Linda Tanaka is quick to answer when asked what has her most excited about the lineup for this year’s Vancouver Folk Music Festival. As artistic managing director, Tanaka has landed some heavy hitters for the 39th edition of the fest, including U.K. trad-folk godfather Martin Carthy, spoken-word treasure Shane Koyczan, and indie-rock royalty the New Pornographers.
But what has her really intrigued is the thought of turning festivalgoers on to acts that they’ve quite possibly never heard of before. As a music fan, Tanaka knows there’s nothing greater than walking away from a show feeling like you’ve just discovered your new favourite singer or band.
“I think there’s a lot of variety in the lineup, and not as many really well-known names,” Tanaka said in a phone interview with the Straight. “But I don’t really know. It’s hard to know what people know, because everyone is listening to music all over the place.”
She’s certainly correct on that front—thanks to Spotify, SoundCloud, and YouTube, to name just three sites, the world has instant access to more music than anyone would have thought imaginable just a decade ago. Tanaka acknowledges that’s also made her job easier—forget making a special trip to WOMAD, you can now expand your musical horizons with a simple click of a mouse.
Some of the acts that she’s most excited about for this year’s folk fest are ones that she’s only heard on the Internet. Included on that list are Ghana’s genre-jumping Jojo Abot and golden-throated Irish singer-songwriter Lisa O’Neill.
“I think that our audience generally loves to discover, and comes to the festival to discover new music,” she said. “We’ve always had a high number of international world-music artists, and I really strive to keep that up because those are the artists that I find most fun to discover.”
Those worth watching on that world-music front include Haitian vodou-hip-hop fusionists Lakou Mizik, Mongolian folk-rockers Ajinai, and Israel’s exotic Yemen Blues.
Representing the iconic side of folk music will be Ontario’s Bruce Cockburn, England’s Oysterband, and long-running Victoria stalwarts the Bills. Moving the genre in new and challenging directions will be up-and-coming Emilie & Ogden from Quebec, cinematic roots-rockers Lord Huron from Los Angeles, and Montreal’s ethereal Little Scream.
As with past festivals, there’s a strong local component. The New Pornographers started out as a homegrown act, playing DIY spaces before catching the attention of outlets like Pitchfork and Rolling Stone.
“I think it’s good to support local artists,” Tanaka said simply.
Also representing Vancouver this year will be klezmer-punk Geoff Berner, blues-rawk revisionists the Harpoonist & the Axe Murderer, and former Be Good Tanya Samantha Parton (who teams up with excellent and totally underrated Americana queen Jolie Holland).
“Our audience is becoming a lot more mixed—we’ve got a lot younger ever since we put in the beer garden,” Tanaka said with a laugh.
The beer garden—sponsored again by Big Rock Brewery—will indeed be back this year. As for the continued weakness of the Canadian dollar, which has made life difficult for Vancouver-based promoters, Tanaka said she’s been lucky in that her artists are from around the globe, and are therefore not necessarily being paid in U.S. dollars.
“It hasn’t been any more challenging for me than it always has,” she said.
This year’s Vancouver Folk Music Festival will run from July 15 to 17 at its traditional home of Jericho Beach Park. Over 60 acts from 18 countries have been booked, with more to be announced in the coming weeks.
For complete information on the lineup and ticket packages go to the folk fest's website. Early-bird discounts will be offered until June 4.