top of page
  • Writer's pictureThe Sound Cafe

Summerfolk Music & Crafts Festival in Ontario, Canada Makes A Triumphant Return

By Stevie Connor. Photo Credit: Anne Connor.

Like most people out in the world during the pandemic, I have been very wary and careful of going to large gatherings of people. I've kept myself busy by working long hours in my home studio immersing myself in the fantastic music that has been released in these crazy times.

Having been vaccinated to the hilt, I felt it was time to get back out there, as restrictions are easing, and it was long overdue for me to listen to some live music, so, what better way to make a return than to make the drive up to Owen Sound, on Georgian Bay from Toronto !

I will declare from the very start that I am a huge fan of the Summerfolk Music & Crafts Festival. There are 4 festivals in the world that I would highly recommend, and I go to them every chance I get, in no particular order, as I rate them all highly, are the Port Fairy Folk Festival in Victoria, Australia, The Festival Interceltique de Lorient in Brittany, France, The Edinburgh Fringe Festival in Scotland, and Summerfolk Music and Crafts Festival in Ontario, Canada.

There is something about the location on the shores of Lake Huron, the way the Summerfolk stages are set up, the artisans village, food vendors, the ease of parking, the amazing volunteers (I'll get to some of them later in this article), and the programming of the stages, even artists I've chatted with have all said that this festival is right up there as performers to play.

And, lets not forget the Summerfolk tree, it's iconic, and it's withstood floods over many years, when you walk backstage to the media and artists rest area, you are greeted by THE tree on Kelso Beach, in Nawash Park, it feels like coming home.

Photo Credit: Anne Connor.

Summerfolk was the last festival I attended in 2019 before Covid-19 hit, and it seemed fitting that this should be the first venture out. My wife and I are a team in life, and also in music, I do the artist interviews for The Sound Café and she takes the photographs of the events we attend. We decided on this occasion that we would book accommodation as close to the festival grounds as possible, and were lucky enough to get an hotel 10 minutes drive away. To say we were looking forward to attending would be a gross understatement.

For this article I'd like to take you on our journey, from leaving Toronto, to walking through the entrance, signing in with the media liaison team, interviewing the artists and taking in the fabulous music that James Keelaghan, the Artistic Director (AD), put together on stages around Kelso Beach.

Festivals are planned months in advance, not just for booking performers, but also for procuring vendors, stage crews, construction teams, and arranging media coverage, this all happens at Summerfolk through a vast and dedicated team of volunteers under the umbrella of The Georgian Bay Folk Society (GBFS).

Our journey starts with contacting the GBFS months ahead of the August 19th opening date, we have a great contact there who sends us out our application forms for media coverage, we fill them out giving as much information as possible on what we do, previous coverage that we have given, and what we intend to do on this occasion should we be successful, we keep our fingers crossed. Approximately a month before the event we receive the E-mail we have been waiting for to confirm we have been accepted.... it's game on !!

When we arrive at the festival grounds after a three hour drive north from Toronto, we head straight for the sign-in table, it's here that we pick up our weekend passes that allow us backstage entry, the volunteers are extremely helpful and guide us through the do's and don'ts. We then enter the park and our first stop is the media liaison area, just behind the amphitheatre, which is the main stage. We are greeted by our friend and head of the media crew, Ben Pettit, Ben has been volunteering at the festival for the last 25 or more years, he has guided us through this festival for the 6 or 7 years we have been attending. The media team hand out our package, which consists of the programme, a 'quick look' sheet giving us times, stages, and performers throughout the weekend, and interview request forms. We have normally decided beforehand who we'd like to chat with, sometimes the programming might change a little and we request an artist who might not have been on our list, Ben and his team then get to work on securing a day and time to chat with each artist requested, taking into account their performance schedule, we are always mindful that some artists prefer to be interviewed after their performance, which is understandable, as they get into their 'space' for the event.

Over the course of our first day, the team mark up on their whiteboard who has been confirmed and who is pending, and baring in mind that we are just one organization of many attending, you start to get a feel of how important a role for the media this is.

Every year it's all about the artists for us, as it should be, but, this year we took a different approach. Without the dedicated team of volunteers who work tirelessly in the background to help us secure interviews, we would not be able to chat with so many of the performers.

We thought we'd give you an insight into the amazing work behind the scenes that no-one sees, which enables it all to happen.

Photo Credit: Anne Connor. Interviewing Mimi O'Bonsawin.

