Notes from the Road
by Catherine MacLellan
This past summer was filled with music festivals which brought me to some places I had never been before. I’ve spent the last ten or so years as a touring musician but I somehow avoided the classic paying-your-dues cross-Canada tour in a van. I have always flown across the great northwestern parts of Ontario. This summer brought me finally to that beautiful and rugged Canadian shield. We went to the Trout Forest Music Festival in Ear Falls, Ontario, about an hour north of Kenora. The drive from Winnipeg was so lovely, all lakes and rocks, and upon arrival at the festival grounds I saw my first flock of pelicans.
The thing I love most about the smaller, grassroots festivals is the close knit communities of people working together to make the event a success. Armies of volunteers run around making things happen, musicians from all over the place come together, jamming onstage and off, and the swarms of audience members are the reason we all show up.
After Ear Falls, we headed to Owen Sound, the home of Summerfolk. The site there is spectacular, sitting on the river bank in a city park with a beautiful natural amphitheatre. The festival was spread throughout the park with about 5 stages running during the day and only the mainstage happening at night. It just so happened that the tall ship festival was on the same weekend and we could sit backstage and watch the ships sailing up and down the river. It was quite a sight. Kathleen Edwards and Laura Smith were two of my highlights as far as performers go. Laura with her endless grace and strong, perfect voice always fills me with wonder. Kathleen played a stripped down set with a pedal steel player and a guitar player. It was such a great set I just sat glued to the show.
The weekend following Summerfolk, we headed back east to play the amazingly sweet Summer’s End Folk Festival on Grand Manan Island in the Bay of Fundy. Going to Grand Manan always reminds me of the old days here in PEI when our lives were so influenced by the ferry schedule. The first time I played Summer’s End, a whole crew of PEI musicians were invited and even though there were more musicians than audience members, we had an amazing time. The festival is growing every year and just gets better and better. Carly Maicher, the festival founder and organizer, has a really eclectic and indie sensibility when it comes to booking acts, it was a really special lineup this year again. New to my ears were the Saskatchewan duo of Kacy and Clayton. They are both in their late teens and so fresh and honest with a real knack for writing old-timey songs.
Our final festival of the summer was in Grafton, Ontario called Shelter Valley. I had played this festival a number of years ago and it had always been my favourite for so many reasons. Started by folk musician Aengus Finnan, he used his experience in the folk festival world and took the best parts from other events and put them all in his own. He also made a rule that there would be no repeat artists, which meant that I could never go back as a performer. This summer they were celebrating their tenth year and decided to invite back some of their favourites from over the years. I was honoured to be a part of that group. Also there from the Maritimes were Ashley Condon and Dave Gunning and it was great seeing and hearing them in that space.
Now that summer has officially ended, it is time to look toward the colder days and what lies ahead. I’m in the process of making a new album and with a busy touring schedule I have a lot on my plate. Although I will miss the heat of summer, I look forward to the quieter days of fall and winter as we return inside and get some real work done.