie, Ont., was a distinctly modern event. Instead of Bob Dylan singing Blowing in the Wind, the performer onstage was Canadian Andrew Cash, who sang his own song When the Wind Blows. And although Cash began the song in traditional folk manner without electric accompaniment, he quickly turned his music into a rollicking mix of accordion, bass guitar and drums featuring his six-piece band. Cash, the first Canadian artist signed to the respected Island Records label, is more accustomed to performing his brand of socially conscious rock in clubs along Toronto’s fashionable Queen Street. But his appearance at Mariposa underscored how Canadian musicians are boldly stretching the definition of folk music.

In their heyday during the 1970s, such festivals as Mariposa offered a

clear musical alternative to city-dwellers: intimate music performed in bucolic settings. But by the end of the decade, popular tastes had shifted and many festivals were left with dwindling audiences and mushrooming deficits. In the mid-1980s, folk festivals in Edmonton and Winnipeg began featuring a wider variety of artists and styles—and that strategy brought the events into the black. Vancouver’s folk festival has taken diversity even further, offering a dizzying array of music from almost every corner of the globe. This year, after a period of uncertainty, the 28-year-old Mariposa festival bounced back with a lucrative new corporate sponsorship deal and a lineup of some of contemporary music’s brightest new stars. Said Cash: “Now, it seems there’s room for everything.”

Indeed, last month’s Mariposa festival attracted more than 16,000 people—triple the previous year’s attendance. Festival-goers had their pick of folk, blues, country, reggae and even a kind of Jewish jazz known as klezmer music, and could choose between such veteran performers as 1960s singer Donovan

or current artists including quirky country star Lyle Lovett. For the first time in many years, Mariposa could afford such talent because of increased support from its sponsor, Molson Breweries Ontario Ltd.: observers estimate this year’s budget at nearly $400,000. Michael Gridley, manager of Barrie’s Molson Park, where Mariposa has been held since 1984, said that more than half of the budget went to performers. Said Gridley: “We had to be aggressive to reach a wider audience.”

Molson drew criticism for the S commercial presence it brought

1 to the festival, which did not ^ quite break even. Still, the sponx sor gave the event a new finance cial lease on life. Mariposa also

2 owes its success in part to the E examples set by its sister festivals in Edmonton and Winnipeg, which have both made profits in recent years with diverse rosters and support from a variety of smaller sponsors. This year, the Winnipeg Folk Festival (July 7 to 10) offers an ambitious lineup of 103 acts including Oasis, a U.S. group that plays traditional Egyptian music, and such Canadian bands as Montreal’s jazz-fusion ensemble Expresso S.V.P. and Toronto’s nine-member Latin salsa band Manteca. And the program of this year’s Edmonton Folk Festival (Aug. 5 to 7) is full of surprises, featuring Canada’s pop star Jane Siberry, accordionist Flaco Jiminez from San Antonio, Tex., and the American 80year-old jazz great Cab Calloway. In fact, that kind of imaginative programming led Mariposa’s organizers to consult Edmonton’s artistic director, Holger Petersen, for advice on planning this year’s lineup.

While Mariposa, Winnipeg and Edmonton have stretched the borders of folk music and brought in top contemporary artists, the Vancouver Folk Music Festival (July 15 to 17) has dropped musical—and internationalboundaries altogether. Although the Vancouver festival refuses to accept corporate sponsors and insists on paying artists a relatively low $500 flat fee, it drew more than 25,000 people and made more than $50,000. This year’s festival includes a 10-piece Hawaiian hula-dance troupe, a West African master of the 21-stringed kora instrument and Vancouver’s own punk band D.O.A. That adventurous approach is keeping Canada’s folk festivals alive. And by dropping the word “folk” from its name, Mariposa—the country’s oldest festival—proves that the times really are a-changing.

-NICHOLAS JENNINGS in Barrie