She stood shoulder to shoulder with Pete Seeger at the Newport Folk Festival in 1959. It was at the dawn of a career that’s seen Joan Baez mingle music with activism, from her involvement with the U.S. civil-rights movement to her appearance at Zuccotti Park in 2011 in support of Occupy Wall Street—where she sang a version of the Rolling Stones’ “Salt of the Earth”, no less. When Jericho Beach is occupied this summer as it has been every year since 1979 by the Vancouver Folk Music Festival (July 18 to 20), Baez will be there, too.
The iconic folkie with the even-more-iconic warble is a prestige act for the festival, much like Loudon Wainwright III’s debut appearance in 2013. But the festival’s drift toward an ever-more-eclectic package continues unabated in 2014.
Nova Scotia’s Rose Cousins, B.C.’s own Fish and Bird, and that dissident American bard David Rovics are among the acts you might bundle together on your folk-oriented iPod playlist, while the indie-rock contingent that shows up in ever-increasing numbers will be kept nice and busy with Great Lake Swimmers (Toronto), Born Ruffians (Toronto), Brasstronaut (Vancouver), Wintersleep (Halifax), and—this is a big one—Andrew Bird and the Hands of Glory (Chicago, Illinois).
The eccentric-genius angle is pretty much covered by the Grammy-nominated Casey Driessen Singularity, which consists of one egghead from North Carolina, a fiddle, and an array of pedals. Toronto’s party-time klezmer punks the Lemon Bucket Orkestra run a very close second. On the other end of the spectrum, Philadelphian Amos Lee classes things up on the final night of the festival, sharing the bill with Nigeria’s Seun Kuti—who brings his father Fela’s Egypt 80 band with him—along with Macklemore and Ryan Lewis collaborator Mary Lambert (Seattle) and L.A.’s Latin hip-hop fusionistas Ozomatli.
Got all that? There’s more. Anyone looking for more of a world-music feel at this year’s VFMF has Mokoomba (Zimbabwe), Noura Mint Seymali (Mauritania), La Manta (Mexico), Beppe Gambetta (Italy), Geomungo Factory (Korea), Dulsori (Korea), and Banda Kakana (Mozambique) to grapple with (not to mention Australians Frank Yamma, Wagons, David Bridie, and Thelma Plum).
Fans of the alt-country end of things will be pleased to hear that the honourable member for Timmins–James Bay, Charlie Angus, has reconvened his band Grievous Angels once again—giving music journalists everywhere another shot at making a lame “return of the Grievous Angels” quip. In the same vein, the Honeycutters (North Carolina), the Howlin’ Brothers (Nashville, Tennessee), the Lost Bayou Ramblers (Louisiana), the Carper Family (Austin, Texas), and the great Tift Merritt (New York by way of Texas) all guarantee a heavy dose of Americana.
For those who prefer an emo edge to their pop-roots music, Typhoon (Portland, Oregon), Stephen Kellogg (Connecticut), and Langhorne Slim & the Law from Pennsylvania are all perfectly capable of big shout-along choruses and Red Bull levels of superpositive energy. And if you’re concerned about the 100-mile diet, musically speaking, the great province of British Columbia is represented by the likes of Corbin Murdoch’s Nautical Miles, Silvana Kane’s Latin-alternative act Pacifika, the ever-wonderful Jenny Ritter, and the very traddiest of the trad, Oliver Swain’s BIG MACHINE. Rounding out the B.C. delegation is former Bedouin Soundclash man Jay Malinowski with his latest band, the Deadcoast.
In the last few years the Vancouver Folk Music Festival has bounced back from internal strife, financial distress, and the encroachment of a number of—how do we put this?—flashier and more commercially minded music festivals in and around Vancouver. Yet here it is, offering a bill of over 60 artists from 12 countries, seven provinces, and 12 U.S. states.
And as anyone knows who saw the lantern parade make its way around the main stage on a balmy Sunday evening last July, as Natalie Maines closed VFMF 2013 with a powerful solo performance before a sea of bobbing heads (attendance topped a whopping 39,000 visitors last year), there’s plenty of life left in her yet. More information plus the full lineup is at thefestival.bc.ca/.