A&E » Music

Fortitude and folding chairs

Musical and meterological diversity at the 2nd Annual Pemberton Folk Festival



Sat. June 11

8:00 a.m.

After days of unpredictable weather, it’s brilliantly sunny. Mount Currie looks like a Technicolor postcard that’s been run through Photoshop for maximum appeal. Child Number Two, the five-year-old, gets up, hoovers down his scrambled eggs and toast and declares that he’s ready for the festival.

I smile, confident that this is going to be an excellent day with the family. We’re going to the 2nd Annual Pemberton Folk Festival where the combination of music, sunshine and community will leave us with memories that will further shape our identity as a group determined to live outside the consumerist mainstream. Well, that’s the fantasy…

9:30 a.m.

The light streaming in between the bedroom blinds doesn’t seem quite as intense. In fact, the sky doesn’t seem all that blue. Propped up in bed, Spousal Equivalent sips her coffee, an open laptop on her lap and casually drops a reference to the outrageous number of emails she needs to "get to."

10:00 a.m.

Pouring myself another cup of coffee, I peer out the kitchen window and notice small circles rippling across my neighbour’s dog’s wading pool. I look to see if the dog might be skipping stones across the pool. I hear the telltale, muted thud of oversized raindrops hitting the tin roof.

10:10 a.m.

Number Two’s Favourite Friend shows up brandishing not one, but two, light sabers. They are soon immersed in what is, at last count, a fifth viewing of The Phantom Menace . Number Two looks away from the opening action sequence just long enough to tell me he’s not going to the festival.

10:15 a.m.

Spousal Equivalent peeks through the blinds out to the street covered with bouncing rain, furrows her brow and makes an ominous statement about accumulating household paperwork. There’s also the matter of the housework…I begin to understand…

11:00 a.m.

Number One, 13 and too clever by half, rolls out of bed and heads towards the kitchen speaking that special language of teens that adults only hear as a series of incoherent grunts. Realizing that in her freshly awoken stupor it is unlikely that her brain has registered that we are in the middle of a downpour, I get her to commit to accompanying me. The look of confusion and pity that spreads across her face makes me wonder just how desperate I sound.

11:45 a.m.

Number One looks skeptical as I extol the protective possibilities my Aussie cowboy hat affords. This same hat caused her endless embarrassment during last summer’s family vacation. She kindly refrains from any hat-negative comments and grabs an umbrella to keep her head dry.

"They might confiscate your umbrella at the gate," I warn her.

She looks at me as if I’m deranged.

"They used to do that at the Vancouver Folk Festival. You know, umbrellas in crowded areas regularly cause serious eye injury."

Even as the words leave my lips I realize this sounds bizarre. If "brolly folly" was true, at least 20 per cent of Vancouverites working downtown would be sporting eye patches.

"It’s Pemberton," she states flatly.


Folding chairs and bags slung over our shoulders we head out into the… sun!

12:25 p.m .

We walk through the gate. Number One makes it through with her umbrella intact. She doesn’t say anything, but I detect a certain cockiness in how she casually swings her umbrella as we head to the main stage area.

12:30 p.m.

We settle in under a light mist to watch 10-year-old Squamish fiddle prodigy Joceyln Pettit whip through a set of Celtic tunes. She introduces a suite of songs as, "Four of my favourite tunes that I arranged myself." At an age when most kids have barely mastered "Ode to Joy" on the recorder, Pettit’s creating her own four-part arrangements.

Will she be the next Natalie MacMaster? Or the new Ashley MacIssac? I keep these thoughts to myself. To pose these questions I would have to explain the whole Ashley MacIssac career debacle to Number One and she’d probably think this was just another case of me being "random."

Following Pettit’s incredibly polished half-hour set, emcee Brandon Hestdalen explains that we’re welcome to take a look inside the teepee– "a marvel of aboriginal engineering" –standing at the back of the field. Hestdalen, who lived in the structure with his family for five months last year, has donated the teepee as a portable change room when the space the festival used previously became unavailable.

His passionate pitch for festival food sends me in search of a couple of Tokyo Tom’s California rolls ($2) for Number One and me. It’s my first sample of the fresh, fab fare perfectly priced for the frugal foodie that makes this festival stand out from others.

1:00 p.m

Just as Fargo, a five-piece outfit specializing in Cajun boogie blues, begins to rip up the stage with "Polk Salad Annie" the mist becomes a monsoon. Within seconds the most valuable piece of real estate in Pemberton has been defined – forget the estate lots on the Plateau – it’s the 20 ft x 20 ft tent in front of the centre stage. Between the tent and branches of old growth cedars in Pioneer Park, there’s enough room for everyone who wants to take cover. However, several of the 60 or so brave souls milling around elect not to seek refuge, choosing to huddle under umbrellas, tarps or, in one case, a unique apparatus that is later revealed to be used as a portable treatment room for wilderness medicine.

