Winterfolk Roots and Blues Festival February 9 – 11, 2007 • Broadview and Danforth • Toronto Winterfolk V –
Report and photos by Dougal Bichan Ah, folk festivals. I love them. Summer, sunshine, trees, birds, sunscreen, hormones. Sitting in the outdoors, listening to handpicked guitar tunes waft across the grass on a warm breeze. Then the frigid air slaps me back to reality. Why am I standing at the corner of Danforth and Broadview in February, minus 10-degree weather, while the chilling winter wind howling across the Bloor Viaduct blows up my kilt?
This is the Winterfolk Roots and Blues Festival, a different kind of music event. It happens in the winter, for one thing, but you might already have guessed that. The brainchild of local guitarist and songwriter Brian Gladstone, it was created in 2003 to fill that mid-February void for both audience and performers. Featuring a festival mixture of concerts in the evening and afternoon workshops, Winterfolk brought more than 80 performers to six venues at Broadview and Danforth — two stages at the Black Swan, The Willow, Dora Keogh, Terry O’s and the Prince of Egypt Restaurant this year on February 9, 10 and 11. For the first time, the festival was free. No admission charge. Consider that! Musically it was a very mixed bag, all in the roots and blues style. Veteran artistic director Randi Fratkin assembled a diverse line-up, including programming themes such as “The spirit of New Brunswick”, which featured Hot Toddy, Brent Mason, Vishten, and Shanklin Road. Performers were young and old, mixing the up-and-coming, Justin Nozuka, Pat Robitaille and Ariana Gillis and the more experienced, Greg Quill, Danny Marks, Steve Payne and Brian Blain. The women Looweeze de’ath, Sarah Moni Mezrin, Julie Long and Laura Fernandez, to name a few, were particularly strong, reaching deep into the wells of emotion for their soulfulness.
Winterfolk drew artists from all over the globe, some from as far away as Australia, the US, England and Vancouver to share their music and bring warmth to the frozen Toronto night. There were lots of local treats as well, some coming from the open stages around the GTA, John Marlett’s Moonshine Cafe, Dr B’s Acoustic Medicine Show, the Toronto Fingerstyle Guitar Association, and the Nashville Songwriters Association International. Wandering from one club to the next, schedule firmly in hand, the vast smorgasbord of musical delights invited grazing and sampling for the full effect, and all within an easy walk. With all the pedestrians crossing the Danforth, they will need a traffic light there next year.
Although impossible to pick a favourite, some fragments of the programming highlights included Greg Quill rousing a tough Terry O’s crowd with Australian folk songs, Justin Nozuka’s youthful, idealism and exuberance, Looweeze de’Ath singing and playing keyboard as if she would squirm right out of her skin with the intensity of it, the 30, count ‘em, flying fingers of the Guitar Boys of Alderon, Steve Payne in Dora Keogh backlit haloed like an angel and sliiiiiiding Alastiar Artingstall’s delicate British sensibilities and tunings with capoes and half capoes, Wendell Ferguson throwing another fiddle on the file, Sarah Moni Metzer’s sometimes guttural throutings, David Ross Macdonald’s serious demeanour, Shawn Brush, the crooked cowboy and his circle of fans in the back room of the Willow, father and daughter intermingling of David Gillis and Ariana, playing amidst the exotic spicy aromas of the Prince of Egypt cuisine, David Hobbs carefully crafted observations. Too many impressions to write them all down. You will have to come out to see and hear for yourself. Crowds, crowds, crowds! On Saturday night the Swan and the Willow were turning people away in fear of the liquor police. From out on the windy streets, ChoirGirlz, The Bebop Cowboys and Shanklin Road had the crowd lined all the way up the dingy old stairs of the Swan to the dumpy second floor bar. Amazing!
Back again next year. What could be improved? Well, maybe the weather? Sunshine, warm breezes, hormones?