Summerfolk Festival, Part IV - By Volume

...was fond of your writing, it allowed me to see into you... The Hotelier - Discomfort Revisited

Summerfolk Festival, Part IV

Fill your lungs with the country air. Author: on October 5, 2013
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…Of Wine, Euchre, and Puppets

So on the Sunday I broke down and bought a full length arm puppet from the aforementioned Banjo Puppets artisanal vendor. It was quite expensive, but I had grown so fond of the muppety little guy that my girlfriend simply wouldn’t let me leave without purchasing him — to the point where she offered to pay a significant sum as a graduation present. Ralphie (his name) is furry and when asked by the vendor what colour we thought he was, we went with funky. Purple, yellow, and orange are his main colours, kind of like birthday cake ice cream, and he’s quite sarcastic. The purpose of this anecdote, as purposeless as it may seem, is to indicate the level of power in this festival’s flow. I am normally a rather frugal person; I don’t purchase things easily and while I’m no Scrooge McDuck I am certainly aware of my budgetary limits. But that’s the beauty of Summerfolk, it’s easy to get caught up and it’s easy to romanticize. It’s even easy to make (somewhat) ridiculous purchases like a beautifully hand crafted puppet. It’s easy because this festival makes it so. I was finally convinced to buy Ralphie over a game of Euchre in the wine tent, eating herb encrusted blue cheese with crackers, baguettes, and avocados, with a bottle of rosé for goodness sake.

The beauty of the music, which, like most festivals, ranges from gracefully wondrous to, well, kind of lame, is a big part the festival’s atmosphere and it’s probably the greatest element of folk music. The sound of fiddles, mandolins, strummed guitars: these things echoed and reverberated throughout the park all weekend. And, of course, it is only fitting that it wasn’t until I was out of the festival’s flow that I realized its presence at all. It’s the same essence that snatches us in the smallest hook in a pop song, the tightest key change, the burst of volume, and the little flourishes of music that only the most genius composers can create. We stopped at a gas station on our way out of town back to Stratford around midnight on Sunday evening and I walked back from the convenience store, weary, and with a lemonade in hand (Southern Peach, obviously). Smile on my face, I hopped into the front seat of the orange VW Westphalia and handed a bottle to my girlfriend in the backseat (I was playing navigator for the night). Summerfolk’s flow still persisted, making its presence known like some half-formed memory. Just there: you know those vapid songs about those great summer nights with friends, the perfect summer weekend kind of trope. I suppose Summerfolk provided the venue for this kind of weekend. Important is that word venue, because the festival never imposes itself, it just allows its spirit to seep into you. And unlike the vapidness of those crappy, glossy songs that come on the radio every August/September, this “perfect” weekend had true , tangible personality.

So we travelled back on empty roads listening to The Cars, “Radar Love”, “Apocalypse in 9/8″, and the entirety of Abbey Road. It was only few hours since the closing ceremonies, where the entire amphitheatre participated in singing Stan Rodger’s classic slice of Canadiana, “The Mary Ellen Carter”. I didn’t know the words but I mouthed along anyway, and I was welcomed in, because that’s the kind of all-inclusive attitude on display at Summerfolk. Because, in the end, this isn’t a life-changing event or weekend; it’s not the thing that forms or shapes a personality, but it is the kind of event that allows one to realize how their personality reacts to things. It’s a festival that creates surprise, after all, and so it’s all about reaction. Whether it’s Celtic fiddler Niam Ni Charra collaborating with Latin guitarist Jorge Miguel to create a wonderful Celtic/Latin jam (these are two folk traditions, by the way, that marry so well together), the wonderful energy of country-rockers The JD Edwards Band, the charmingly funny stage banter of Archie Fisher, or the excitement of the local young talent just making their break, there’s no shortage of surprisingly delightful moments.

So we drove down the dark country highways of Southwestern Ontario toward the tourism heavy Stratford with the midnight fog rolling over fields and fields of crops and I confirmed to myself that Summerfolk was the kind of thing that writing about in any sort of normal manner, or in anything less than over-enthusiastic, boyish gushing praise, was to be disingenuous. Sure, I probably play things up — but oh to play. Such an amazing and transformative verb, the act of playing is the act of creation, and the act of playing is all over Summerfolk. It’s the thing that makes you want to discover more, whatever that more is. It’s the kind of weekend you should enjoy with people you love because it begs for it. It’s fun, it’s ridiculous, it’s sometimes lame, it’s sometimes funny, it’s sometimes sad (I can never get through “Puff the Magic Dragon”, FYI), but it’s always genuine. And I don’t use that word lightly, because mostly I mean it in the way where I can’t think of what word or words really truly define the kind of experience that such a weekend produces. You’re most likely not going to see your favourite band at Summerfolk, hell you might not know any of the artists there, but maybe it’s the small town charm, or the picturesque setting, or the Quixotean flow of time—whatever it is, there is a charm to Summerfolk that wants to be experienced and to let you experience it. I, for one, will definitely be looking forward to next year.

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