At most festivals we have attended we are left to our own devices, we have to contact the artists prior to the event to see if they are willing to be interviewed, sometimes through their managers or publicist's, occasionally we are 'stood up', be it through lack of communication, or plans change on the day, or the artist might decide that they really don't want to talk to us. We often have to find a quiet location to talk, at a festival that can be extremely difficult.

At Summerfolk it's like a well oiled machine, there is no stress for us trying to co-ordinate meetings, the media liaison team have it all covered, they have an area set up for us to sit down with the artists overlooking the bay, it's perfect !

Photo Credit: Anne Connor. Ben Pettit (Left) and his media crew, Summerfolk 47.

I sat down with Ben Pettit early in the day to chat about the amazing work he and his team do throughout the weekend to facilitate our visit, and the many organizations who attend.

You can listen to the interview at the link below.

We go to the festival grounds early on Saturday morning after a late night on Friday listening to Andrea Ramolo, Leela Gilday, The MacKenzie Blues Band and My Son The Hurricane, all spectacular performances, we sensed that the artists were hungry to be playing in front of capacity audiences again, it made for a wonderful atmosphere.

We had submitted a list of 7 artists that we wanted to chat with, some established international touring artists, and, we also wanted to speak with some of the younger performers at this years festival, two in particular who had been winners of the Youth Discovery programme that is unique to Summerfolk, Briar Summers, who is based in Huntsville, and local artist, Jacob Corston, who is based in Cape Croker.

Thankfully everyone agreed to sit down with us over the course of Saturday and Sunday. I can't emphasize enough how easy the media team made it for us to be able to achieve this, it was seamless.

You can listen to all our interviews at the links below.

After spending a few hours of each day on Saturday and Sunday interviewing, we were able to take in a lot of the artists performances, I don't know if it was because we had not been to a festival in a couple of years, or that I was more aware than ever before of the organizing involved, I got a strong feeling of how much work must go into planning the performers, what stages they should play, what workshops they should be involved in, what styles of music would blend well on stage together. These are the things that, as a festival attendee, we would never think of, we just turn up to hear great music from artists we love.

For example, a huge curve ball was thrown in the AD's way when a few days before the festival one of the headliners, Matt Andersen, fell ill, he was slotted to play on the main stage, and various workshop's throughout the weekend. The AD (James Keelaghan) had some tough decisions to make about who would fill Matt's performance spots, not an easy task.

However, Matt's spots were filled with amazing artists, and on one occasion at a workshop we attended, James himself took to the stage to fill the spot, he sat alongside Irish Mythen, (whose guitar had gone missing on an airline flight to the festival) and Steve Poltz to perform their individual 'Songs From The Heart', it was an unbelievable event (one of many) that will stick with me, to hear three top songwriters sharing their stories and songs in such a way is a memory that will last for a very long time.

On the drive back to Toronto late on Sunday evening, the journey seemed to go quickly as we recalled the performances, the interviews, meeting old friends and making new ones, the buzz stayed with us into Monday, we had missed Summerfolk, we had missed live music, we had missed the friendships and camaraderie, we hadn't realized just how much that was so !

A big thank you to GBFS, James Keelaghan, Ben Pettit and his team, all the volunteers involved, and to the artists we managed to chat with, we say a huge thank you for having The Sound Café and Blues & Roots Radio there to be a part of the triumphant return.

To the artists we did not get a chance to speak with, we hope that we will get the chance down the road to sit down with you.

As mentioned above Irish Mythen lost her guitar in transit, or rather the airline lost the guitar, this is the third time it has happened to Irish, yes THIRD ! We will be publishing a separate article on the subject and the way airlines treat musicians and their instruments.

Photo Credit: Anne Connor. On stage: Irish Mythen, James Keelaghan & Steve Poltz

You can listen to our chats at the links below with Irish Mythen, Rick Fines, RPR, The Mackenzie Blues Band, Mimi O'Bonsawin, Briar Summers and Jacob Corston.

Irish Mythen was born in Ireland and now resides in Charlottetown Prince Edward Island.

“This Island creates music and musicians, art and artists. I found a shift to take things more seriously when I moved here.” And she did just that.

