Summerfolk Festival, Part II - By Volume

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SummerFolk

Summerfolk Festival, Part II

Keelan ponders what really matters in a music festival. Author: on October 3, 2013
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…Of Beer Tents, Wine Tents, and 14 Minute Funk Jams

We have about fourteen minutes left in the set, so there’s about time for one more song from each of us”, she said.

Three bands were on stage in the beer tent.

So they started playing.

The fourteen minutes flew by into an extended jam session. One bassist played a solo, and so the other band’s bassist joined in and they dueled for a while. Funky licks and stuff, then everyone had a turn soloing, but it was never self-indulgent; the key to a great live jam session is to remain light, communicative, and always fun. There was nothing self-indulgent about the extended jam session on display in the beer tent, also known as “By the Bay”. The artists involved Canadian pop and jazz singer Coco Love Alcorn; Cuban born soul-rocker Alex Cuba; and Cameroonian born and Montreal-via-France based blues, soul, and African-folk musician Cécile Doo Kingué. It was an eclectic mix but one thing uniting the three was their love for a great groove. And if such love was the message, these talented musicians brought it forth in spades.

My group sat near the back of the tent, enjoying one of many cups of Innis & Gunn, and taking in the sonic sex. The place was jumping, quite literally — I think everyone on the dance floor and most everyone on stage, especially the enigmatic and energetic front-woman Cécile, was jumping up and down. It was a clinic on how to make sure a festival’s beer tent kept abuzz with glassy eyed and honey-lighted love-in instead of ham-fisted, drunken tomfoolery. Not that anyone would expect such shenanigans here: Summerfolk is a very family-friendly event and the message is community and good-times over needless pretension. This message was not lost on anyone new to the festival, not myself and certainly not Cécile Doo Kingué, who, while talking to my friend in front of a puppet vendor on a relaxing Sunday, spoke of how Summerfolk was, more than any other festival she had been to or performed at, so relaxed—all preoccupations of looking cool or being hip went straight out the window as soon as you walked through the gate. So, yes: no overt cultural appropriation hipsterism here (ahem, Coachella).

We sat at the back of the tent and enjoyed some wonderfully talented musicians playing together for the sake of playing together, enjoying the warm night air, the abundance of stars (not quite at the level of the remote areas of Northern Ontario but several satellites could be seen floating across the vast darkness), the good beer, the friends, and the strange array of people at the festival. My girlfriend noted the utter lack of self-awareness in the crowd, and I had to agree; near the front of the stage, younger generations grooved along drunkenly to the jam while many of the older generations gleefully shimmied around awkwardly on the periphery. Their dancing was so wonderfully awful, it was great and it was endearing.

Eventually all good grooves come to an end and so did this one. The artists left the stage to a rousing ovation, including our own table, but the shouts of encore had to be turned down in order to give the next performers their due time slot. So with my first real concerted taste of Summerfolk down, I awaited The Strumbellas, a Canadian six-piece alt-country group from Toronto. Certainly a good way to follow-up a really great groove is with more and more energy and that’s exactly what The Strumbellas brought to the tent. If anyone was tired from all that jumping and dancing they certainly didn’t show it. Right from the jump The Strumbellas brought the ruckus with their brand of bluesy indie-folk, heavily tinged with bluegrass and a great pop sensibility. I wish I could tell you more about the songs in specific details. I wish I could list off titles of songs, what various band members played, and all sorts of boring, needlessly informative notes like that. I wish I could, but I can’t. At the beginning of the weekend I planned on documenting the artists I saw, taking notes for a nice, short write-up — but plans went out the window that night.

Instead, I can speak of troughs and crests, of spilled beer, of table thumping, of laughing, of guitar strums, crescendos, cymbal smashes, conversations about existentialism, scatological humour, sweat, camping in a VW van, faint smells of wacky-tobaccky, shots of rum, and the coolness in the night air of late summer on Lake Huron. I don’t want to sell The Strumbellas short, I thought they were an excellent group with great energy and a knack for catchy songwriting (catchy, of course, should only be thought of as something positive); but it was a blur, and a wonderful blur at that. So I’m glad I didn’t fuss over documenting the nitty-gritty of the night, or the weekend for that matter, because really it’s not about the schedule or the things that were there. Good festivals should work more as a flow than a conundrum, and this Friday night indicated that Summerfolk possesses a certain flow about it, something that moves between the artists, the great metaphoric juxtaposition of being in and out of time, where I recall specific moments very vividly while thinking of the weekend as one long uninterrupted flow. There was nothing to do, not in the sense of boredom, but in the sense of a certain freedom from a particular routine. So to pick about in the specifics of the event was to fall back into the tedium of routine. Instead, I decided to enjoy the flow of music inside the orange-fenced walls of Kelso Beach Park. To the artists on Friday night, if you so happen to stumble upon this, I’m sorry this is not a comprehensive review, but know that your talent was appreciated because it helped create the kind of vibe that took me into the flow.

And that was day one of three.

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