2017 marks the 40th year of the Vancouver Folk Music Festival, and while I didn’t see as much of the festival as I would have liked this time around, I still managed to catch some great music, down at Jericho Beach Park.
Apparently this year, one of the themes was “returning favourites” which is part of the reason that Kathleen Edwards was on the main stage on Saturday night. Edwards famously "quit" music a couple years back and opened a coffee shop in Stittsville (appropriately named Quitters) but she said when the Folk Fest called, she wasn’t going to miss this festival, especially for the view.
Kathleen played a set of favourites, ranging from the sombre "Asking for Flowers" to the more rocking "Mint" and spanning her career, from "Six O’Clock News" and "You Make The Dough, I Get The Glory" to "Change The Sheets".
Her stage presence was as charming as ever, as she told stories and joked between songs. I don’t think she has completely quit playing live music, I think she still does a couple festivals each year, but she’s still on top of her game, based on her performance over the weekend.
Up next, to close out Saturday night on the main stage was one of the most celebrated Canadian bands of all time, Barenaked Ladies. I‘ve really only seen them once, years ago before Steven Page left, so was interested to see them in their current incarnation. I didn't know what to expect, but they played a lot of the hits, with a few newer ones thrown in. There was even a fun, improvised rap early on as each member of the band was clearly having a blast on stage. They also had special guest Eric McCormack (Will of ...And Grace fame) surprise everyone not only by coming on stage, but also singing.
Favourites like "Old Apartment" and "One Week" got the crowd going, as well as one of my personal favourites, "Brian Wilson". They got people singing along to a newer song, "Bottom Of Your Heart" and, of course, "If I Had $1,000,000", which even had Kathleen Edwards sneak back onstage to sing with the band.
They ended with a mashup of popular songs, everything from the Game of Thrones theme to a song from La La Land, from The Chainsmokers to TLC to Sinatra, before a very brief encore break, and then drummer Tyler Stewart and frontman Ed Robertson swapping places, with "Alcohol" and letting out his inner rock star with brief covers of "Whole Lotta Love" and "Blister In The Sun".
It was a very enjoyable show, and a great way to finish the night, but to be honest... I couldn’t help feel it was just not quite the same without Page.
Sunday morning started with the workshop I was most looking forward to, the all-Ontario lineup of Kathleen Edwards, Jim Bryson, and Afie Jurvanen (aka Bahamas). The hour felt less like a "folk fest workshop" and more like three friends just hanging around, especially between Kathleen & Jim. The three had fun and told stories, and occasionally joining in on each other’s songs. Kathleen Edwards played a few new tunes, including one called "Sports Analogies" which was a great use of sporting metaphors to relationships, and Afie had a great crowd singalong for a new song called "Bad Boys Need Love Too", essentially playing a capella while he and the crowd clapped. Bryson introduced a song he wrote after doing workshops with artists like Plaskett, who got huge reactions to their songs, which he was hoping to get on this day… and the crowd was more than eager to give him that same ovation. The workshop came to a weird and wonderful end when Afie pulled out an instrument he said he had just recently gotten into, the penny whistle, and played a portion of Howard Shore’s score of Lord of the Rings.
After that I decided to check out another workshop featuring Belle Game and a couple Canadians I didn’t know much about, Luke Wallace and Hillsburns, the latter of which I really liked and made sure to catch their set later in the evening. While Belle Game and HIllsburn were pretty much full bands each taking up half the stage, Luke Wallace was alone with an acoustic guitar, letting both other bands join in for some really nice "workshop moments". Especially when Wallace played the theme song from Arthur, and everyone joined in.
After that it was over to catch a full set from Begonia, aka Alexa Dirks who you may know from Chic Gamine. It was my first time seeing the Winnipeg singer perform, and she was one of the acts I was looking forward to most at the festival this year.
Dirks’ charm on-stage balanced a powerful presence (especially her voice) with a set of vulnerable songs, including when she was on stage solo with an acoustic guitar for "Hot Dog Stand". She hit some songs off her recent EP Lady In Mind, including the title track, as well as the incredibly infectious earworm "Juniper".
I definitely enjoyed her set, and am looking forward to the next time she comes through town.
As mentioned above, I ended up liking Hillsburn in their workshop, and luckily they would be playing later on in the evening, so I made sure to catch the Haligonian band in their own showcase set. The best way to describe them would be an East Coast Kitchen Party band, with songs spanning from the slow and sombre to loud and uproarious. Singer and violinist Rosanna Burrill was mostly on lead vocals, but her brother Clayton and songwriter Paul Aarntzen provided excellent harmonies, with the latter taking over lead on a few songs.
An album out later in the year, and looking forward to hearing it. My favourites of the set included a big stomp-and-clap-along song called "Run Down", the first single off their upcoming album, and the big singalong I believe they called "Young Desire", which was thesong that got stuck in my head after the festival.
After seeing the workshop, and especially their full set, I would have to say they were my favourite ‘new discovery’ of the festival for this year.
After that it was over to the other side of the park for their workshop-mates, Belle Game. It’s been a couple years since I last saw them live, and with a new album on the horizon I was excited to be seeing them perform again. The now-4-piece played mostly songs from their upcoming album Fear/Nothing, including "Yuh" and the first official single from it, "Spirit", which I’ve seen live a few times now, and it never fails to put me in awe. Definitely glad it’s now out in the world. Among all the new songs, there were a couple older tunes, slightly reworked to their current ethereal sound, including one of my favourites of theirs, "River" with Andrea Lo’s insanely powerful voice soaring so far I’m sure they were able to hear it across the water in North Van.
And finally, to round out the evening and the festival weekend (well, for me anyway), it was time for Bahamas on the main stage. He had just started as Belle Game was finishing, so I walked over while "Stronger Than That" filled the air, as he played a set of old favourites and a few new tunes. Songs like "Caught Me Thinking" and "Your Sweet Touch" got the crowd swaying, as he liberally sprinkled extended guitar jams into songs -- but never enough to seem overbearing.
He also played the aforementioned "Bad Boys Need Love Too", this time with full band accompaniment, at the request of Kathleen Edwards who stormed the stage for the second time that weekend to lead the crowd in a singalong.
Bahamas finished the set as the sun was setting on the beach, and I couldn’t think of a better way to cap off the 40th annual Vancouver Folk Music Festival.