Vancouver Island was good. It must be one of the large folk festivals in Western Canada, with enough sponsors, grants and fan support to be able to get the performers that attract more fans. The Comox Valley Fairground is a good venue, with enough room for half a dozen stages, and camping. The camping is close to the performing area. It seemed quiet to me, but apparently some campers arrived with a sense that they could drink and party all night, which made security a minor challenge. The infrastructure was good. They had lots of portable privies, which were cleaned frequently. The camping was in an open paddock, which seems to have good drainage, and they kept lanes open for people to walk to their camps.
There was lots of music. During the day, if one stage wasn’t entertaining, there were other options. The weather was good. I enjoyed the sun, or found shade when the sun was too intense. The temperatures didn’t get above the mid 20’s, the sun was often broken by light cloud, and there were good breezes. I could take or leave some of the headliners. The last couple of main stage acts are for dancing and excitement, and I chose sleep.
I find folk festivals to be a good value. The ticket is about $120, plus another $40 for camping. Add gas for a three hour trip and food, and there it is – food, shelter and entertainment. I like camping and I don’t mind a public campground. It would be less fun in the rain but I pitched my tent on a high spot, and I can always shelter in the car.
I followed the bluegrass acts. John Reischman and the Jaybirds are solid and accomplished. Outlaw Social is a new group out of Victoria – the performers are young but have learned their instruments well and bring some skill, as well as enthusiasm, to the stage. I saw a workshop in which Aditya Verma explained and demonstrated the sarod, and Vineet Vyas explained the tabla, and they both explained the discipline of interpreting a raga. In another concert, Autorickshaw, from Toronto, shifted from Indian folk and classical songs to modern jazz, on Indian instruments.
I caught some songs by BC performers Rachelle Van Zanten and Hayley Sales. Van Zanten is older and plays bad girl rock, and was a lot of fun. Sales is young, pretty, and sings neutral and sentimental girl ballads. Another young woman trying to model her music and her career on Jewel.
Dougie MacLean, Guy Clark, Joan Armatrading and Don Mclean were the most experienced and recognized folk performers. The latter two only played on the main stage. Don Mclean is loved by his fans and draws crowds who want to be able to say they heard him sing American Pie live, but he hit the limits of his talent 35 years ago. Joan Armatrading’s show focussed on her recent music, which leans to rock and blues. It was heavily produced, lots of ornamental instrumentation, not much meat. I haven’t followed her music. More knowledgeable fans said they were disappointed that she didn’t play more of her singer-songwriter, jazzy material.
Dougie MacLean is a canny Scots musical entrepreneur. He has positioned himself as a modern day Robbie Burns, straddling the values of pastoral living, Scots history, nostaglia, sentimentality and the 1960’s. A long haired hippie version of Sean Connery. He works hard. He engages his audiences with invitations to sing the chorus with him. He writes a good melody, but isn’t a particularly good poet. His audiences walk away moved to tears by self-loving nostalgia. He aims for catharsis. He moves, soothes and manages. Sometimes that puts me off.
Guy Clark has made a career on the edges of American country music. He was in a group of hard living independent singer songwriters who were the beat poets of Texas – musical versions of Bukowsky and Hemingway. He writes lean, clean songs about men who worked hard and died poor. He’s a great writer and performer.
I will be going back.