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Vancouver Folk Music Festival @ Jericho Beach Park – July 19th 2015

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The 2015 Vancouver Folk Music Festival, which ran from July 17-19, was blessed with gorgeous sunny weather this weekend. Concert Addicts was in attendance at Jericho Beach Park on Sunday to take in the scene along with an enthusiastic, laid back, and oftentimes eccentric, all-ages crowd of Vancouver “Folkies.”

During the day, against the Pacific West Coast backdrop of mountains, ocean, and a wide summer sky, festival-goers wandered between artisan booths, food carts, and music workshops. The workshop format, where various combinations of artists share stages, is a remarkable feature of the Folk Festival. In the grouping entitled “Messin’ With the Wrong Heart,” with Jenn Grant, Frazey Ford, Basia Bulat, and Lucius, the songstresses showed a quiet, respectful appreciation for one another. Grant said with a smile that she was “such a fan of everyone on this stage,” and Bulat mouthed the words along with Frazey Ford during a dreamy rendition of Ford’s “September Fields.”

Frazey Ford and Caroline Ballhorn @ Vancouver Folk Festival © Hannah Siden

Frazey Ford and Caroline Ballhorn @ Vancouver Folk Festival © Hannah Siden

On Stage 5 “The Young and the Restless” included Fortunate Ones, Grace Petrie, and local indie favorites Said The Whale. While all involved were appealing, Grace Petrie, a singer-songwriter from the UK, was the most interesting of the bunch. Petrie writes strong, wry protest songs, an example being her performance of “Emily Davison Blues.”

At “The Stuff of Everyday Life” on Stage 2 Mama Kin, Phosphorescent, and Matthew and Jill Barber went in a country direction, feeding off of one another’s choices and collaborating with low-key good-naturedness. Mama Kin’s song “One Too Many,” about a relationship affected by one partner’s addiction, was a stunning moment, conveyed with passionate vocals. Matthew Houck (Phosphorescent) also delivered a stripped-down, beautifully intimate version of “Song for Zula.” He noted how the song was influenced by a Johnny Cash lyric and then described the way in which “country music can be a vehicle for elevating ordinary moments.” “It can also be about beer and trucks and stuff… that’s okay too,” he laughed.

Where the workshops really shone, however, were during the higher energy, dance oriented sets, as groups could jam together to unparalleled effect. Tanga, The Jerry Cans, and Cécile Doo-Kingué had people on their feet for their set “One Nation Under a Groove,” but the heat was later turned up a notch for “Jump Drive,” featuring the Melbourne Ska Orchestra and La Gallera Social Club. The two bands interacted joyously and seamlessly with one another, and the audience was only too happy to party alongside them.

La Gallera Social Club @ Vancouver Folk Festival © Hannah Siden

La Gallera Social Club @ Vancouver Folk Festival © Hannah Siden

Another highlight of the afternoon was Rising Appalachia, a North Carolinian group led by sisters Leah and Chloe Smith. With a myriad of influences – folk, roots, soul and world music – Rising Appalachia felt innovative yet grounded, and there was a practiced ease to their harmonies, apparent on songs such as “Lean In.”

Rising Appalachia @ Vancouver Folk Festival © Hannah Siden

Rising Appalachia @ Vancouver Folk Festival © Hannah Siden

Later on the mainstage, as the few clouds changed color to dusky purples and oranges, Phosphorescent played once more, this time with his backing musicians. Although Brooklyn based, they looked like they would fit in Nashville: the pedal steel guitar player, who looked effortlessly cool in his mirrored sunglasses, lit up a cigarette while playing, and then tipped his cowboy hat to an admiring crowd. Phosphorescent blends country/ folk and electronic music in an unlikely but ultimately exquisite pairing of genres. Moreover, Houck’s wavering, pained vocals made “Song for Zula” sound nearly as personal when performed on the mainstage as on the workshop stage earlier in the day.

Phosphorescent @ Vancouver Folk Festival © Hannah Siden

Phosphorescent @ Vancouver Folk Festival © Hannah Siden

Angélique Kidjo, the lauded singer-songwriter from Benin, closed the festival with the strongest performance of the day. Besides her powerhouse vocals, she playfully engaged with her musicians onstage, danced, and included the audience during songs such as “Afirika;” festival-goers sang “Ashè é Mama, ashè é Mama Afirika” while Kidjo ventured off the stage and into the adoring crowd. Kidjo is also a dedicated activist, and took time during her set to speak about her strong belief in women’s empowerment through education. Indeed, many artists at the festival had a welcome political bent. And yet, standing at the edge of the stage looking out towards the crowd, Kidjo ended the night by declaring, “this is just joy.” Judging from the cheers, the “Folkies” in attendance agreed wholeheartedly.

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