THIS WEEK 2002 Festival Archives 1 2 3        Letters ARCHIVES 


Newfoundland Labrador Folk Festival - Under the Green, White and Pink

audience at Bannerman Park

Many things about this festival reminded me that I was in the heart of St. John's, in a place like no other. A steady stream of excellent Celtic bands, the openness with which we were greeted and readiness with which we were accepted by the people who live there, the proximity of the harbour - with all its attendant smells and sounds - and the winding streets of brightly painted clapboard houses all provided visual grounding. Bannerman Park proved a perfect setting with an intimate grouping of tents under the tall trees.

Dave, Geoff and I were very honoured to be invited to this event. There is such a wealth of talent residing on the island and in Labrador that there hardly seems the need to import anyone. Yet there we were, along with Finest Kind from Ottawa and Paddy Tutty from Saskatchewan. We were all part of a new initiative called Common Ground, a pairing of Newfoundland and Labrador artists with performers from Mainland Canada. We were fortunate enough to be paired up with Harry Martin, a singer songwriter from Labrador.

Harry was accompanied by Ken Campbell and Rich Neville, two fine players who form Night Sky. We had not met before the festival, but I managed to catch Harry's main stage set on the Friday night and realized that the Common Ground aspect was going to be an effortless union. Harry has been a conservation officer for many years. His passion for the land and Labrador form the backbone of his writing. It is rare to hear such a pure poet at work. His turn of phrase is seamless, and his descriptions as vivid and solid as the land he calls home. Our common ground was apparent throughout and I very much enjoyed the pictures he painted in his songs. I think we both had no trouble sharing the same patch of earth under the tent in the chill morning.

Musical highlights abounded here. Among my personal highlights were catching Jean Hewson and Christina Smith on the main stage with a beautiful set of songs and tunes. This was my first time seeing them live. They provided a wonderful half-hour of superbly crafted music. If you ever have the opportunity to see Jean and Christina I heartily recommend you do so. You will not be disappointed. I was rapt.

Finest Kind's set on the Saturday night was a flawless piece of work, an extraordinary melding of history and song. Three of the finest voices in Canada singing about our past and filling the dark and still air with soaring, glorious harmonies. In a set of splendid songs, Shelly Posen's "No More Fish, No Fishermen" was, for me, the standout. I have a recording of the song but to hear it sung from that stage, to that crowd, was to understand the passion behind the piece. A very remarkable band.

Finest Kind

A Crowd of Bold Sharemen. I think I have already rattled on about these boys in another dispatch from Newfoundland. They were a highlight of the Juno weekend and they were a highlight of the festival. The virtuosity of playing seems effortless and the enthusiasm and love of the music palpable. The band - Jim Payne, Fergus O'Byrne, Gerry Strong, Colin Carrigan and Graham Wells - rips up the stage with outstanding versions of traditional tunes, off set with slow airs and original works. The Saturday closing set on the main stage gave us all three. This band could close any festival in the country and leave those who heard them as moved as we were. This is Newfoundland music at its finest, bar none. Rumour has it they may be touring to support their upcoming album. Go see them. Buy the CD. You can't miss. They're the straight goods.

A Crowd of Bold Sharemen

We were invited to a mass sea shanty sing- organized by Fergus - on Sunday night. I got to sing Roll the Old Chariot, learned from the Mundy's Bay Grog League. I was thrilled to be a part of such a group. Splendid singers all.

It's a nice life - this singing for a living - not least because of the people you meet. Over the last couple of years I have been fortunate to meet some wonderful singer/ songwriter /musicians. Every so often you meet someone who speaks directly to you, who puts into words what you would like to say on a subject, who is intimately linked to what they are writing about. I had the great good fortune to spend time with Newfoundland singer and writer, Jim Payne. I was privileged to share the stage with Jim for a workshop, where I sat and marveled at his imagery and the passion inherent in his voice and songs. There was not a word out of place or a note that didn't find its place in the heart. It is difficult to write about something that so thoroughly moves you. The songs I heard and the performance I witnessed went somewhere beyond the usual laudatory adjectives, seemingly to come from another place altogether. At the post-festival party - over a pint at the Ship Inn, listening to the music and talking, I had an image come into my head. It was of an underground sea of music; history and stories, with Jim rooted to the ground above - a well spring for all that lay below. The more I listen to his songs, the more I know the analogy to be true.

Jim Payne

The lasting memory of the weekend will be myself and Jim walking through the streets of St. John's. We eventually arrived at first light at Colin Carrigan's house on Temperance St. at the harbour side. I heard music spilling out the door, with all the immediacy of the day it was first played. It was endless and joyful, a perfect welcome to the new day. We walked back along Duckworth and Gower streets and up to Monkstown Road, parting at the door of the B&B I was staying at. I watched Jim walk on up the hill, a spare figure, hands in his pockets, the new sun on his back and the harbour wakening below. I could hear his boot heels ringing down the empty street.

I owe a great debt of gratitude to Linda Russell, Jean Hewson, Bridget Noonan and all on the festival committee who had a hand in bringing us to the festival. I was very proud to sing the "Ode to Newfoundland" on the closing stage, surrounded by such people. Many thanks indeed!

Jim and David, Duckworth Street

back home

photos by Beth

a festival for all ages!

Harry Martin

Christina Smith and Jean Hewson

Paddy Tutty

Geoff, David and Dave, main stage, friday

mass Sea Shanty

"Ode to Newfoundland"

view of St. John's from Signal Hill

Newfoundland hack at Cape Spear

Shadows on the Newfoundland ferry