Her latest release, Little Bones, gained her recognition around the globe, including a 2020 JUNO nomination for Contemporary Roots Album of the Year, seven Music PEI 2020 nominations and two wins — Touring Artist of the Year and Roots Contemporary Recording of the Year, and a Canadian Folk Music Nomination for Solo Artist of the Year. Her previous self-titled album, Irish Mythen, garnered awards and nominations from Music PEI, East Coast Music Association, Folk Alliance International and SOCAN. Write-ups in Australian Guitar Magazine, Rollingstone and a plethora of other print and online media world wide have helped plant Irish firmly on the map of Must-See Artists.

Irish’s live performances are a thing of raw power, emotion and a connection with her audience that just has to be seen to be believed.

Rick Fines is an engaging storyteller and songwriter. He has won Maple Blues Awards for Songwriter of the Year and Acoustic Act Of The Year (twice), won first place in the blues category of 2003 International Songwriting Competition, with B.B. King one of the judges, received nominations from both the Juno and the Handy Awards, played for legendary blues piano player Pinetop Perkins. Rick has toured from Newfoundland to B.C. to the Arctic last year alone.

Rick has just released “Solar Powered Too” – A stunning collection of songs; stories sung in Fines’ richly textured voice, a voyage through blues and folk guitar styles.

RPR is a Canadian folk-rock band known for engaging live shows, soaring vocals and huge harmonies, all showcasing the music of this powerhouse band.

Running the spectrum from stirring anthems to whisper-gentle ballads, RPR’s songs evoke joy, tears and laughter with a dynamic tapestry of musical styles that range from folk, rock and blues traditions in unique and refreshing ways. It’s cinematic storytelling from four captivating songwriters.

Together since 2012, RPR have regularly played throughout Canada and the US, as well as three UK tours to date. Appearing on festival stages, concert series, music halls, theatres, town halls and beyond, RPR continue to win new fans along the way.

The band has released two CDs, Trans Atlantic in 2013 and the latest, Longview. The new record, nominated for Blues and Roots Radio 2019 Album of the Year, features twelve songs that showcase the songwriting and musicianship like never before.

Mixing equal parts soul, blues, and talent, with a dash of retro style, Ontario’s The MacKenzie Blues Band has quickly proved to be a force to be reckoned with on festival stages, clubs and barrooms.

Their debut CD release, Back Road Revelation, garnered considerable airplay and positive reviews across Canada, USA and Europe. The MacKenzie Blues Band has twice made the semi-final rounds at the International Blues Challenge in Memphis, TN and in early 2014 they won the Maple Blues Award for New Artist of the Year. The MacKenzie Blues Band has gained the attention of blues music professionals, critics and fans alike

Mimi O’Bonsawin is an award winning roots songstress. You can find Mimi out on the road bringing songs and stories to diverse audiences all over this country and abroad. Her songs are heavily influenced by her French Canadian and Abenaki roots and flow through a centre of love and creativity. Her compositions are nurtured by the beauty of her home landscape, and her performances honest and raw.

Her previous release Elle Danse is a self-produced French EP that has been gaining momentum with placements on Spotify, Amazon and Apple Music curated playlists. Elle Danse was in Elmnt FM’s top 10 Best Albums of 2020 and it was recently nominated for two prizes at the Tille Or Awards. Her newest album, Fiddleheads and Ferns, is out now.

Briar Summers is a singer-songwriter from Huntsville, Ontario, who now attends the University of Toronto. This singer, dancer, and classically-trained pianist persevered through the global pandemic –juggling high school, work, music, countless volunteer commitments –and not only managed to record an album 3 hours away from her hometown, but also graduated top of her class, earning the Governor General’s medal among other accolades.

Her debut album, From The Ashes, was released last fall. Produced and mixed by three-time Grammy Award-winning producer David Bottrill (Peter Gabriel, Rush, Crown Lands), Briar was joined by a cast of superb Canadian talent to help bring the record to life.

Although still in her teens, Briar and her band have had the honour of headlining Muskoka Veg Fest and the Muskoka Pride Festival in the past. She has performed professionally since the age of 12, sharing the stage with such artists as Sarah Slean, Hawksley Workman, Kandle Osborne, Jeremy Dutcher, Julian Taylor, and Miranda Mulholland. She has received several performing arts honours over the years, including the Bill Waterhouse Award from the Town of Huntsville.

Jacob Corston is a young artist from Cape Croker. He has been playing guitar since the age of 9. He was was inspired to play guitar by his family members who have always been jamming around him since he could remember. His main influences have been Bob Dylan, Townes Van Zandt, and old time fingerpicking blues such as, Robert Johnston, and Elizabeth Cotten.

Photo Credit: Anne Connor


bottom of page