By John Swartz
What does the Mariposa Folk Festival teach us? On the surface, how to put on a show. It takes a year to organize. Shaping who will perform is an ongoing thing, the idea of having certain performers at this year’s festival may be two or three years old and is just being realized this year, but the work putting together most of this year’s lineup started right after the last piece of gear was moved out of Tudhope Park after the festival weekend.
(Yeah, yeah, yeah, I know it’s been since 2019, but for the sake of argument pretend we’re talking about Mariposa as an annual thing – like it’s always been.)
There is a deeper lesson to learn.
There are two moving parts to what you see, the foundation and the festival organization. Some board members are part of both, some not. The festival group works all year with key people heading up each aspect of the festival from getting volunteers (more than 500) to work days of, to people who plan, cook and serve food for the volunteers and performers, a group to set up stages, another group to take them down, stickhandling operations for serving cold beverages to hot and thirsty people, managing vendors, to taking out the garbage. Each one of those is a mini operation serving the whole.
In short it’s a huge business and we only see the tip of the iceberg. I don’t know what the budget is this time around, but a few years ago it was a million dollars.
How does this happen in Orillia? or anywhere in risk adverse Otario? We have a propensity for disbelief and a too big an idea attitude when anyone proposes anything happening in this city that is more than an outhouse (on that note, we don’t even have a C.H. Hale Memorial Outhouse, which I keep proposing because no one will dedicate anything more substantial to the father of Orillia), or has a budget more than a few thousand dollars.
I remember when Don Evans, Tim Lauer and Gord Ball brought the idea of returning Mariposa to its birthplace to City council. There was opposition, which fell along two lines of thought, it’s too big, and how much will it cost. You’d think the trio was asking council to sit down at the dinner table topped with plates of garbage the way noses turned up. Yet, somehow they prevailed and the festival came home.
There was a fourth person who was important to the venture and didn’t emerge as a person of interest until the festival dates drew nearer. Gerry Hawes created the festival corporation and was the head of the festival the first two years. The Mariposa history compendium has a quote from him I really like, “go big, or don’t do it at all.”
And that has been the key to their success. Despite the naysayers, despite the disbelief something as big as Mariposa could happen in Orillia and the resistance from council, the festival happened and grew.
It’s not like they invented the wheel. Mariposa is celebrating its 60th festival this year (it was supposed to be in 2020). I supposed the founders Ruth Jones McVeigh, Dr. Casey Jones and Pete McGarvey had similar issues as the new group who brought it back. The main difference is they created something where there was nothing, and Evans, et al, were transplanting.
In fact, I know the original group had its issues with the town. Pete talked about it several times with me. When the festival attracted a group of people with no self control (think Ottawa this past February). The town fathers instead of thinking – wow, this thing is bigger than we thought, how can we capitalize on this? They instead ran the festival out of town.
This isn’t the only example of fear of big things. Look at how many decades it took to build a recreation center. The folks from the Orillia Centre for Arts and Culture know about this too; they took an idea I originally wrote about in 2011, which Charles Pachter independently also had two years later and they have been trying ever since to establish an international arts center on the grounds of the Huronia Regional Centre. Again, too big an idea and only thinking about cost, not opportunity and return on investment. There have been several other big ideas, maybe not as big as these, but still big, which have been floated and shot down by people whose vision prescriptions are off a few degrees.
So when you venture downtown Friday and Saturday, don’t gripe Mississaga Street is closed from Peter to the parking lot across from Brewery Bay for the only free public component of the festival. See it as evidence of success and be thankful thinking big carried the day. Thousands of people are coming here for this festival. More than in any previous year (they, as of Wednesday, only had 200 hundred tickets left to sell. Go ahead, get yours online right now, I’ll wait for you to return).
The festival is the beacon showing us, teaching us, it’s good to think big; big can happen in Orillia, we shouldn’t be afraid of big and don’t give up.
About that stage downtown. The Friday lineup starts at 2 p.m. with David and Marla Celia; Vinta plays at 3 and The Pairs play at 4. Saturday Kayla Mahomed performs at 11 a.m.; Redfox at 12:20 p.m., Housewife at 1:40 and Shane Cloutier at 3 p.m.
For me, the highlight is Kayla. I remember the first time I saw her. It was at the opening of the Orillia Public Library. She sang a tune accompanying herself on ukulele prior to me and Terry Fallis delivering our abbreviated (by necessity thanks to previous speakers eating up all the time) speaches to the packed house. I was impressed.
The next time I saw her she was still strumming the ukulele. I remember saying to her to stick with it and to consider venturing into singing her own tunes because I thought she had everything going for her to be a household name. Then I saw her do a concert a couple years later, gone was the ukulele, replaced by a guitar, and a more sophisticated look, and I was convinced the 60 or so people who were also at that concert would be someday be saying, “I saw her play back when nobody knew who she was.”
Then I saw her again about 5 or so years ago and she told me she was going to Humber College. “Great,” I said, “that’s one of the best schools to go to and learn what you need to be a great performer.” She said she was not taking practical performance music courses but music business courses. Another great idea, be the master of your own ship and don’t let the biz steal your money, of which I am still convinced she will have plenty of some day.
It’s been a slow climb and some style changes to where she is today, slower than I thought, but it seems to me the turtle won the race. The feedback I got from her audition gig back in May was she stunned the audience. I could have told you that (I wasn’t there, long story, but I still could have told you that).
