So, Vancouver Folk Music Festival.

Dad (who had the physical tickets) got lost trying to find the site Friday afternoon, so we missed the (apparently traditional) Musqueam opening and greetings, which this year were expanded to include a performance by a group of First Nations women including Ferron welcoming the festival community to the place that used to be Ee'yullmough, now Jericho Beach Park. Missed a chunk of the first mainstage act (Mokoomba) too, but got to see (total cutiepies!) Geomungo Factory perform "Freebird" on traditional Korean instruments at one of the evening side stages, so that was pretty cool. Other than that, Friday wasn't too eventful (the festival, anyway; earlier in the day I'd gone walking up West 4th with the intention of wandering the Endowment Lands all afternoon but found somebody's UBC staff ID on the sidewalk so kept going most of the way to the university to return it--ended up giving it to someone in the Endowment Lands office who said she'd call the university lost'n'found and get it back to the owner, before taking EL trails down to the beach to get back to the hostel).

Saturday was an excellent day for social conscience music, from drizzly morning Leonard Sumner solo concert, to "Rabble Rousers" workshop (Grievous Angels, Frank Yamma, David Rovics--who did this fantastic song "I'm a Better Anarchist Than You"--and ex-Saw Doctors Leo Moran and Anthony Thistlethwaite), to Pete Seeger tribute workshop (fun fact: it's VFMF tradition that a bunch of BC unions sponsor a Saturday afternoon workshop on the Utah Phillips Memorial Stage--aka Stage 2--and this was 2014's; huge audience for this one, both for theme and for the fact Joan Baez was supposed to be there--she had to cancel for medical reasons, alas, but we still got Eliza Gilkyson, Alejandro Escovedo, ought-to-be-legendary Josh White Jr, and Scottish singer-songwriter Karine Polwart, who I'll return to in a bit), to "CountryFolk" workshop (Sumner, Amanda Anne Platt of The Honeycutters, Suzie Vinnick, who told an adorable story about her dad turning a sweet cowboy ballad into a rousing shoutalong--"leather!", and Roger Knox with Jon Langford and Jean Cook, who I'll also return to; I got there just in time to hear Langford explain his and Knox's country-folk credentials: "Roger's from New South Wales, I'm from old south Wales, we're both from the south, we play country music"), to "Power in Song" (Polwart, Rovics, Yamma, and Ashleigh Flynn, though I'm obliged to admit that I napped through most of this one), to Knox-with-Langford-and-Cook solo, and right on into mainstage.

Baez's cancellation meant they had to do some shuffling: Noura Mint Seymali got moved to closer, Escovedo and the Sensitive Boys stayed where scheduled, and Karine Polwart got to take the sunset slot. She ended up one of the first artists at the festival to run out of stock at the merch tent, and frankly I'm not surprised: she's a beautiful, wistful voice and a captivating storyteller. One story she told a few times over the weekend to introduce her song "King of Birds" starts with a dedication to the Occupy movement, who had their London basecamp at St. Paul's Cathedral. The title, she explains, comes from a folktale told in various forms throughout the British Isles and across the European continent: way back in the mists of time all birds were at terrible bloody war with one another, until they eventually decided to hold a competition to elect a leader (as you do), and declared that the bird who could fly the highest would be crowned king--much to the irritation of all the penguins and cassowaries etc. The competition went ahead anyway, though, and with a tremendous thunderclap beating of wings all the birds took off into the sky. The first to drop out were the grouse and the pheasants, who were mostly Scottish and ate far too many fried foods. Gradually all the other birds gave up as well, the songbirds and the albatrosses and so on. The Canada Geese, "they were rocking!", did really well but eventually they, too, fell back to earth. Finally the eagle, soaring way, way up, took a look around and saw that he was alone. No other birds came anywhere close to him. Just as he was about to declare himself the king of birds, however, he felt a fluttering on the feathers of his right wing: there, just a few inches above the eagle, was a wren. That's the story of how the wren was named the king of birds, and it's nice to think about how sometimes a little creature can triumph over a big, fearsome one--and by the way, the architect of the present St. Paul's Cathedral was Sir Christopher Wren.

Saturday's also the day I won the argument with my dad that started the night before when he expected me to agree with him that Leonard Sumner's mainstage tweener (which I didn't hear because I was off exploring the site or something) was terrible and that he had no talent, with the specific accusation that Sumner was "all message, no music". I did not agree, and asserted that Dad not liking rap or First Nations music had no bearing on the talent of people who make that. He backed down, grumblingly, and turned to his program, telling me where he planned to be at what time the next day and how much he was looking forward to Grievous Angels. Early Saturday evening we small-talked where we'd been all day; I'd gone to Sumner's concert and we'd both been at "Rabble Rousers", and I was able to press him on the false non-equivalency he'd constructed between Sumner and the Angels regarding their respective message:music ratios until he admitted that the issue was in his subjective taste rather than their objective talent (nothing against the Angels, I liked them a lot, but you can hardly accuse Charlie Angus of being mellifluous). Dad now claims he was referring to the old lineup, with a female vocalist, when he praised the Angels, but he didn't say that and he bought a bunch of David Rovics CDs, so.

