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The sizzling summer sounds of local music festsby Julie Druker
Photo: Concession 23 at the Flinton Jamboree
The 8th Annual Flinton Country Bluegrass Jamboree, which was held from Aug. 3-5, had trailers jam packed at the Flintion Recreation Centre, the official home of this popular event where fans enjoyed a stellar lineup of three packed days of traditional country and bluegrass music. On the Saturday night, award-winning master bluegrassers Bill White and White Pine played a generous set to a very appreciative crowd. The band of six stellar players, who can all solo till the cows come home, featured the pitch perfect vocals of band leader Bill White; master fiddler Joe White; and mandolin front man Rob Tebworth. The band warmed up the tractor trailer stage for a night of all out classic Bluegrass and played numerous favorites like Bill Munroe's banjo classic, “Pipe County Breakdown” and Jimmy Martin's “Maryanne” to name just a few.
Next up were newcomers to the Jamboree, the award-winning four-member band from the Ottawa Valley, Concession 23. The tightly knit foursome are noted for the incredible vocal talents of their only female member, Sherry Philp, who also plays banjo and who has won Vocalist of the Year at the Central Canadian Bluegrass Awards for the last five consecutive years. The four are an energetic ensemble made up of Jonathan Ferrabee (acoustic bass/vocals); Kevin Golka (mandolin/vocals); Sherry Philp (banjo/vocals); and Nick Strachan (guitar/vocals). They played a number of tunes from their latest recording titled “Wandering Steps”, a tribute to some of the greatest bluegrass composers of all time. Their version of the sad tune “You're Not Easy to Forget” was superb, with Kevin singing the lead and featuring Philps on banjo and harmonies. They played a couple of originals from that recording, one of which is titled “Albert Johnson” and tells the story of one of greatest man hunts in Canadian history. The chorus repeats: “And it’s 47 days and 52 below/ And a 100 men and 40 dogs in driving arctic snow/ I am dead and buried and hell is now my home/ My name is Albert Johnson and just leave me alone.”
Photo: Maneli Jamal at the Canadian Guitar Festival
Farther south, the 8th Annual Canadian Guitar Festival at Loughborough Lake Holiday Park continued its tradition of attracting some of the best guitar players and finger pickers from all across Canada, the US and more distant continents. Canadian legend Don Ross opened up the three-day event with his usual Friday night headlining performance. On Saturday, when I attended, Toronto transplant Maneli Jamal played early in the afternoon. Born in Russia and raised in Germany and the US until 18 years of age, Jamal, who is self-taught, demonstrated a unique style all his own that combines classical, flamenco and percussive playing. He played a number of pieces from his two CDs- the first titled “The Ziur Movement”. He played “Most Glorious Days”, inspired by the words uttered by the judge on the day that he became a Canadian citizen. It was an example of his masterful upbeat playing where he breaks out all the stops, the effect of which can suspend belief that this is one solitary being playing one single guitar. From his 2012 CD titled “The Lamaj Movement”, he played numerous selections including “Us Against Them”, a slow, rich, and deep tune - meditative and seemingly endless in all of its layers and in which he often turns on a dime, changing time, tone and feel effortlessly. In between numbers Jamal spoke at length about the inspiration for his songs, which have stemmed from his world wanderings and the loves in his life.
His set was followed by Owen Van Larkins of Australia, who currently is touring with Jamal and fellow fingerstyler Trevor Gordon Hall. Larkins played a number of tunes from his 2012 CD, his first solo effort titled “Wandering Hands”. He opened his set with his upbeat original “Stomp” to get the crowd acclimatized to his particular groove and immaculate, heart-felt playing. Later into the set he quieted things down with “One Way Ticket”, a pretty tune with hard hitting, heavenly harmonies. He spoke of his inspiration for a sweet song titled “Honey”, inspired by a past love and he finished his set off with the rousing “Halloween Two Step” - a danceable, driving tune that demonstrates the lighter side of his amazing virtuoso soundscapes.
