Saturday’s experience started with Ostwelve
, a young First Nations rapper from the coast. His set was quite simple, just rapping over files he had saved on a laptop. His work is a fascinating look at how hip-hop, a genre always known for highlighting issues of social injustice, has been adopted by First Nations youth to address reconciliation and poverty in the First Nations community. He had a full dance floor going in front of the stage by the time he was done.
was up next at the Shade Stage. Wallace is a hard-touring musician rooted in the protest folk of the 60s, with a modern indy rock sensibility to the music. Wallace played a fun, high energy set of folk rock with a lot of social commentary, and a lot of really catchy tunes. He had a lot of great stories about living in the Gulf Islands and a few energetic singalongs took place.
Off to the Main Stage. Ireland’s Dervish
have more than 30 years together as a band, and their live show certainly shows their experience. Dervish play traditional Celtic and Irish folk. The band is made up of a guitar, mandolin, flute, hornpipe, accordion plus harmonies and percussion. The band mixed high energy instrumentals with spirited vocal based songs. This band is fun and extremely musically tight, and a rare time to hear authentic Irish music live here in Canada.
A legend in Canadian blues, Sue Foley
, lit up the stage next. Foley is a stellar blues guitarist, with a no-nonsense approach to playing. She’s a consummate musician, soloing effortlessly and flawlessly, treating the guitar as an extension of herself. As just a trio, her band had a full sound. Foley also played some instrumental flamenco style acoustic guitar during her set. Foley has a classic blues growler voice and a driving, gritty blues sound. Her hour long set went by in a blink of an eye.
Finishing up the Main Stage line up for Saturday was Jamaica’s Third World, a legendary reggae band active since the early 70s. This band played a laid back style of reggae, steeped in the long history of the genre. They played a mix of classic hits along with quite a bit of new material from their latest album. The guitarist was amazingly versatile, playing electric and acoustic guitar, along with an instrumental set with an electric cello, as well as singing. There was a nice set of dancehall rapping too.
Sunday morning brought two workshops at the Barn Stage. First, a Celtic set with Dervish hosting the session, along with BC’s Quinn and Qristina Bachand
and Toronto’s Anne Lindsay. The workshops always have the most interesting bits of music, with musicians playing off of each other, each one not knowing what they other has planned. The Bachands, a brother/sister duo of guitar and fiddle, played some French Canadian folk, which played seamlessly into Dervish’s Celtic folk. Anne Lindsay’s fiddle playing, of course, worked well with Dervish’s style, and she also played some fast bluegrass styles.
Workshop #2 saw the Birds of Chicago lead a singer/songwriter showcase with Alberta’s John Wort Hannam
, Sue Foley and Toronto’s Danny Michel. Overall, this was mostly individual songs with an occasional jump in from other musicians. Sue Foley’s two songs were joined in by Steve Dawson
, a stalwart guitarist who was playing with Birds of Chicago, who played acoustic lap steel, playing off of Foley’s acoustic guitar. John Wort Hannam’s three songs were earnest, sparce and lyrically deep, earning him two standing ovations.
Off to the Blues Stage for Toronto’s Al Lerman
. The Blues Stage was especially packed, with little space to settle into in the crowd. Lerman played the guitar and blues harp. Lerman’s style borrowed heavily from the Southern US style, with gritty guitar and hard-loving, hard-working themes.
, from Calgary, brought a four piece blues band to the stage next. His style was a basic, no-nonsense style of blues. Nothing fancy, just straight ahead classic blues with classic lyric themes, refreshing in a time where artists try to do a little too much with their music. This was a great set.
To the Shade Stage for a solo set with fiddler Anne Lindsay
. Lindsay played a wide variety of fiddle tunes and sang, the music ranged from country to bluegrass to Celtic. She also played a couple of tracks on piano, including a Gershwin tune. She also had an instrument called a nyckelharpa, a traditional Swedish folk instrument sort of like a fiddle. It had four strings, along with several sympathetic strings, and was held like a guitar, but played with a bow. The notes were changed by pressing buttons on the neck of the instrument, which caused a clacking sound when they were pushed. She played two songs on the nyckelharpa, a unique experience to hear for sure.
Greg Blake returned this year as a member of a different band, Tracy Lynn and the Savage Hearts
, a trio made of Blake on guitar, Tracy Lynn on guitar and Annie Savage on fiddle. They played a set of traditional country, American folk and bluegrass. Blake was just as good as he was last year, and the whole band were very tight, playing a nice mix of originals and covers.
The Main Stage’s entertainment for Sunday was hosted by legendary BC folk musician Valdy
, who, surprisingly, was attending his very first Roots and Blues festival. First up were one of the big international bands at this year’s festival, The Garifuna Collective
from Belize. Canadian Danny Michel
invited this band to the Festival, and he had recorded an album with them a couple of year ago. Michel started with a few of his original songs, then slowly brought out the Collective during his set. By the fifth song, the entire band were on stage, which was made up of two guitars, three drummers and two vocalists. They played a ramshackle style of rock and roll combined with traditional Central African folk, with Michel providing extra guitar work. They were engaging and incredibly high energy. Another great opportunity to hear a style of music usually not heard in Canada.
Birds of Chicago
are a cross-border collaboration between Canada’s Allison Russell, former member of Po’ Girl and current member of Our Native Daughters, and her husband, American JT Nero. Their style is Americana, roots and folk, with Russell on banjo, clarinet and saxophone, and Nero on guitar, and both on vocals. They also brought along Vancouver’s guitar legend Steve Dawson, who played guitar and lap steel. Their music was earnest, soulful and reflective and they put in a solid set of folk and roots.
Ending the festival was Irish/Canadian Irish Mythen
, who was a standout at 2017’s Roots and Blues Festival. Irish was immediately engaging, cracking jokes and interacting with the crowd. She told stories inbetween her high emotion folk rock, and called up many guest stars throughout her set, from American soul band The Hamiltones
, fiddler Anne Lindsay, Luke Wallace and Valdy. She had the Hamiltones play an original track, along with backing her up on one of her songs. Lindsay played about three songs, all with stellar fiddle solos. They encored with a huge singalong, doing a cover of Scott Wood’s “Pass it Along”. She was a great entertainer and excellent choice for finishing off a great 2019 festival.