As the torrential rains pour down, festival organizers and sound techs scramble to ensure the safety of the sound system. The main stage speaker towers are wrapped in blue tarps faster than feet can fly during an Irish jig. This necessary modification further muffles the already muddy sound and gives any leaky condo owners in the audience an unpleasant sense of déjà vu.

2:00 p.m.

The audience, numbering well over 100 by this point, is clearly enthralled by Vancouver quartet Sangha’s hypnotic Eastern sounds. Unfortunately, the group’s traditional Arabic, Persian and Indian stringed instruments are not enthralled with the climate. Sangha becomes the first of many bands during the festival that have problems keeping their instruments in tune. (But this minor glitch detracts little from the engaging performance. I see a number of festies carrying away Sangha CDs during the weekend.)

3:00 p.m.

Having lunched on Mario on Main’s amazing chimichanga plate ($7.50), it’s almost feeling like nap time. Blu Hopkins’ brand of narrative folk provides the perfect backdrop for deep relaxation. Accompanied by his wife Kelly on mandolin and standing bass, his guitar style crosses roots with blues and is exactly what comes to mind when I think of folk. He’s a man who knows who his music. Before launching into "Love Song", he jokingly offers to "Take a break from all the whining and complaining that goes with songs of political import."

In a market where the local radio play list leans heavy of angst-ridden pimple rock and slutty ex-Mousketeers’ disco dalliances, songs rooted in political whining and complaining are surprisingly refreshing.

4:00 p.m.

While I stand in the line-up for Lois Joseph’s traditional Lil’wat food (bannock: $1), the crowd has grown to 250. Although the rain has stopped, I am cold and ready to go home. But my focus quickly changes from concerns about my core temperature to the amazing sounds Don Alder wrangles out of six strings and a pound or two of wood. A renowned finger-guitarist, Alder can make a single instrument sound like a four-piece band. An audience member who rocked our Christmas party with his guitar playing pays Alder ultimate praise, " The guy’s like the acoustic Hendrix."

4:45 p.m.

Having seen former Paperboys’ Moritz Behm and John Bottomley open for the Indigo Girls a couple years ago, I feel justified in packing up. They’re good, but not in the way that a hot shower is good.


8:00 p.m.

I position the evening’s festivities as a date to entice Spousal Equivalent. Having seen Wayne Lavallee in March (he rocked, we decide to skip him and keep Number One’s babysitting fees to a minimum.

Despite traveling with a substantial amount my own insulation, a T-shirt, hoodie, winter weight shell and a Thinsulate sleeping bag aren’t enough to stave off the winds of Pemberton.

The Mountain Bluebirds traditional bluegrass proves worth the discomfort. Initially plagued by horrendous sound problems, the six-piece band quickly wins over the audience with an enthusiastic set of traditional and original compositions.

9:30 p.m.

The Bruce Knauer Band sounds like this is their first gig out of the garage. Loud and self-indulgent, they decimate the pleasant groove created by The Mountain Bluebirds, mangling everything from the Beatles to Nina Simone. Cold and annoyed, we head out without seeing The Masses.


1:30 p.m.

The weather is the embodiment of the myth Pembertonians like to tell Whistlerites: 20°C and sunny.

Number Two, Favourite Friend and I arrive with the bare necessities: sleeping bag and a notebook.

While the boys enjoy an anti-Atkins lunch of rice, bannock and cookies, I’m drawn into the Catalan sounds of Lolo and Gerardo with dancer Afifa. Lolo looks familiar, but I can’t place him. Bingo! He’s custom cut a roast for me at the Pemberton Valley Supermarket!

2:00 p.m.

The boys rush back to centre stage wooed by the siren sound of The Blues Berries. Essentially a bar blues band doing kids’ music, they get the crowd up on its feet to dance along with boogie version of the "ABC" song. I "Hokey Pokey" for the first time in 35 years. Mercifully, I don’t "throw my whole back out".

3:00 p.m.

After trying to explain the purpose of a roach clip being sold at the Artisan’s Market to Number Two, I send him off to the face painting stand while I settle in to have a listen to The Bowen Boys, a fiddle, guitar and banjo-playing contemporary roots trio who are, in a word, superb.

4:00 p.m.

By some odd twist that neither Number Two nor Favourite Friend can explain, face painting has turned into arm painting. Clearly, it’s time to call it a day.

"We’re Darth Maul!" they offer holding up their freshly blackened limbs.

"What did you think of the festival?" I ask.

"It was awesome."

"Why?" I ask, certain that the impromptu body painting session will be the answer.

"The bands!" Favourite Friend answers.

"Yeah, they were awesome," echoes Number Two.