Meanwhile at Blue Skies … the 39th annual festival, programmed this year by new artistic director Julia Phillips, followed on some of the initiatives taken in recent years to program with a younger audience in mind while continuing the folk and roots traditions that have made the festival a multi-generational sell-out for years and years. The previous artistic director, Joel Leblanc, who is now programming the Stewart Park Festival in Perth, brought a focus on younger performers over his three-year tenure, and Phillips carried this on, but she has a particular interest in music with a roots-based jazz inflection, if this festival was any indication.
The highlight of the Friday night ‘sound check’ concert exemplified all the traditions of the festival. The Boxcar Boys, a group of young Toronto musicians, describe their music as a “gumbo of wild gypsy, old-jazz, klezmer, and folk music always performed with a good-time New Orleans spirit.” The band features clarinet, sousaphone, trombone, fiddle and accordion.
Their set featured tight ensemble playing, lots of danceable melodies, and some haunting Klezmer clarinet riffs that have not been heard in the woods back at Clarendon in many years, if ever.
The Saturday afternoon show featured the Arrogant Worms, making their Blue Skies debut after 20 years on the road. On Saturday night, highlights included Maz - a project that became a band when Mark Maziade decided to put together a jazz ensemble rooted in traditional Quebec music. The result is at times ephemeral and at times foot-stomping Québécois music in the tradition of La Bottine Souriante. By the time Maz’s set came to a close, the small number of hardcore dancers at both sides of the hill in front of the Blue Skies stage had swollen to become bouncing wings around the people sitting on blankets or low chairs in the center.
Annabelle Chvostek, who some may know from her tenure with the Wailin' Jennys, edged the evening into a singer-songwriter direction, but not completely. The message of her music is one of social justice, but she delivers it with a lot of rhythm, exemplified in the only cover song she performed, Peter Tosh’s "Equal Rights". She is also one of the few performers who manage to play fiddle and sing lead vocals at the same time.
Sherman Downey and the Silver Lining were heavily anticipated by the crowd after stand-out performances at the Stewart Park Festival and the Sharbot Lake County Inn in recent weeks, and their Newfoundland party sound found a receptive audience. The Saturday finale was Drumhand, a percussion band with a brass section. They played a world beat jazz set that kept the dancers, and their by now sore feet, busy until the wee hours.
Among the highlights on Sunday night were Sonic Escape - a fiddle, flute and cello trio from New York, who were attending their first ever folk festival. They wondered how the audience would respond to their virtuoso playing of popular classical music, but need not have worried as they received a standing ovation by the time their set was completed.
The final performance of the festival featured another innovation at the festival that has now become a tradition. In the past, the idea was to bring in a more mellow band to bring the festival to a serene end, but programming for the younger crowd, who prefer to end things on a frenetic note has taken over, and the Guelph-based band Eccodeck fit the bill to a tee. Eccodeck includes keyboard, bass, a multi-instrumentalist on all things brass, a drummer and a conga player, along with a man they call “The Delivery Man” who plays a complicated sampling machine. Among the samples they use are vocal performances from some of the top African and Indian influences vocalists they can find. The band produces a hypnotic beat that is at once modern and ancient, a sound that also echoed the roots-jazz feel that Julia Phillips brought to Clarendon this year.
In addition to performers from across Canada and Northeastern United States, two of the front stage acts, who perform while equipment behind the curtain is being shifted between performances, were young local musicians.
Japhy Sullivan, from nearby Bennet Lake, is a fiddle player and singer. Fresh from a performance at Stewart Park with a full band, Japhy performed some more intimate material, at points singing original and traditional tunes while strumming his fiddle, and at other times, accompanied by his brother Noah on guitar, playing some fiddle songs that echo back to one of the most cherished Blue Skies fiddle players of the past, the late great Oliver Shroer.
In addition, Otty Way, Perth-based guitarist and songwriter Jacob Bornheimer, accompanied by vocalist-songwriter Surah Field-Green of Sharbot Lake, performed original tunes that used looping techniques to layer vocal and guitar riffs together, producing a hypnotic/ephemeral sound.