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The Goderich Celtich Roots Festival – A Taste of Europe besides Lake Huron
There cannot be another musical genre as rich and culturally diverse as the “Celtic Folk Tradition”. Though in reality the term signifies a romantic ideal threading together the music of the Irish and Scottish along with the music of Brittany, Wales, Cornwall and the Isle of Man through the migrating patterns of these people to the US and Canada (particularly Quebec, Newfoundland, Nova Scotia, Cape Breton and Prince Edward Island). The more commercially popular brand of Celtic music or Celtic fusion originated in the 1960’s with bands such as “Fairport Convention”, “Steeleye Span” and “Pentangle” followed later in the 1970’s by “Clannad” with “Enya” who made a small fortune through the genre. Who can forget the celtic folk-punk of “The Pogues” in the 80’s. There is still an argument for distinguishing English folk as distinct from Celtic although I can’t tell the difference as the music of artists such as the very talented and under-rated Jim Morey have the same chord changes and “minor key” cadences as much of what I heard at the Celtic Roots Festival in Goderich this weekend.
Every country defined by the umbrella of celtic music – as mentioned above were represented at the festival which started small 19 years ago and has grown to the extent where a good proportion of the acts had come directly from Ireland and Scotland.
And so I found myself going home in the car grasping my dog-eared programme and reflecting upon the feeling that I have been wrenched from the blissful alternate reality of the last 3 days, cocooned in the Festival grounds of Lions Harbour Park punctuated by a two-night stay in the quaint and historic “Inn at Port Albert” and leaving the actual cordoned off festival campus for the occasional drink and snack at “The Park House” pub (but still within feet of “the Greetings” stage at the entrance); that way we managed to maintain the visual and oral connection with the festival even when we’d “left”.
Having listened to “The Village” via GalaxieFm in the car all the way up (to get us with the vibe) we listened to the cd’s we’d bought from our top four bands all the way home too – hoping that the production on the cd’s was half as good as the live acts. Having unnaturally immersed in “all things celtic” this weekend, including costumes/dance and craft, I’m virtually speaking wit an Irish lilt.
We’d never attended this festival before, so the set-up was a complete mystery to us and if we are lucky enough to visit again next year there are a couple of things I would do differently.:
* The Festival runs from opening ceremonies on the Friday evening at around 5.45pm all the way to 11ish on the Sunday night. Many of the artists have been tutoring workshops all week at The Celtic Music College in Goderich. We didn’t leave from Toronto until the Friday evening and so we missed that evening’s performance – not the end of the world as most of the performers play on every day of the festival and the bands also “divide and conquer” the side stages so you might get individual performers from several bands in a line-up at say the smaller “Greetings” Stage and the “Water” stage either performing individually or as a hastily formed and largely unrehearsed collaboration! We also had to leave around 6pm on the Sunday night and so again missed some of the closing acts (although by now we had seen all of the acts perform in any case), but still……………………
* A portable chair is an absolute must (preferably with leg risers and cup holders). Other guests at “The Inn at Port Albert” had told us to set up our chairs at the Main Stage 1 when we arrived and simply leave the chair there whilst attending other stage perfomances (6 in all including the Dance stage and the Story-Telling tent) as most of these had some sort of seating (its called grass). It’s not even necessary to cart your own water bottles around as water fountains are all over; food is not a rip- off and as I said above the pub is over the fence. Also plenty of washrooms and shade cover as the entire festival is under the trees in the Park which overlooks Lake
So just a run around performers in my typical superficial and subjective style:
First act we caught upon arrival was in the Main Stage 2 (covered and with seats – hurrah) was Frantically Atlantic; Whilst this husband and wife team were both obviously talented performers, her style was so the polar opposite of what I thought the Festival was going to deliver! Think Pam Ayres crossed with children’s storytime complete with cheesy grin and wide “we know what’s coming next” eyes given to winking to whomever was unfortunate enough to make eye contact – we gave this about 15 minutes of our time – probably not fair but not our thing! plus other acts going on all over.
Went over to the Water Stage in a sort of shaded spinney area and got back into the celtic groove with a trio called Runa. If I were to be asked to close my eyes and describe what a female folk-singer should look like – then Shannon Lambert-Ryan would be the ideal personified. The lead vocalist, she was an ethereal wisp of a woman; teeny tiny build, long “Gone with the Wind” hair, bare feet, floaty dress and a voice like heaven. She was backed by a particularly charismatic percusionist called Cheryl Prashker and Irish guitarist Fionan de Barra (love all these names).
Moving back to the Main Stage 2, the “Galaxie Rising Stars Showcase” competition was on. Galaxie supports emerging Canadian music talent through this programme and was offering $3000 in awards to the winner of this afternoon’s competition.
First up HAWP – a large vibrant and energetic mix of fiddle, flute, and Irish dance ply their trade on-stage. Loved the vocal rounds and the contrapuntal flute and fiddle play-offs.
