For its 36th year, the Vancouver Folk Music Festival took over the shores of Jericho Beach Park to put on one of the biggest festivals around. I missed last year's festival, but the lineup this year was too enticing to pass up. With three days and over sixty artists, there was a lot to take in.
One thing, though, was a new layout to the main stage, which I didn't really like. Almost the entire field was designated as a "sitting area" with tarps and blankets covering the ground, but if you wanted to stand up, dance, or groove to the music, you were pushed off to the sides of the stage, fenced off. I understand why they did it, as I assume the people on the blankets did not want people standing in front of them, but it seemed to punish people who wanted to get up and move.
Anyway, I arrived at the beach just in time for Hannah Georgas to take the main stage. The hometown hero (she may be originally from Newmarket, Ontario, but we have appropriated her for ourselves) had previously been at the festival as part of the Malahat Revue with Aidan Knight, Said the Whale, and Jeremy Fisher, but this year the flame haired singer took the main stage on opening night.
As usual, Hannah was full of energy and had a great presence, starting off with "Waiting Game" building up to "Robotic" and a set of songs focusing mostly on her new, self titled album. Other highlights were a cover of Jesus & Mary Chain's "Just Like Honey" and the incredibly danceable "Shortie". She had a little help from her friend and former touring partner, Kathleen Edwards, for vocals on "Enemies" and the final song of the set, "The Deep End", as they brought the set to a grand ending.
It's always a pleasure seeing Hannah perform, and watching her on the main stage at the folk fest was especially a treat.
Next up after Hannah was Hayden. Even though he's been around for a couple decades I never really got into the Toronto troubadour, and maybe for that reason I didn't really connect with his set. Watching the first few songs, he seemed to have a low energy -- both in his music and his between song banter -- and while his songs were well written, they were a little too slow and melancholy. Perhaps if I stayed longer it would have picked up, but I took the opportunity to explore the festival grounds; the bazaar and vendors, and especially the beer garden and food trucks.
I made it back to the main stage for the "tweener", a short, stripped down set from Aidan Knight. He warmed up the crowd with three songs, including "Margaret Downe", one of the most heartbreaking songs.
Another tweener later on the night was Mo Kenney, whose few songs included "Deja Vu" and the recent SOCAN Songwriting Prize winning "Sucker". I hadn't seen her live before, so it was a nice teaser for her full set later in the weekend.
One of the people I was most looking forward to of the festival was Kathleen Edwards, and she was out next joined by Jim Bryson and Colin Cripps. She kicked things off with "Asking for Flowers", completely capturing the crowd's attention as the sun set over the mountains. Edwards has a phenomenal stage presence and energy, and just owns the stage. Going from her heartbreaking songs to her hilarious stage banter -- at one point stopping mid-song to jokingly tease the guy in front sprawled over five spots -- she had the entire park's attention.
A few highlights of the set included older songs like "Hockey Skates" and "I Make The Dough, You Get The Glory", as well as Hannah Georgas returning to the stage to help out with vocals on "Comedian/Chameleon".
Near the end of the set, Bryson took leave for Edwards and Cripps to duet of Kris Kristofferson's "Help Me Make It Through The Night" after Kathleen told the crowd about their past relationship -- they were married for five years -- and that it was his first show with her again in quite a while.
Sadly, it was then time to wrap it up as they closed out the set with the raw emotion of "Change the Sheets", as Kathleen conducting Jim & Colin to a powerful finish.
That was it for me on the first night, with great sets from Hannah and Kathleen. The next day would start bright and early with workshops from everyone seen today -- Georgas, Edwards, Knight, and Kenney -- as well as a few surprise discoveries, and another big highlight: Whitehorse on the main stage at night.