Some people hang it up when they turn 65, but Ferron has never been one to abide by convention. A certified pensioner as of June, the singer-songwriter and LGBT icon could easily be forgiven for just wanting to take it easy on beautiful Saturna Island. Instead, she’s returning to the stage.
And it’s a big stage, too, at least in terms of her upcoming Vancouver Folk Music Festival appearance. Ferron and another local folk veteran, Roy Forbes, will close the Jericho Beach Park event on Sunday night, a fitting honour for two musicians who have been friends of the festival from day one.
It’s not that Ferron’s been entirely absent from the festival, or from music. The songwriter, who is of mixed French-Canadian and First Nations heritage, took part in the opening ceremonies of the 2014 event, singing with a group of Indigenous elders. She’s also continued to release records, with her 15th, Lighten-ing, coming out in 2013. But her public appearances have been few.
“It’s been a big hiatus,” she says, taking a break in Gulfport, Florida, between folk-festival appearances. “You know, I have to deal with arthritis in my hands now, so that slowed things down for a while—but I’m coming there with a band. It can be very demanding when I’m all by myself.”
The impetus for her return was an invitation to play Song for All Beings, a multimedia celebration of music and activism held annually in Marin County, California.
“It’s very healing,” Ferron says. “There’s a choir that sings the same thing for about two hours, and you can sing along with them. And then one by one, artists would come out and contribute a song; I did a spoken-word piece, ‘It Won’t Take Long’. And then out of that, since most of my band was there, we decided that we’d try to grab a show at the Freight [legendary Berkeley folk club Freight & Salvage]. So we went and did a show at the Freight, at the end of February, and it was received just so wonderfully. The next thing you know, I have an agent again and I’m starting to be booked for shows. So it’s like, ‘Oh, I thought this was over. I guess it’s going again!’ ”
YouTube footage of the Freight & Salvage concert shows an animated Ferron fronting an all-star cast of Bay Area musicians. Ferron’s songwriting tends to be about finding one’s place in an often hostile world, and she’s clearly created a supportive community of players and listeners alike. And her message has not gone out-of-date.
“Maybe it was naive, but when I was younger I really thought that we could change… Well, ‘the world’,” she says. “I don’t know anymore what that means, but we all thought things could change through music and through the heart. My trust was in what the heart says, so I was writing songs to that end, and trying to learn how to be a better being—how to analyze my own stuff and make sense of it on kind of a harmonic level.
“Sometimes people think I’m singing about love, but really I’m singing about the cosmos,” she adds. “But wherever you can grab it is where you grab it.”
Ferron and her All Star Band play the Vancouver Folk Music Festival Main Stage on Sunday (July 16).