By John Swartz
The Mariposa Folk Festival started Friday evening on such a high note with an opening set called The Way We Feel, one could imagine it would be difficult to think things could become more exciting. Like a dog spying a squirrel, each new experience with other acts captured front row in the memory bank and only with a night’s sleep and some thought do the moments shine.
It rained pretty hard Thursday afternoon and turned quite a few spots in Tudhope Park into contenders for hosting the next Mud Bowl. The ground felt spongy in many places, and there were a few open mud pits, but fortunately the record heat evaporated a lot of water from the ground, or some of the photos emerging from the night could bring back memories of Woodstock.
David Newland was the main stage MC for the night and it was fitting since he was one of trio (with Aengus Finnan and Jory Nash) who stickhandled the annual affair of the same name at Toronto’s Hugh’s Room. He brought perspective to what the 90 minute set was about (each artist doing their interpretation of Gordon Lightfoot’s songs, rather than trying to do them as Gord would) and why the artists appearing were selected (for the memorable performances over the years that stuck in his and Jory’s minds).
The house band included Burke Carroll, Jason Fowler, Anne Lindsay, David Matheson & David Woodhead. The set started with Jason singing I’ll Tag Along. I thought it was fitting because back in 2004 when Gord showed up after recovering from his near-death experience to sang one tune on the main stage, I’ll Tag Along was the song he did.
Anne Lindsay also sang a song midway through the set. Her take on Beautiful was jazzier than Gord’s and as one of my favourites, her strikingly different treatment fit the song well.
Mathew and Jill Barber did Early Morning Rain and Summer Side of Life. Kevin Fox did The Circle Is Small accompanying himself on cello with other instruments looped, and Sundown on guitar with the band. Lori Cullen sang The Way I Feel.
Meredith Moon told a story of being part of the Toronto show the first time in 2017. “I could barely sing or play a guitar at the time.” She sang the song she prepared for that, Steel Rail Blues. Afterward she said she was more nervous than usual, but that was not evident on stage. In fact having seen her perform many times, she gets stronger and more confident each time.
She also told the audience Gords favourite joke, “I never drink anything stronger than pop and my pop would drink anything.”
Newland told the audience how Gord would show up at Hugh’s Room to watch the show.
“We all had that moment and you’re standing on stage and you’re holding your guitar and you’re playing a Gordon Lightfoot song and Gordon Lightfoot is looking back. But he would lock on those songs and he would tell you afterward what he appreciated about your version. It was so special and such a great gift,” Newland said. He then introduced Dala (Sheila Carabine and Amanda Walther).
“Their voices blend like popcorn and butter. “Newland said.
Dala’s first big show was at Mariposa many years ago, having passed through from the audition concert. Last year they were main stage MC’s. Friday night they sang Go Go Round with Jason Fowler accompanying, and then If You Could Read My Mind, which was maybe the best received rendition to that point.
Then the ringleader, Jory Nash, came out. First he sang Bittergreen. Then he told the audience about singing the next tune at Hugh’s Room and Gord calling him the next day with his notes. Gord said, you sang the middle section a bit too fast. Jory said he’s going to do it and sing the middle section slower. He then launched into one of the finest covers of Canadian Railroad Trilogy I’ve ever heard. It really was magnificent.
The Good Brothers, all of them, with Rick Haynes on bass and Carter Lancaster on guitar (both from Gord’s band) to play along were next. They did Cotton Jenny and Did She Mention My Name.
Next up was the finale with everyone on stage to join the Goods singing Alberta Bound. The audience all through the performance was enthusiastically enjoying the show, and saved some energy for a great ovation at the end.
The Rest Of The Evening
After that is was back and forth between the main stage and the pub. Son Little was playing some great guitar driven blues in the pub. I also caught a bit of the Brothers Landreth in the pub and on the side stage; they wrote Made Up Mind, which Bonnie Raitt’s recording of it won a Gammy this year. The Wood Brothers played some tasty rock on the main stage.
Back a the pub Tankia Charles was leading her band through some funky soul music and had a good portion of the audience on their feet up front dancing.
Ammoye was next at the pub. She does Reggae Fusion (which means Reggae with about every style of music but classical mixed in). “I really like Bob Marley,” she said before going on stage. That was not in question. Her entrance to the stage was something not seen in the pub, ever, I think. Her band played a short very tight introductory piece and she made a dazzling entrance in a stunning outfit, complete with translucent wings. The audience gasped.
Matt Andersen and the Big Bottle Of Joy closing out the night on the main stage was awesome. I’ve never seen Matt perform a less than full energy. His start time was delayed. Apparently one of the keyboards failed.
David Newland said one of the funniest things as he was finally getting to introduce the band.
“You’ve just witnessed something never seen before at a concert, a live organ transplant,’ in explanation for the delay.
No one needs to know Matt’s music to appreciate the performance. Heartfelt singing and amazing guitar work is the order of the night. One almost feels drained watching him perform after just one tune. The addition of a great band and trio of backup singers made for a very worthy headline slot.
One thing has to be mentioned about the shows up front and in the pub. The sound was superb. All the instruments were present in the mix, no hidden guitar parts, booming bass or overpowerful drums and singers voices were crisp and out front of the mix. Aside from hearing music from groups I’m not familiar with, hearing them with such clarity was most enjoyable.
Another observation, after 22 festivals it seems there were a lot more people from out of town and new attendees at the festival this year. I got the sense of it on my treks back and forth between stages. Usually it’s difficult to go 20 or 30 feet without having to say hello to someone. I noted on one trip I made it all the way to the pub and didn’t meet a single person I knew. I did see a couple of people in the pub, but made it half way back to the main stage before running into someone I knew. Also, there are a lot more young people at the festival this year.
The day started downtown on Mississaga Street with The Gardeners and I, The Mountain performing. It looked like the largest audience since Mariposa started having afternoon free performances downtown and again, the sound, mixed by Jeff Gilbert, was great.
(Photos by Swartz – SUNonline/Orillia) Main: The musical cast of the 2023 Mariposa Folk Festival’s opening set, The Way We Feel, a tribute to Gordon Lightfoot.