Folk Music- what does the term folk music mean?
Every culture and country has their own unique traditional music that gets passed down from generation to generation. Usually played on traditional instruments from the region.
At this year’s Brandon Folk, Music and Art Festival, Scotland folkie Rory McLeod talked about reversing the generational thing. He joked that he wanted to teach his grandmother his songs and then learn them back from her, thus making them traditional songs.
Quite proficient on the guitar, harmonica, trombone, spoons and foot-stomping, McLeod is a true troubadour. The stories he told between songs were just as entertaining as the songs he performed.
McLeod even created his own genre when he played a Country Eastern song (as opposed to Country Western). He ended his set saying, “If you didn’t like what you heard tonight, I’m Cliff Richard, if you did, then I’m Rory McLeod.”
Besides playing a full concert during the evenings, most of the acts shared the stage throughout the day in workshops.
Shandra McNeill has been the Artistic Director for the festival since 2010. Prior to that she was a long time volunteer.
One of the workshops she put together was called Mixed Tape. (For younger folks reading this, back in the day people used to make mixed tapes from their records to cassettes).
This workshop featured a selection of some of McNeill’s favourite tunes and presented nine of the acts on stage playing the songs of Cowboy Junkies (a very cool bluegrass version of Misguided Angel by Red Moon Road), Dolly Parton, Richard Thompson and Beyonce.
One of the wilder covers consisted of a Cat Power tune and a Coldplay tune played simultaneously with a spoken word piece courtesy of Vancouver’s Two Dope Boys in A Cadillac. Ingrid Gatin played keys while other musicians on the stage joined in.
At the end of the mash-up, Gatin looked up from her keyboards, with a smile on her face, happy that their little experiment worked.
Unfortunately, I missed Day 1 of the festival and there was a big buzz around about A Tribe Called Red. Even Nathan Rogers, who was the emcee for the second day, said that although he’s not a hip-hop fan, they seem to have converted him.
First band that I caught was Winnipeg’s Osmond-Davis Band whose brand of Bluegrass music went over very well with the audience.
The Women’s Voices workshop had Ingrid Gatin, Emma Cloney, Rachael Cardiello and Tanya Tagaq sharing the stage, each performing a piece.
They were also joined on stage by unscheduled act Tricia & Danny Turner of the Young Pixels. Tagaq did a solo throat singing piece that was simply amazing. The workshop ended off with everyone singing Bob Marley’s One Love.
This Accordion Kills Fascists was a workshop that brought together Halifax musician Kev Corbett, Rory McLeod and Geoff Berner. Each performer played two songs.
Corbett’s heartfelt songs dealt with PTSD (Sorrow On My Mind) about soldiers returning from Iraq with McLeod playing trombone and Berner on accordion. Corbett’s other tune was called Rome Didn’t Fall In A Day.
Berner covered the Woodie Guthrie classic Pretty Boy Floyd, while Rory McLeod’s tongue in cheek tune about the differences in religion included the line, “My God loves me but he don’t like you.”
Saturday evening’s main concert started with Emma Cloney whose set included a Tom Waits cover. Anyone who covers the growly voiced one is cool in my books.
Cloney related an interesting statistic to back up her statement that, “Winnipeg is the Austin of the north.” She said,”The highest percentage of working musicians in Canada are in Winnipeg.”
Her powerful vocals resonated well with her guitar picking.
Rachael Cordiello and the Warm Electric Winter call themselves a neon electric soul band. Cordiello was raised in Montana but married into Canada. She and hubby James call Toronto home now.
Her angelic voice flew through the air on the wings of her violin and James’ guitar. They were also backed by keyboards, bass and drums. The audience participated in a snap-along snapping their fingers to one song.
Another Winnipeg band Zrada got the crowd dancing to their unique style of Ukrainian music. Singing in Ukrainian with accordion, trumpet, guitar, bass and drums, their music was anything but traditional. Combining elements of Ska, Reggae and Punk, they were truly a sight to behold.
Even kids were amongst the dancers with their hula hoops getting into the music. One fellow with an Iron Maiden t-shirt and a mohawk haircut was dubbed ‘The Iron Maiden Dancer’ by the singer.
In between songs they played Ukrainian Trivial Pursuit giving out their CD’s as prizes to people who answered correctly.
Vancouverite Geoff Berner delivered a couple concerts Saturday and Sunday on his accordion. His politically charged songs with witty lyrics were done in a klezmer style.
Tackling issues such as police brutality, (F@&k The Police), religion (I Don’t Feel So Mad At God When I See You In Your Summer Dress) and politics (I Think That We Should Just Probably Vote NDP This Time) his songs certainly had people thinking as well as laughing.
Winnipeg Folk Festival’s Young Performers program participant Katie McDonald from Brandon played a few nice acoustic songs between sets. Having recently traveled through South Africa has given her a new perspective on life. She also did a very impressive cover of Bonnie Raitt’s Let’s Give ‘Em Something To Talk About.
