Mariposa Becomes A Beacon For Happiness

By John Swartz

Happy. If I had a dollar magically appear in my pocket every time someone used that word Friday at the Mariposa Folk Festival, not being able to use an ATM to get cash would have been less worrisome.

“I’m just so happy to be here,” said Liz Anderson. The sun was going down on one of the most perfect weather days the festival had since returning to Orillia, and yet, as Liz said, she was happy to be outdoors, happy the festival was happening, happy to see friends, happy for the music, and happy for the sense of community which is part and parcel of what Mariposa is.

Person after person I spoke with used the word happy and expressed similar sentiments. I heard it so often the obvious theme to build this story around was being happy.

Colin Puffer

And there’s are the people who have been coming here year after year to work the festival. People not seen for three years, it’s almost like old home week. Many people would recognize Colin Puffer, often seen zipping about ferrying instruments and musicians to the various stages. He’s the technical director of the festival and he was very happy to be back in Orillia and at the festival.

I met a couple women, Irene Deschenes and Kim Reid from Strathroy, who were having a good time. They were happy you might say to be at the festival.

Kim Reid and Irene Deschenes

“First time, woowho,” said Reid about being in Orillia. ”It’s a great music location, outdoors, beautiful location, it’s got it all.” Deschenes has been here before, but it was her first Mariposa.

“It’ s nice to do something new, nice to get out after a couple years of isolation,”  Kim.

They were also happy about not having to drive into the festival each day.

“There’s a shuttle bus, I love that,” said Deschenes. Both had their own favourites they were anxious to see.

“Mavis Staples because I’ve loved her for years, lots of fun and energy,’ said Reid

“I’d like to see Serena Ryder and I’d also like to see The Pairs, Blue Rodeo, Blackie and the Rodeo Kings, so many good ones,” said Deschenes.

Matt Grady, Renee Coughlin, Hillary Watson, Noelle Coughlin of the Pairs

Speaking of The Pairs, they were one of the acts performing downtown Friday afternoon. Despite trying to organize my week to be free Friday afternoon, things conspired to only allow me about 20 minutes. Trucking in from the parking lot to Mississaga Street I encountered 4 musicians sitting on the concrete wall, instruments in hand and obviously tuning up. It turned out to be The Pairs and I wanted a pic. “Just do what you were doing,” I said. So they sang a tune, no amplification and the tight, three part harmony from the girls was excellent.  All for an audience of one.

At Tudhope Park, the lineup of performers was as usual incredibly well put together. But, had Mariposa had the luck, foresight, or serendipity to have booked Pharrell Williams to perform, people in the furthest reaches of Orillia would be talking for months, maybe years, about the roar and cheering, the explosion of joy they would have heard coming from the park when he’d hit the part of the setlist where the song Happy, would be.

Side note. I looked up a Youtube video to check the spelling of Pharrell’s name. I got it from the video for Happy. It’s an hour long and 24 minutes into it I’m not the slightest worried I keep hearing the tune over and over.

Lance Anderson

The festival opened big with Lance Anderson and company on the main stage for an hour’s worth of snippets of tunes representing 60 years of Mariposa festivals – one tune from each year from 60 musicians. Sort of, he opened with Canadian Railroad Trilogy – and closed with it.

Several times I mentioned the players in the band in the weekly arts column, a stellar line up. Not once did I type Russ Boswell’s name, yet when I made to the front of the stage to get a pic, there he was with his bass strapped on.

Lance told me afterward there came a point in rehearsals he realized a second guitarist would be needed and since the bassist he originally included, Wayne Deadder, also played bass, they agreed to make the switch so Wayne could play guitar and Lance called his emergency go to, and brother-in-law, Russ.

Ronnie Douglas showed up mid set to give a Buddy Guy tune some authentic blues guitar work. Another happy guy, to be onstage, and just in the park.

Dala – Sheila Carabine and Amanda Walther with Alysha Brilla

Mariposa also managed to have the best pair of stage announcers in 20 years (even better than when Deb Wagner and I, or Sherry Lawson and I did the duty more than 15 years ago). Amanda Walther and Sheila Carabine, otherwise known as Dala were funny and enthusiastically welcomed each act to the stage – and they sang during breaks. They also had Alysha Brilla with them a few of those times. Alysha had her own short set after Lance’s set.

The programming for the main stage was different this year. Somewhere along year 5 or 6 someone came up with the idea to get non-scheduled main stage performers to do two or three tunes from a corner of the stage while the crew worked on the change over. It was usually a case of, “hey, can you do a few tunes at 8?” This was often a big break for some of the performers gigging at their first big event. I recall Irish Mythen was one of those the first time she played the festival, and she’s doing it again Saturday night sandwiched in between Blackie and the Rodeo Kings and the Strumbellas.

Friday nights have long been viewed by the festival as the time to program the main stage for the younger crowd and boy did they score big this year. Weeks after announcing J. P. Saxe would be here, Saxe and Julia Michaels got a Grammy nomination for their song If the World Was Ending.

J.P. Saxe Fans

The integrity of the barrier between the stage and the crowd was threatened by teenage girls swooning over his performance. He told the audience the lines in his opening tune, 4:30 In Toronto, referencing driving to his boyhood home in King City, was about a real place, and his ride from Pearson (he played the Calgary Stampede on Thursday) to Tudhope Park took him by the King Road exit and he saw the sign he made the poetic connection from the time he wrote the line to the present moment. Oh, and he mentioned how happy he was to be playing Mariposa.

The day involves trips back and forth from the main stage to the pub and never getting to see a complete set.  I met some of the band members of Redfox in the parking lot in the afternoon and mentioned I missed their audition gig, missed their gig downtown Friday, and would unfortunately would miss their pub opening gig because Lance was also playing at the same time, but I would be sure to catch them at some point because everyone I have spoken with told me I miss a good one at the audition. They’ll be playing this afternoon on the Bohemian Embassy stage at 2:45 with Dala and Jane’s Party. Coincidentally I have to be in the park by 2:15 so I guess I have no excuse.

I also caught part of Andrew Waite’s set and wished I’d been there for more of it. He was rocking, had a sax player in the band who could blow and the keyboard player had a pretty good Hammond B3 sound font. There aren’t many tunes that couldn’t benefit from a bit of B3 notes.  I also observed what I think is the largest crowd in the pub area I think I ever seen.

Speaking of crowd size, I also think the main stage audience was the largest yet and could have been pushing 8 or 9 thousand.

Pam Carter

I spoke with festival organizing chair, Pam Carter before the music started and she said they expect there will be 30,000 people at the festival over the weekend. This is owing to the fact that for the first time the festival was sold out.

The last main stage act was Lennon Stella. To be honest I’d never heard of her before, but I did look her up months ago when she was added to the lineup. I found out she also played Maddie Conrad on the ABC/CMT musical drama TV series Nashville. I also found out she’ s hugely popular with teenage girls who crushed the fence 4 deep, screaming, cheering ( I thought maybe the Beatles were in the park) and singing along – not just choruses, but whole tunes – with Lennon.

Lennon Stella

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On to Day 2.

(Photos by Swartz – SUNonline/Orillia) Main: Lance Anderson (far right) and his band performing the 60 in 60 set – a tribute to 60 years of the Mariposa Folk Festival on Friday evening. 2022

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