WINTERFOLK BLUES & ROOTS FESTIVAL
Folk music’s its own world, so it seems appropriate that this annual winter festival sets up camp east of Yonge, where roots music fans and musicians crisscross the Danforth through wind and snow. A multi-generational, volunteer-driven, pay-what-you-can affair, Winterfolk offers up-and-comers like a cappella duo the Blackest Crow the opportunity to play alongside veterans like Mose Scarlett, Melwood Cutlery and David Essig
JACK MARKS AND THE LOST WAGES PLAYED A GREAT ROOTSY SET AT EASTMINSTER UNITED CHURCH SATURDAY AS PART OF WINTERFOLK
The fest tried something edgy (by folk standards) this year with Brass Roots: Big Bands For Your Buck, a ticketed event at Eastminster United Church. It’s a shame that more of Winterfolk’s regulars didn’t make the three-block trek from the Black Swan to take in some of the best roots rock Toronto has to offer.
Openers Jack Marks and the Lost Wages played a great set, including Michigan Love, Sweet Patricia and New Girl Now (harmonica stood in for the horns) from the recent Lost Wages release. Cousins-fronted quintessentially Canadian act the Warped 45s impressed with a warm, cohesive showcase highlighting their musicianship, working-class experiences and catchy choruses. Freeman Dre and the Kitchen Party sprawled across the stage like a travelling Parkdale carnival, with Michael Louis Johnson providing smoky trumpet solos from the dais. Finally, 11-piece Afrobeat closers Minotaurs joyfully rocked, inspiring at least a few people to get up and dance.
The venue seemed to move the road-hardened musicians to an unusual intimacy: Marks talked about his time in Princess Margaret Hospital; Dave McEathron (Warped 45s) joked about his mom’s sleepy Unitarian Church congregation; Andre Flak referenced his Catholic upbringing; and Nathan Lawr got the crowd to holler some enthusiastic amens.
Meanwhile, Winterfolk proper raged on, with good crowds at the Black Swan, Mambo Lounge, Dora Keogh and Terri O’s. I caught some great moments, including Collette Savard’s timeless vocals and zither at the Songwriters Unite showcase, Joanne Crabtree and Margaret Stowe having a great time playing the blues together, and Eve Goldberg’s Watermelon Sorbet (the intro to Richardson’s Roundup for six years).
Other highlights were Rosemary Phelan’s intimate Story Behind The Song workshop in the basement of Danforth Baptist Church, kids dancing in a circle at the end of Nonie Crete’s Dora Keogh set, Tannis Slimmon’s gospel singalong, Betty Supple’s The Moon, and funky/fun roots pop group the Donefors.
I thought it was a typo, but Parkdale’s Saturday Saints proved me wrong when they threw Armenian folk music into their usual Appalachian-inspired repertoire. Finally, Erin Hill (in town performing in South Pacific) and Her Psychedelic Harp went completely over the top with sci-fi songs that would fit right into 70s musical theatre.