February 2008

February 8 – 10, 2008 Various Venues Toronto
Tzatziki + Acoustic Guitar + Snow = Winterfolk
by Laila Boulos with photos by Dougal Bichan
A folk music festival on the edge of Toronto's Greektown? It seems ambitious and, perhaps, a tad out of place. Yet, surprisingly, the neighbourhood and venues chosen are perfect complements for the music during this annual folk festival.

A brief history of Winterfolk: originally created to heal all those suffering from that dreaded illness that inflicts the majority of our population at this time of year.

Yes! We’re talking about the reviled...Festival Withdrawal Syndrome!

What? You were thinking it was the common cold?! No, this disease puts people at a much greater health risk than just a simple cold ever would!

Seriously, Brian Gladstone, the Director of Winterfolk, originally created this event primarily because he was unable to find places to play his music and ultimately, to create work for his fellow musicians during the festival off season. Brian and his brother Howard are behind some of the city's well-attended folk/roots/blues leaning events.

Now in its sixth year, Winterfolk has gained a loyal following and has expanded into a variety of venues including some paid concerts in addition to its mostly free offerings. This year's hosts included: Black Swan; Dora Keogh; Eastminster United Church; The Big Carrot; and, Willow. All within easy street-hopping distance of each other.

Performers for this year consisted of some very familiar players with loyal followings on the Toronto music scene, for instance, Julian Fauth, Laura Fernandez, Al Lerman (from Juno award-winning Fathead) and Noah Zacharin (a popular host at The Free Times Cafe's open stage). Out-of-town acts such as Michael Jerome Brown, Notre Dame de Grass (an aptly and whimsically named Bluegrass band) and Neema were also among some of the talents gracing the stages. And, for easy reference, the performers were listed alphabetically, by first names, on the program.

Eastminster United Church was the setting for a number of paid concerts this year which included The Blues of Winterfolk — Unplugged, a stellar lineup with Al Lerman, Maureen Brown, Mr. Rick, Tony Quarrington, Suzie Vinnick and Juno winner Jack deKeyzer, who together formed the 'house is a rockin' spiced acoustic Winterfolk Jug band.

Mr. Rick (Zolkower)

The River Pilots
Along with the many stalwarts in the blues and roots community, some interesting, fresh surprises were booked, such as Alex Lukashevsky (of Deep Dark United) along with Jennifer Castle, Anna Linda Sidall and Ryan Driver who performed in zigzag & quack.

Five years ago, the Association of Artists for a Better World was created by Gladstone as a not-for-profit organization for artistic activism, and to "inform, encourage, and stimulate artist awareness of social and ecological issues". The organization does not affiliate with any political parties or get involved in protests or public demonstrations.

The focus is all on the music. In fact, the Association of Artists for a Better World is behind many events such as: the Benefit Concert for Street Haven; Concert for Peace; the popular Toronto City Roots Festival (in the Distillery District); Benefit Concert for Hurricane Katrina Relief Fund; and, Blues for Peace. They have also produced a number of discs such as Peace Songs for a Better World; Protest Songs for a Better World and Songs for a Better Planet.

Although the weather was unpredictable during the weekend of this particular festival, with participants maneuvering through snow banks and puddles along the Danforth one minute, and along ice-covered sidewalks the next, it did not deter the music fans. In fact, it only added to the conversation as people wondered amongst themselves what they expected to be greeted with upon leaving the coziness of one venue to venture forth to the next as people chatted during their wanderings!

Inside the various participating restaurants and bars the only missing piece for a stereotypical folk festival was a campfire and walks by the lake — although, some of those puddles along the Danforth could have easily been mistaken for lakes!

The lineup of talented performers was inspiring in its breadth and scope and helped to open audience ears and eyes to previously unfamiliar talents. As imagined, there were too many heart-pattering and soul-stirring highlights to cover in this article, but a brief taste (this is Greektown, after all) is definitely in order.

The Dora Keogh was a great setting for the hopping foot-stomping sounds of the dynamic duo of Steve Briggs (of the Bebop Cowboys fame) and Mike Brennan. It was a shame that the room was so packed there was no place to dance as their music was practically screeching for people to get up and boogie.

Later, as the ever laid-back troubadour Brian Blain landed on the stage, the room became cozier as that proverbial fireplace now seemed a mere matchstick away. With his hug-inspired vocals and adept fire-crackle guitar picking, the audience became willing prisoners during his set.

Notre Dame de Grass

Herb Dale
And who can resist an event that has performances entitled Songs from the Heart (February is Valentine's month, after all) and a tribute entitled, Songs and Stories of Norm Hacking, a pillar on the Toronto folk scene who recently passed away and is sorely missed.

Adding to the laid-back hippie vibe, rooms were filled with people chatting across tables with each other while children played as volunteers made the rounds discreetly requesting donations to help fund these events.

As with the website, abetterworld.ca, it would truly be a better world if everywhere was as peaceful and harmonious as the Danforth was during the course of this three-day event.

Your naturopath called with a prescription: attending Winterfolk 2009 will help pass the time away during the grey festival-less winter months and is a surefire method of keeping at bay that dreaded Festival Withdrawal Syndrome! Ugh!

We welcome your comments and feedback
Laila Boulos
• • • • • •
Dougal Bichan
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The Live Music Report
Dougal Bichan is a professional photographer and communications consultant living in Toronto. He has spent many years photographing musicians. To view more of Dougal's work > dougalco.com

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