The 38th Annual Vancouver Folk Music Festival returns to Jericho Beach Park this weekend, boasting over 60 bands from more than 15 countries.
This year, the festival opened early on Friday for some afternoon workshops. I got there just in time a pretty solid workshow called Cross Country Checkup featuring Jenn Grant, Fortunate Ones, Hawksley Workman, and Jasper Sloan Yip. Jenn Grant was the host of the stage, and started off with a gorgeous song "Spades" from her new album, followed by the title track to Fortunate Ones new album, The Bliss, which had been produced by Daniel Ledwell, Grant's husband who was also on stage with her. I hadn't heard the duo before, but they had a nice folky sound. Hawksley Workman was in rare form, telling intricate stories before every song, while Jasper soothed the crowd with his storytelling songs.
One of the things I love about these workshops is the collaborating and jamming that can (hopefully) happen, and as it went on there was a little bit of that. Twice during the workshop, Workman leaned over to Stephanie Chatman, who was playing violin with Jasper, and asked her to join in. During "Safe and Sound", he even encouraged her to take a violin solo. Then in the final song of the workshop, Jasper's "Foxtrot", both Workman and Ledwell backed him up.
The only downside to the workshop was mother nature; the wind was whipping fast and was frequently being picked up on the stage mics (as well as rattling the tent) but that can hardly be blamed on anyone, and it was a great workshop to start off the weekend.
After that, it was time for the main stage to kick off, starting with former member of The Be Good Tanyas, Frazey Ford. I caught most of the set from the beer garden, so while I likely missed some nuances, it was a nice set. She played some chilled out folk rock that was perfect for the sunny afternoon.
Next up was hometown heroes Said the Whale on the main stage, returning to the folk fest for the first time since playing there as part of the Malahat Revue, a bicycle tour with Hannah Georgas, Jeremy Fisher, and Aidan Knight.
They launched right into "Mother" from the new album hawaiii, with some unfortunate technical problems right off the bat. And while they were quickly fixed for the most part, Tyler Bancroft's microphone was pretty low for the first half of the set, definitely a problem when you have a band like Said the Whale, where Tyler and Ben Worcester share vocals.
But that issue aside, the band played with a tremendous energy for the crowd. Their breakthrough hit "Camilo (The Magician)" came early, and they dipped into their back catalogue for older songs like the upbeat and bubbly "The Light Is You" and one of my favourites from them, the soaring "Love is Art/Sleep Through Fire".
Other highlights included the dark and eerie "Resolutions" (which sadly did not feature Shad's contribution to the song, as he's now on the other side of the country), and older song I hadn't heard live in a while "BC Orienteering", and "Seasons", which saw Spencer Schoening come out from behind the drums to take over vocals, accompanied only by Jacelyn Brown on keys for a lovely song.
They wrapped up the set rocking out with "I Love You", much of the crowd singing along (well, the younger portions of the crowd, relegated to the caged off "standing area" on the sides of the stage, anyway).
Like every year, the main stage featured "tweeners", acts playing short, stripped down sets between the main acts, though I missed the majority of Beans on Toast before the next act took the stage, Hawksley Workman. He started off with one of my favourites of his, "Your Beauty Must Be Rubbing Off", early on showing shades of his eclectic and eccentric stage performance.
Right after the song he launched into some of his famed banter, which at times feels like stream-of-consciousness ramblings, but always make a weird amount of sense, if you can follow his internal logic. And it's always entertaining. After the first song he went off on a tangent about "erotic nuts", and swimming out into the bay to the barge that was (clearly) selling them at bulk. A topic that he would frequently circle back to throughout the set.
With his new album Old Cheetah coming out last month, Workman also played songs from that, like the lead single "Don't Take Yourself Away (Instant Nostalgia)" and the wild "Teenage Cats" which is about, well, exactly what you would expect.
He also invited his Mounties bandmates on stage, first Steve Bays to play the keys on "Teenage Cats", followed by Ryan Dahle on guitar for another new song "It's Really Starting To Snow". That culminated with Hawksley's band taking a break, and both Steve and Ryan joining him for a chilled out version of Mounties' "Tokyo Summer", a nice surprise for the crowd.
From there he cranked out the hits for the last few songs, the wild and frantic "Jealous of Your Cigarette" contrasting with the soft and beautiful "Oh You Delicate Heart", before finally wrapping up his set with the sultry "Smoke Baby", finishing the song off by taking a seat behind the drums for a solo.
There were a couple more acts on the main stage that night, but I figured Hawksley Workman was the perfect ending for the night, so I took off while the soothing sounds of tweener Scarlett Jane drifted throughout the festival, to get ready for Day Two.
If you're heading there today, make sure to check out acts like Basia Bulat, Lindi Ortega, The Strumbellas, and Matthew Barber & Jill Barber, all playing (or part of a workshop) today!