I’m just back from Kingsville and thought it might be fun to talk about the first ever Kingsville Folk Music Festival. It was a blast. If you want to know why, you’d better read on!
First off, I have to say that it is amazing to think that this wonderful weekend was just the first festival at Kingsville. I already knew that Michele and John Law had put together a stellar line-up as I’d watched the short video they put out when the festival performers were announced. What I wasn’t prepared for was how smoothly things would go. You can certainly credit the beautiful setting, in Lakeside Park on the north shores of Lake Erie, and the weather (absolutely gorgeous) for providing a helping hand but quite clearly they had surrounded themselves with great people to ensure that the festival went off without a hitch. Bravo to them, bravo to the board of the Sun Parlour Folk Music Society and bravo to the small army of volunteers that ensured that this thing went off with few glitches worthy of mention.
Before I get to the music, I should say a few words about the Lakeside Park site in Kingsville. It’s just about perfect for a folk festival with the caveats that audience growth may eventually be limited by its size (that’s not necessarily a bad thing) and, that, because of its shore location, within a residential neighbourhood, on site parking and camping will always be an issue. That said, those challenges appeared to be well dealt with by a shuttle bus that went back and forth to parking lots close by, and for camping, the nearby Jack Miner Bird Sanctuary.
The main stage at Kingsville might have the most perfect setting of all the festivals I’ve been to because the central area of the park forms a natural amphitheatre that is surrounded by artisan booths, the nearby merch. tent, and the all important food and liquor venders. Also, because of the relaxing of Ontario’s liquor laws, and the fact that the whole of the festival site is surrounded by fencing, Kingsville did not have a gated beer tent stage area but instead allowed patrons to get a cool glass of Walkerville Brewery craft beer or Pelee Island wine and wander back to their seat in front of any of the stages on the festival site. How civilized.
So how was the music? Well it was, as I alluded to with mention of a stellar line-up, great. Bruce Cockburn and Ken Whiteley headlined and did not disappoint. Jaron Freeman-Fox was a little loud for these ageing ears, but his album with the Opposite of Everything is still one of my favourites of 2013. And it was great to see Jane Siberry back for a wonderful set on the Sunday night main stage. I have to admit, that as I grew up in the UK I was not completely familiar with her music, but what was clear from her performances this weekend is that her well of creativity has not run dry. David Francey was, as usual, fabulous – I love the way he commands the stage – very much like the captain of a ship on the great Seaway album (with Mike Ford) that I love so much. There were many wonderful songs and stories, and his strong Scots accent is just so warm and engaging.
And what about artists that I’d not seen live that I just loved? Well, Trent Severn definitely. Dayna Manning, Emm Gryner and Laura C. Bates make beautiful music together and put on a fabulous main stage performance with pitch perfect harmonies and Canadian trivia thrown in for good measure. I especially loved their song about The Band’s Richard Manuel (a Stratford native – I did not know that) that will be on their next album (expected in 2015). J.P. Cormier was also great. Excellent finger-picking and in “Hometown Battlefield” one of the most thought-provoking songs you’ll hear about how we treat our veterans. Its no wonder that one went viral on Youtube and Facebook.
I had the chance to interview Anton Apostolov from the Green Sky Project a couple of week’s ago. They did not disappoint. It was great to see their music – Bulgarian folk by way of Iran and India with a a strong jazz influence, embraced so enthusiastically. And Tia McGraff, who (with partner Tommy Parham) I also had a chance to interview recently, deserves a main stage at all the festivals she’s on the bill for; I love her smokey but full voice. And what about Mati Haskell… my apologies for thinking that she was just a slip of a girl when I introduced her with JK Gulley on the main stage. She sings the blues as though she’s channelling Etta James, Mavis Staples and Aretha Franklin all wrapped up in one. JK Gulley is mentoring her, having produced her great full-length long player on his Americanada label. Mati should go far.
I think you’ll realize that there were too many great acts to mention, so I’ll have just one last go around, but no one should feel left out for not being included. So hear goes… my biggest surprise award goes to Nashville based English-born Richard Smith whose guitar-playing and humorous banter should mean we’ll see him up here a lot more. Fish & Bird, originally from B.C. earned themselves that rare thing, a festival encore because of a wonderful main stage set – with Bruce Cockburn waiting in the wings no less! Jadea Kelly sang beautifully – I love her 2013 album “Clover”. Fred Penner was adored by all. He’s probably still signing autographs and having his photo taken with excited festival goers in the merch tent. Ray Bonneville‘s blues were sublime, Valdy was Valdy…, this time accompanied by jazz pianist Karel Roessingh and Nadina Mackie-Jackson on bassoon) and Tannis Slimmon… was just Tannis, she’s always fabulous when accompanied by Lewis Melville and this time also along with the Kingsville Folk Fest children’s choir (see the photo above). And I loved the O’Chays too – Kelli and Mike Authier. Kelli has such a great voice and very engaging stage manner. She also should be commended on her beautiful harmonies with Jane Siberry despite the fact that she only joined Jane’s festival pick-up band the morning before their Sunday performance. For the record, Jane’s band featured the O’Chays, Fish & Bird, Lewis Melville and Nadina Mackie-Jackson.
So there you are, a fabulous weekend only bettered by the fact that the festival was kind enough to allow me to MC the Saturday workshops, and a good part of the Saturday and Sunday main stages. It was my pleasure to join them in Kingsville and I can’t wait to go back. This one will live long in the memory.