Sunday At The Mariposa Folk Festival

By John Swartz

It just kept getting better. Each day of the Mariposa Folk Festival was better than the one before and each minute on Sunday’s main stage performances was better than the last.

Even though the humidity and temperatures were up from Saturday, though not as high on both counts as Friday, the mosquitoes returned, but like the Russian Army mosquito numbers were significantly less than were present at the beginning of the campaign. So, even that was better.

Travis Shilling painting Cal Shilling

Sunday started with a trip out to Barnfield Point to see what the artists at the Studio Point Art Workshop were up to. Travis Shilling was set up to paint portraits, Bewabon Shilling, Tanya Cunnington, Will McGarvey, Annie Kmyta Cunnington and others were also working on paintings. Wes Trinier was helping out with the kid’s art stations and much like the rest of Barnfield Point, it looked like a zoo out there.

The Folkplay area on the point wasn’t a thing the first few years after Mariposa returned to Orillia in 2000, but it may be the single greatest thing the organizers came up with. There is so much for the little ones to do and the funniest thing is to watch kid’s spirits and enthusiasm try to outrun their bodies as they rush to join an activity.

Many of the Streets Alive Maple Leaves, guitars and other sculptures were placed along the Gordon Lightfoot Trail to add a little more colour to the scene.

The Music

The big picture of the festival weekend kind of resembled how a smart band orders their set list, do the thoughtful, lyrical, sentimental, storytelling kind of traditional folk music, ramping up to the angrier social and political commentary kind, and then just going off the charts into wild displays of showmanship and incendiary partying.

As anyone who ever engineered a musical show knows, start easy, end hard. That applied to both the weekend and Sunday night. It’s also like smart writing for television which has to break for ads; you write several sub-beginnings, middles and ends so viewers stay tuned to the next segment inside the context of the story arc of whole episodes.

Donovan Woods has a core set of followers that includes many other musicians (some of whom have recorded songs he wrote) to a contingent of loyal fans who have discovered his music. Many others are in the ‘who is that?’ camp. But when most of the fans assembled in the standing area in front of the stage sang along with him on his last tune, Wagon Wheel, one gets a sense maybe he’s someone to pay attention to. He also brought Rose Cousins out to help with one of the songs. This is common at Mariposa, for an artist to invite another out to join in the gun.

James Gray, no stranger to Orillia audiences, having played frequently at Couchiching Craft Brewing, PIcnic and Quayle’s Brewery, did a set on the side stage leading into Bruce Cockburn’s. Not an enviable spot to occupy, but he pulled the audience in anyway.

Cockburn showed time (he is 79-years-old) has not affected his ability to sing the songs as we know them from the decades old recordings; his voice was strong and the upper reaches of pitch were solid, and his fingers worked the guitar as good as ever, despite having to use canes to get to center stage. He went overtime, doing one more tune and nobody cared. Well maybe the stage manager did.

Sunday at the 2024 Mariposa Folk Festival - Bruce Cockburn

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His set was followed by induction into the Mariposa Hall of Fame, which also got the one-more-tune treatment.

Colin Linden spoke of his experience with Cockburn, getting his big break into the biz and working with Cockburn over the years. He came out dressed in black, jacket and all, maybe feeling out of sorts with the heat and the importance of the moment, “I feel like I’m officiating a wedding,’ he began his speech.

Tom Power, host of the CBC’s Q and announcer for the evening was chosen to hand over the hardware. He itemized Cockburn’s place in Canadian music, and music in general.

“I’ve been thinking a lot about the great gift that Canadian Folk music has given the world,. “One of the great gifts Canadian Folk music has given the world is actually where you are right now. All around the world people know about this festival. All around the world people know the impact this festival has had on artists who dedicated themselves to this craft,” Power said to the audience. “The Mariposa Folk Festival itself is a pillar and a gift to the music world at large.”

“Through his work, through his words, to his advocacy, for speaking for people who are unspoken for, Bruce Cockburn is, in his presence in the Canadian Folk community, also is a  gift to the world.”

Then a football squad’s-worth of performers came on stage to join Cockburn in running through two more tunes. Thompson and Tom Wilson, Linden, Ken Whitely, The Good Lovelies, Rose Cousins, Tom Power and Donovan Woods all contributed to singing Waiting For a Miracle.

Next on stage was Joseph. The group is made up of the twins, Meegan and Allison, and third sister Natalie Closner and they sang with so much strength, it’s almost like they were bypassing the microphones and putting the sound directly into the mic cables.

The Old Crow Medicine Show is from north Carolina and frequent flyers in Nashville. Front man and player of whatever happens to be in his hands at the moment, Ketch Secor, spoke of the band’s first gig – In Algonquin Park, and their various forays across Ontario in a way that revealed he understood how we talk about ourselves.

Saying he is the front man is understatement, most of the seven band members took their turn steering the ship and giving the lighting operator nightmares about who to put the light on.

Sunday at the 2024 Mariposa Folk Festival - Old Crow Medicine Show, Ketch Secor

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The instrumental breaks were epic. I can imagine the talk in rehearsals, “You take the solo,” “No you should take the solo,” “I think I should have the solo,” “I got it, we’ll split it up between everyone.”

It was organized chaos on stage. At one point I remarked to another photographer in the pit, “I don’t know where to point my camera,” there was so much mugging and action on stage.

They closed their set with a tribute to Robbie Robertson, playing The Weight. They brought Natalie Closner, and Jill Harris, Lydia Persaud and Carleigh Aikins of Dwayne Gretzky out to help with the band’s send off.

If the festival ended there nobody would have complained, but there was more to come.

Kim Churchill, an Australian, proceeded to keep the electricity flowing with a great set on the side stage. He produced so much sound with his guitar, electric harp, bass drum and singing, it was amazing so much was instigated by one person. It was maybe one of the greatest side stage performances Mariposa has had. We’re going to be hearing more from him.

The last act of the weekend was Canada’s greatest cover band, Dwayne Gretzky. The aforementioned trio of women plus band leader Tyler Kyte and Nick Rose each handled lead vocals of the 13 member band on tunes like the set opening Dancing in the Dark, You Can Call Me Al, Simply the Best, Let’s Groove and other 80s hitsall faithfully reproduced and performed like they owned the tunes.

One or two in the audience expressed they didn’t come to Mariposa to see a cover band, but to several thousand others having a party band close out put a nice cap on things.

Sunday at the 2024 Mariposa Folk Festival - Dwayne Gretzky's Tyler Kyte and Jill Harris

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Some other notes unrelated to the music. The audience on hand Friday night was about 8,000 people, with Saturday and Sunday eclipsing 10,000 each night. The festival sold the last ticket just before the gates opened Friday, marking three sold out years in a row. The volunteer corps increased to 800 strong this year and I joked Saturday while introducing an act, next year each patron gets their own volunteer.

And with one minor exception (which was resolved between us on the spot) the security and gate staff were almost invisible, in fact the woman on the gate at the performer entrance was thanking people for coming as they were leaving late Sunday night.

Sunday at the 2024 Mariposa Folk Festival - Donovan Woods

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(Photos by Swartz – SUNonline/Orillia) Main: Dwayne Gretzsky closed out the 2024 Mariposa Folk Festival.

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