Ingrid and the Kaleidoscope had Ingrid Gatin switching between accordion and keyboards accompanied by Ryan Dutchak playing violin and guitar. A very interesting blending of soul, blues and European music along with Gatin’s songs produced a nice set.
Saturday night headliner Digging Roots from the Toronto area really got the audience grooving on their very upbeat positive songs. Sheena’s sweet vocals and husband Raven’s blistering guitar shone like a reincarnated Jimi Hendrix with the blues. The sounds he wrangled out of his dobro were amazing.
They invited Red Moon Road on stage for a song also. By the end of their set, they unified the whole audience prompting them to do a traditional aboriginal circle dance. It was magical.
The Riel Gentlemen’s Choir has been around for a few years. They started off the day Sunday with their awe-inspiring blending of about 20 voices. Singing one song in French with the promise that by 2020 they’ll all be fluent in French, they were joined on stage for one song each by Nathan Rogers and Alexa Dyrks.
They ended their set after the choir ducked backstage and emerged from the side of the stage in a giant bee costume buzzing through the crowd singing The Bee Song.
Winnipeg trio Red Moon Road played a wonderful set of tunes that included a song about the Roslyn Apartment block entitled Words of the Walls. Apparently many in the audience lived or knew someone who had lived there over the years.
The very talented trio shared stories about the backgrounds to some of their songs before playing them.
I kind of wondered about the band name The Harpoonist and The Axe Murderer. Sounds kind of gruesome but when they hit the stage it occurred to me that the harmonica is often referred to as a harp and a guitar is often referred to as an axe.
Nothing scary about these folks. Shawn Hall and Matthew Rogers played harp and axe as well as using foot pedals to play drums and percussion. Dawn Hethrington ‘s soulful vocals were a fine complement.
Polaris Prize winner and former Brandon resident Tanya Tagaq ended the festival Sunday night with her unique style of throat singing. It was an improvisational set with drummer Jean Marchand and violin player Jessie Zubot following Tagaq’s lead. Zubot told me after the concert that every show is different.
Tanya Tagaq looked like she was in a trance as her eyes seemed to roll back in her head as she evoked some very interesting sounds from her mouth. At times it sounded like two or three voices coming from her.
All eyes were on her as her body seemed to tremble at times as if she was possessed and the negative spirits were released from her soul. The thunderous drums and wailing violin helped transport the audience into another world as Tagaq’s otherworldly vocals guided us on the journey.
It was my first outing to this particular festival and I must say it was quite enjoyable. I wasn’t familiar with many of the performers but every one of them impressed me.
The festival was very well organized with two camp grounds (a party one and a quiet one) a short walk from the festival area. Many of the performers were actually camping in tents in the back stage area as well.
One of the crafters, David Krindle of Pigeon Alley Pottery, has been setting up at the festival for over two decades. About 20 years ago, before there was a camping area, at the end of the day he just slept in the field next to the site under the stars. The following year, a few more tents sprouted up with more popping up in the ensuing years until organizers decided to set up an official campground.
There were food vendors on site as well as a large tent for artists and crafters selling everything from arts and crafts to jewellery to pottery to upcycled clothing. As well there was a merchandise tent selling the performers’ music. There was also a silent auction with about 20 different prizes.
At the back of the festival site (but still in view of the stage) was the Massage by Myles table, where festival goers with aches and pains were helped out by the very talented hands of Myles. Next door to him people could get their fortunes told at the Temple of Isis and Hermes.
Great weather, great people and great music made for a great weekend. Nice setting also in the treed area that provided lots of shade. Not a huge festival but very manageable.
My only regret was that I missed the first day. Next year I’ll be sure to get there early so I don’t miss anything.
So, my definition of folk music: folks listening to music by folks playing music after they’ve listened to and have been influenced by other folks playing music. Does that make sense to you?
All photos by Doug Kretchmer
To see two slideshows by QUIDAM of Doug Kretchmer’s photos click the links here:
Brandon Folk Festival 2015- 1
Brandon Folk Festival 2015- 2
Videos of the festival links here:
Tanya Tagaq – 2
Geoff Berner – F**k The Police
Red Moon Road – Words of the Walls
Geoff Berner – Brandon Folk, Music & Art Festival 7.26.15
Rory McLeod – Brandon Folk, Music & Art Festival 7.26.15
Emma Cloney & The Osmond Davis Band – Brandon Folk, Music & Art Festival
Women’s Voices Workshop – (One Love) Brandon Folk, Music & Art Festival 2015
Tanya Tagaq – Brandon Folk, Music & Art Festival 2015- 1
Riel Gentlemen’s Choir – The Bee Song – Brandon Folk, Music & Art Festival 2015
Riel Gentlemen’s Choir – The Tree Song – Brandon Folk, Music & Art Festival 2015
Digging Roots – Brandon Folk, Music & Art Festival 2015
Rory McLeod – (spoons) Brandon Folk, Music & Art Festival 2015
Zrada – Brandon Folk, Music & Art Festival 2015- 2
Zrada- Brandon Folk, Music & Art Festival 2015- 1
Emma Cloney sings Come On Up To The House – Brandon Folk, Music & Art Festival 2015