Although it may have seemed for a while there as if the Winterfolk Blues & Roots Festival might be more interested in upping its corporate profile than in its connection to the grassroots community from which it sprang, this year’s twelfth edition underlines its commitment to being more than just another industry enabler.
The return to its seemingly natural home on the Danforth Avenue strip near Broadview after two years of dalliance in the corporate belly of the Chelsea Hotel is the most obvious sign that Winterfolk clearly realizes its future is in “those that brung it to the dance” rather than high-priced sponsorships and fancy surroundings.
Not that the festival ever really abandoned its relationship to the Roots community that nourishes it —it has always had a strong component of participation by various groups, organizations and clubs that together help to make up the nuts and bolts of the local and wider Roots scene. But presenting them in their natural environment —clubs on a street at which people regularly go for entertainment already— feels a lot more right than jamming a bunch of Folkies into a high-priced metal and plastic decored bar several stories above street-level.
Once again this year SongTown impresario Pete Otis returns with a lineup of stellar talents, many of them residents from the local area that surrounds the festival locale. His two-hour showcase presentation at Terri O’s (185 Danforth) from 3-5 on Saturday, being hosted by area resident Paul Cross, also features long-time area inhabitants such as protest songwriter Sebastian Agnello (who also does a weekly Monday show at the festival’s Black Swan two-stage venue at 154 Danforth Ave.) Harpin’ Norm Lucien (who is seemingly ubiquitous as an accompanist with his reeds but also a fine songwriter in his own right), funky Reggae/Rock songwriter and longtime area favourite Trevor Jones (just getting back into the musical swing after a hiatus necessitated by a finger injury last year) and Nicola Vaughan who hosts two weekly area open stages (Wednesday at the Swan and Sunday afternoons at Hirut near Woodbine) and percussionist/songwriter John Romas, whose affiliation with Otis goes all the way back to the days when, as kids, they had a band called The Pape Gang.
While Otis’ event may be the one most clearly infused with talent from the East York community surrounding the festival venues, plenty of nearby players can also be expected to attend one or more of the three open stages taking place over the weekend (Saturday and Sunday afternoons at Dora Keogh, 141 Danforth Ave. and later Sunday afternoon at Black Swan) and other community showcase presentations also ensure the involvement of a lot of local talents who might otherwise not get booked to play a festival.
Glen Hornblast hosts a session at Terri O’s, following the SongTown showcase, for example, that echoes the open stages that the late Norm Hacking used to host over many years. And the same afternoon Russell Leon and his Songwriters Unite troupe will do a 4-7 in-the-round presentation at Dora Keogh that will feature many of the talents who normally attend that group’s monthly sessions at downtown Roots emporium Free Times Café.
Also on Saturday afternoon, on the ground floor at the Swan, there is are three similar community-based showcases, including one by Speak Music promotional company from 4-6 and another hosted by Folk songwriter Steve Raiken that presents some of the talents who attend the new weekly Saturday afternoon sessions at the Swan hosted by Brian Gladstone, including Roger Zuraw, Darwin Bruce, Sharron Katz and Brian Jantzi.
And while all that’s going on, over at Globe Bistro (the newcomer to the festival this year at 124 Danforth Ave.) The Nashville Songwriters Association of Canada does a showcase from 1-4, followed by one put on by the Acoustic Harvest concert presenters group from 4-6.
Whatever mis-steps Winterfolk may have taken in the past to make people from the local community feel a bit snubbed and get members of the Roots community shaking their heads, no doubt all will be forgiven and forgotten after this impressive array of locally-based talents has strutted its stuff on the Winterfolk stages this weekend! -Gary 17