Montreal folk festival shows folk's definition has broadened
Family-friendly event expands in its third year
What would the Weavers make of what we call folk music today?
A genre that once had much to do with tradition and storytelling is now represented by just about anyone who picks up an acoustic guitar. Bob Dylan, who did more than anyone to internalize folk's lyrical content and make its music less dogmatic, later showed mild contempt for the very trend he launched.
"Nowadays, you go to see a folksinger - what's the folksinger doin'? He's singing all his own songs. That ain't no folksinger. Folksingers sing those old folk songs, ballads," Dylan said to Rolling Stone in 1984. "I was tellin' somebody that. ... And the person says, 'Yeah, well, you started that.' And in a sense, it's true. But I never would have written a song if I didn't play all them old folk songs first."
Kathleen Edwards typifies how broad-based folk's mandate has become. Her third album, 2008's Polaris Prize-nominated and critically acclaimed Asking for Flowers, is a band-driven disc that owes more to her beloved Tom Petty collection than it does to the public domain.
Even so, Edwards will be 100 per cent unplugged -a rarity for her - when she performs here Saturday night as a headliner of the third annual Folk Festival on the Canal, which has been extended through a second day this year, ending Sunday night. As usual, the gathering will take place at the St. Ambroise Terrace, behind the McAuslan Brewery on St. Ambroise St., along the Lachine Canal.
Other artists picking, strumming or pounding out chords in both
strange and conventional tunings this weekend include Craig Cardiff, Jenny Whiteley, Old Man Luedecke, Rob Lutes, Notre Dame de Grass, Lake of Stew and Katie Moore.
The festival is co-organized by promoters Matt Large and Carl Comeau, with Dave Cool, who runs head sponsor McAuslan's Centre St. Ambroise. Comeau said during a phone interview that the festival's family-friendliness, with its separate, fenced-in area for children's activities and concerts, is one of the event's drawing cards -even during festival-overload season. A fully booked schedule of exhibitors will ensure that good food and other services will keep people happy, he said.
Ultimately, of course, the music is the raison d'etre, and Comeau said the audience - which was 1,000 strong in dodgy weather last year - could easily reach more than 2,000 this year. "We have something really solid here," Comeau said.
As for the certified folkiness of the set lists, Edwards, in a separate interview, seemed unworried. She said one thing has remained constant in the folk genre, even as we know it today. "Folk music is based on song culture," she said, further describing folk as 'The centrepiece of most musical genres today."
Edwards, who spent much of her youth living in places like South Korea with her diplomat parents, said her own songs are largely informed by her origins. "I am a Canadian musician," she said. "My songs are strongly rooted in this country. Not because I'm trying to write the Canadian songbook. It's just that that's what I feel in my heart. The landscapes of my songs are generally influenced by places I've been here, more than away."
Her follow-up to Asking for Flowers, she said, should be on the shelves early next year. The songs have been written and remain only to be recorded. "(With Flowers) I made a pretty quiet, slow, dark record. And it doesn't always reflect what I'm really like," she said. 'The record I'm planning on making this year is definitely a big turn from that. I have a lot of more uptempo songs and a lot of quirky indie rock."
Rock will be off the table at the folk festival this weekend, but the challenge of recasting even her rockers is clearly not causing Edwards to lose sleep. "So many of my songs just started out with just piano or guitar and me singing," she said. "I don't think the translation will be too tough. You come up with creative ways to fill in a bit of the space where the band would be."
The Montreal Gazette