Then Pierre Shryer trio whom we’d seen before up at Rossport overlooking Lake Superior whilst on out Trans Canada gig…. As a child growing up in Quebec, my late father, ever the home-movies buff – used Canadian jig and reel folk music as backing track. When Pierre and his band perform their trademark brand of folk with the busy fiddle playingand board percussion ( foot stamping) it feels more french than the celtic style that I love), but i threw me back to my childhood – always a pleasure.
Colette Cheverie (Prince Edward Island). Now this was more like it: think Sandy Denny vocals of “Fairport Convention” (if you can). Searing immigrant folk ballads full of pathos – story telling in a crystal clear pure voice that rung out through the whole venue. Again my archeotypical vision of a female singer – too thin and waif-like for comfort. Her accompanist, a cute “David Essex” look-alike much under-rated as someone she had brought along to the festival to accomparnhy her. We didn’t find out much about him and he said “nary a word” We had to buy her cd –
FYI “Colette – No to repeating “the Fish and The Bird” as your feature number on every occasion” ( about 6 times around the various stages). Fine as part of a 30 minute set but as the only number during a perfomers “sideline stage act -started to feel like you couldn’t come up with anything else to sing with your accompianist.Vertige – Jesus! what an exhuberent layer cake of Quebecois reels, dynamic dancing, board percussion, enormous enthusiasm, joie de vivre (thanks to the the un-named button accordian player and band spokesperson) and on yer face chutzpah. The fiddle player of this band – again unamed – was truly truly talented. I watched her closely in an unpractised impromptu performance on a sideline stage with her band’s Pianist Martine Billette (the band’s founder and given to playing – yuk, gag, waltzes whenever the stage was hers!!!) The harp player gave her music to the pianist and asked if our anonymous fiddler could join in as and when. She simply lean’t over and read the music up-side down, no fuss, no cheesy facial expressions, no nonsence and performed the music as she read feeling her way through it. a contrast to many of the other line-up solo performers who when put in this position by a fellow artist, simply chose not to join in…………
Then we came to sister Cassie and Maggie MacDonald (Halifax)
Introduced by the dribbling “MC” as the “darlings of the festival” – yes they were all red headed Irish cuteness and youth, and obviously very talented – NB – bras are a useful addition to your wardrobe when you are Irish “river” dancing – They won – go figure – Any way not my style of music
So the competition over – we needed a cool drink and (as mentioned above) within eyeshot and earshot of the stage/s. During which time we caught a line-up with Paul MacKenna of The Paul McKenna Band and a brilliant young Irish raconteur and bouzouki player – Daoiri Farrell – one quarter of an Irish band called “Solid Clarity”.
First to Paul McKenna – sorry Paul – looks can be deceiving; as a lineup artist on the side stages he looked bore and disinterested, barely joined in with the other artists and had NO charisma at all. Whilst he did have an incredible voice and an obvious talent for musical arrangement, when he played his solo performance numbers – the earth didn’t move for me – until that is, later in the evening, when he joined his band on main stage 1 as part of the headlining perfomance bands. After the “MC” had built the band’s future conquering of the celtic folk universe to iconic proportions – I was ready for the let-down…..
As soon as they hit the stage, he and his fellow band members – one from Scotland; one from Philadelphia and another from N. Carolina – became a conduit for a fantastic rousing permance of intelligent, political and pitch perfect immigrant folk. It seems that Paul Mckenna prefers to let the music do the talking and I agree with the MC, the band IS going places.. There went anothr $20 on a dvd (which I have been playing all week so the music – unlike many genres of music bought in haste during a particularly lovely holiday or trip – aka Balinese Barong music ) this music does complement day to day living/driving Toronto style…
And my all time favourite of the festival for us even though we didn’t see him with his band was Daoiri Farrell
A slim, pale slip of a “lad”, there was nothing slim or pale about his performance – he did joke about being a plumber – which is exactly what you could imagine him to be had you not been lucky enough to catch him playing. Just him, with or without his bouzouki, his goosebump inducing singing literally “hung” over the venue and the Lake itself – his voice filtering trhough the trees, the traffic and the general hibbub of the festival itself was even clearly audible across and down the road where the car was parked . With his boy-next-door appeal, stories, audience participation technique (you didn’t NOT join in when asked) and tendancy to make the odd mistake or two (many of his songs have many verses) he blew both of us away. Couldn’t get any of his music as he’d sold out that morning!www.Daoiri.com is the place to visit for furthering our appreciation of his art.
Okay -so of course many more wirthwhile performances including
stuff on the Dancing stage which rocked as a little break from the gigs; and the Storytelling tent was worth dropping in on from time to time. You’ll have to go see for yourself www.celticfestival.ca
The Inn at Port Albert