She’s got three other gigs at Tudhope Park over the weekend, one of which is a solo slot in the pub Sunday at 8:20 p.m. Getting that gig is fantastic, not everyone playing Mariposa gets to play in the pub. She’ll also be in the pub Saturday at 2:45 p.m. along with Tami Nelson, Rup Lopps, and This Way North in one of Mariposa’s famous mash ups of unlikely performer pairings.
I could go on until you can’t scroll down anymore about the main stage, so I’ll just hit a few of my highlights. Lance Anderson and one of his great bands will be the first performers in the park Friday at 5 p.m. doing 60 tunes that would have been performed at each of the previous 59 festivals. Of course it will be a bunch of medleys because doing 60 whole songs would take 3 ½ to 4 hours.
Saturday night Murray McLauchlan is being inducted into the Canadian Songwriter’s Hall of Fame right on the main stage at 7:45 p.m. This is the kind of thing which usually happens in Toronto. Stick around because right after that Blackie and The Rodeo Kings will play, and then stay put for Irish Mythen and then the Strumbellas.
Sunday it’s Gord’s turn to be honoured when he’s inducted into the Mariposa Hall of Fame at 8 p.m. You know everyone in the park will be at the main stage for that, which should work out well for Serena Ryder’s performance after Gord’s thing is done. Anyone here remember Serena from her first Mariposa in 2002? Some people can’t forget it. And then, the guys from Blue Rodeo will get to say, “I was there the night Gord became immortal.”
I see the Mariposa scheduling folks have abandoned their Sunday headliner goes second last routine they’ve used the last few years. They did that because too many people said they had to hit the road and missed the headliner. I guarantee no one is leaving the park Sunday night and missing Blue Rodeo.
- Part of closing Mississaga and Peter Streets on Friday nights is the Orillia Farmer’s Market will be having markets some of the weeks. The first one is July 9 from 5 to 9 p.m. Of course there’s usually live music at the market Saturdays and this week Bathtub in the Basement is playing. Also, on Peter Street the artists will be out on the streets. One of them Kathy Godfrey has done a painting with a Ukrainian theme and she’s collecting names and donations for a draw. You get to take the painting home if you’re the lucky winner, and the money is going to Ukrainian relief.
- Norm Foster’s Doris and Ivy (very good) runs to July 15 at the Opera House and you can get tickets online… Duck Soup Productions is doing Newsies in the Studio Theatre from July 12 to August 16; it’s every Tuesday afternoon and through the August long weekend.
- The Orillia and District Arts Council is managing an art project for the County of Simcoe. Artists are invited to submit designs to paint bike stations. Each one has three components, a bike rack, a bench and a bike repair station. Send an email to ODACcommunications@gmail.com expressing interest and once they have a handle on how many artists want in they will send back the particulars on the pieces to painted and how to submit a design. If you are selected, you’ll be paid $500 for each set of three pieces and you may get approved to do up to two locations. There are 17 locations around the county where these will be installed. You’ll also get a mileage allowance (up to 50 km).
- Last weekend’s concerts with Roger Harvey, Kayla Mahomed, Lola Eden and Alex in Orillia and Sebright raised $4,900 for the Orillia Youth Centre’s Nelson Bell and Jake Beers Bursaries. A third concert tin Collingwood raised $1,100 for the Collingwood Youth Centre.
- OMAH also has the 25th Annual International Women’s Day Art Show with 112 pieces in the show you can see right now. Upstairs, Hospice Orillia is sponsoring Dying Matters: Reflections Of Growth Through Grief (closing reception July 7 from 5 to 7 p.m.). This is an exhibit of smaller pieces by local artists, except for the art Chantal Kreviazuk donated to the cause (4 prints) and all of it is for sale. There two other exhibits up as well, Return To Sender and Reflections Of Ourselves. Peter Street Fine Arts has works by Bayside Artists featured this month. Hibernation Art has Raune-lea Marshall’s art featured this month and Saturday from noon to 3 p.m. meet some of the Bayside Artists who have stuff hanging around at Hibernation. Many of the other regular gallery artists have new work hanging around too. Also, every Friday night when the downtown is closed to cars Peter Street galleries and artists will be out with their stuff. Send a note to email@example.com if you want to take part showing your art. Cloud Gallery has a first, as in first time in ages you can see paintings by C.A. Henry right in front of your eyes.
- The Park Street Collegiate reunion the weekend of July 16 at the Barnfield Recreation Centre has Even Steven, Liz Anderson, Mark Stewart’s band and Pete Sanderson’s band performing, a hockey team reunion at Quayle’s Brewery in the afternoon and a restaurant tour. Find out more details and how to get tickets at the reunion website.
- Couchiching Craft Brewing has Jeff Young playing July 15; Will Dunlop (Wilverine on 89.1 Max FM) hosts Vinyl Night (Mariposa theme) July 7 starting at 7 p.m. … the Kensington has an open mic night hosted by Tim Kehoe on Tuesdays from 8 to 11 p.m. … the Hog N’ Penny has trivia night every Thursday… The Orillia Silver Band plays at the Aqua Theatre Sunday at 6:30 p.m.
(Photos by Swartz – SUNonline/Orillia and Images Supplied) Main: Kayla Mahomed.