Stop and think, for a second, what was happening in the world 32 years ago. Vancouver was starting to shed its image as a cultural backwater after welcoming the world with Expo 86. Starbucks, after opening its first locations outside of Seattle in Vancouver and Chicago in 1987, was still little more than an exotic novelty. And U.S. President Ronald Reagan continued to make suggestions to Soviet Premier Mikhail Gorbachev that maybe it would be a good idea to tear down the Berlin Wall.
Oh, and the first edition of the Mission Folk Music Festival launched as a one-day event that included Shari Ulrich, Cotton Street Band, and John McLachlan.
Flash forward 32 years and Vancouver has blossomed into what’s known as a world-class city, there’s a Starbucks (and sometimes two of them) on every second corner, and Berlin is not only unified, but thriving as one of the coolest and artsiest places on the planet.
The Mission Folk Music Festival, meanwhile, is still rolling along stronger than ever, with this year’s edition taking place July 26-28 at Fraser River Heritage Park. Main draws include Michelle Wright, Beaton-Plasse, and Vancouver’s own Geoff Berner. Here are five acts worth knowing about on the undercard. After you’ve checked them out, go here for full details on this year’s festival, including ticket prices, participating artists, and performing times.
Log Cabin Stage at 12:45 on Saturday; Main Stage at 7:45 p.m. on Sunday
Search the Internet for "Leaf Rapids" and one of the first things you'll find is a YouTube video shot by someone driving through the Manitoba town of that name. Block after block of house with boarded-up windows, an abandoned van with a smashed windshield, a shopping centre with exactly three vehicles in the parking lot. Since the local mine closed in 2002, the town—once touted as a model northern community—has all but shut down. It makes for a haunting sight, but nowhere near as haunting as the music of the duo that borrowed the town's name. The Winnipeg-based Leaf Rapids combines a convincingly rootsy approach to songwriting—"Dear Sister" could have come from the Carter Family catalogue—with the unexpected but not unwelcome addition of a Theremin. It has a certain melancholic allure—sort of like a ghost town.
Main Stage at 7 p.m. on Saturday
As everyone who’s seen Ghost World is more than aware of, few things are more horrific than a blues act that wouldn’t know T-Bone Walker from a T-Bone Steak. Cécile Doo-Kingué is not one of those people. The daughter of Cameroonian parents, Doo-Kingué was born in New York, a city usually known for its jazz and alternative-music scenes. Formative events in her childhood including being given a guitar by one of her brothers, and then, perhaps more importantly, being gifted albums by Freddie King and T-Bone Walker. Flash forward to the present, and Doo-Kingué has made her way across the world, including a stint living in France before settling in Montreal. It’s back east where she’s established herself as one of the country’s most soulful guitar hotshots, her four albums to date as rich musically as they are important on the social-awareness front. In other words, the last place she belongs is on a bill with Blues Hammer.
Main Stage at 8:15 p.m. on Friday; Log Cabin Stage at 1:45 p.m. on Sunday
Whether he's banging out the blues on his 1959 Harmony Stratotone Jupiter or crooning an acoustic-folk tune, Jesse Waldman never sounds like he's doing anything other than baring his soul. The Ontario-born and East Van-based singer-songwriter seems like a man just a little out of step with his times, as if his very being is rooted in the Dust Bowl '30s or the Greenwich Village '60s. On "Another Lost Soul", Waldman sums it up neatly when he sings, "I've been a long-lost soul all my life/Got this old-time curse, man, I don't know why." Waldman hits the Mission Folk Music Festival with a pair of crack sidemen (drummer Marc L'Esperance and bassist Michael Rush) in tow, so he's likely to focus on his juke-joint-jumpin' side, which damn sure won't get any complaints from us.
Gazebo Stage at 1 p.m. on Sunday
Here’s what we love about Strangely (and yes that’s his real name; he changed it age 21): the Bellingham native is nothing if not flexible. Often travelling by bicycle, the man whose driver’s licence reads Strangely Doesburg has proven as at home on the European Fringe Fest circuit as he has performing on the streets in North America. Based on promo clips, he’s perfectly capable of working clean in schools, scrubs up nicely for respectable-looking concert halls, and seems like he’d hold his own at an after-hours booze-can hosted by Sailor Jerry. Lauded as a one-man cabaret who’s equally adept as an accordionist he is stand-up comedian and juggler, Strangely’s biggest strength might be that he actually makes the idea of audience participation look fun. And, yes, that holds true even if your name happens to be Bob, Alice, or Fred, instead of something as fantastically out there as Strangely.
Main Stage at 9:15 p.m. on Saturday
Senegal-born singer-percussionist Élage Diouf writes his songs in his native Wolof language, and the Montreal-based performer sometimes sings in French as well. Don't worry about any lack of understanding standing in the way of your enjoyment of his music, though. The infectious rhythms and sheer exuberance of songs like "Mandela" and "Badola" have the power to break down any language barrier. Fans of the Soggy Bottom Boys will be delighted to learn that Diouf and his band have been known to sweat their way through the funkiest rendition of "I Am a Man of Constant Sorrow" that you're ever likely to hear.