The first session I really attended on Sunday (flitted around a bit during the first time block, a song here and two there) continued and condensed Saturday's themes in a really interesting way. Titled "The People, United . . .", it drew together a crew of familiar faces--Grievous Angels, Roger Knox with Jon Langford and Jean Cook, Frank Yamma with David Bridie, and Leonard Sumner--plus Iskwew Singers, who I knew slightly from last year's Edmonton Folk Festival. Every person on that stage was either indigenous (Australian Aborigine or Canadian First Nations) or working as an advocate for indigenous people (or an indigenous person): Bridie and Langford were at this festival mostly as supporting players for Yamma and Knox, respectively, and had only one concert block each for their own material (and how weird-cool is it that are two Aboriginal men, from different parts of Australia, performing different styles of music, but each accompanied by a whitefella using his higher music industry profile to draw attention to their work, playing the Canadian folk festival circuit at the same time?), Angels' frontman Charlie Angus took a break from music to help his neighbours organize roadblocks and is now the NDP MP for the enormous northern Ontario riding of Timmins-James Bay). It was . . . kind of intense, actually. Tense excited energy swirling through patches of (rather large) audience, nurtured by the perfect kind of cloudy sky; collisions of well-meaning white Canadian awkwardness around racial Others and activated activist potential surging. There were jokes (Sumner: "I never really get to play with a full band behind me. Thanks, Grievous Angels." Angus: "Yeah, we're gonna have to charge you for that." Sumner: "Great! Then I'll charge you rent for that land you're living on!") and the laughter was enthusiastic and sour--but hey, good things aren't necessarily comfortable.

Not many other standout events on Sunday--met up with a high school friend, finished the cardigan I'd been re-knitting, heard Jon Langford play some of his own stuff--up until the Mary Lambert thing. I wasn't thrilled with Lambert's manic pixie dream lesbian stage persona (dunno how much that was her-all-the-time or calculated or involuntary reaction to talking in front of people, I just found it more grating than cute) or IMHO inadequate apology/explanation for completely missing the one afternoon workshop she was supposed to do (ended up being Leonard Sumner MCing the Mokoomba dance party instead of whatever "OutSpoken" was supposed to be) but eh. She sings pretty and I didn't have to pay extra for the privilege of hearing her giggle. The upsetting part came when she introduced a spoken word piece by saying "I always like to give a trigger warning before getting into the heavy stuff" and then launching into the piece without any indication of what that heavy stuff actually was (it turned out to be a violently abusive heterosexual relationship ending with the implied death of the female partner at the hands of the male after narrator!Mary failed to rescue her), AND she'd already performed another spoken word piece full of not-that-subtle references to eating disorders, cutting, and sexual abuse of minors by relatives without any attempt at warning whatsoever (that piece was also annoyingly preachy in a "you are not allowed to feel shame about these things or keep them secret, doing so makes you a bad survivor" way, and basically unnecessary because she closed her set with a song that made all the same points only better because it presented it as "this is what I live with, I'm trying to be open about it all and that's helping me, try it maybe" instead of "this is how to do life"). She followed the second piece with a song about being in love with a pothead and how hard it was to break up, which was a lovely wound-salting from the universe, but I was already well into the trigger spiral by then. It's her not-a-warning that really annoys me (and, I think, hyper-sensitized me to what followed)--it's great that she tried, really great, because a lot of performers wouldn't even think of that, and I can't doubt her good intentions, but, like, live outdoor music festivals are kind of a terrible environment to try to trigger-warn in because it's hard to close your ears at all let alone to a voice that's being amplified so that everyone can hear it, and stepping outside isn't an option because you're already there, and it's so easy to miss the "warning" and still hear the warned-for, so if you recognize that a particular composition is likely to be triggering for members of your audience you should also be able to recognize that this is a bad place to perform it, and then not perform it. Also there's kind of a big difference between "caution: wet floor" and "caution: enraged grizzly bear", so if you're genuinely trying to warn for something you need to be at least a little specific--that vagueness, if anything, is only going to make people listen closer because all you've told them is "this is juicy".
That sucked and it made me go sit under a tree in a place with no people for an hour.

As an event the fest was pretty relaxed, overall. Chock full of lesbians, as previously mentioned--queer women and folk festivals go together like ginger and lemon anyway but this one was really owned. Silver-haired Birkenstock womyn who pioneered the Left Coast tofu cabin lifestyle, glitter-covered babydykes fused together in sickening teenage love, two-mama partnerships doting on cross-racially adopted babies, matched sets of waistcoated butch people . . . It was kinda nice, actually, apart from the "do I look gay enough?" stress I always get around capital-L-esbians when my head's not shaved. Mostly white people but by less of a margin, I think, than other festivals, which makes sense for Vancouver--though it's also, fortunately, a trend across the board, that the population of "folk" attending these festivals is opening up the same way "folk" music is, albeit laggingly. At least that's my hopeful perception, comparing festivals I've been to recently with those of my childhood, where the only people of colour I can remember seeing were either on stage or behind a concession counter. I could make other observations comparing particular aspects of this festival to particular aspects of others but I think this post is long enough already.

(to be followed by a hopefully shorter thing about my one-day jaunt to the Calgary Folk Music Festival and a playlist of new-to-me, and some rediscovered-by-me, musics)
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