Every Campbell Bay Music Festival second day begins not at the festival site, but at 11:00 am at the farmer’s market in the village of Miner’s Bay. With the market vendors trading as normal, four acts (usually including a large ensemble) entertain the masses for two hours, before attention moves back to the main site for children’s activities, workshops, and a barn dance leading into the festival climax that begins at 4:00 pm. It was here that Michelle Footz, a real character with the alter-ego Shelder the Electric Clamfish, got the day off to a fun start. Accompanied by Fish & Bird’s ace bass player, Zoe Guigeno, Shelder belted out shanty-style songs (which she terms ‘Deep Sea Punk Folk’), playing an accordion, trumpet, or both at once. She is now resident in Halifax, NS, but originally hails from the island, so the crowd loved her before the first note sounded. However, with so many children present it was a relief that Shelder shelved the somewhat ribald shanties she aired as MC at the forest stage the night before!
The female folk-pop duo Citizen Jane hail from Toronto and are currently finishing off their debut album. I really felt for Reenie Perkovic and Lea Kirstein as they valiantly battled against rising crowd and market noise, but what I managed to catch through the cacophony was a delight. Thankfully, they could be heard enough that cheers went up for a song dedication to Michelle Obama. If a chance comes along to see Citizen Jane in a quieter environ, I will be there.
Due to sheer numbers alone there were no such worries about getting their music across from Daniel Lapp’s BC Fiddle Orchestra. A multi-instrumentalist, teacher, composer and…let’s just call him a musical polymath…it is no exaggeration to term Lapp a living legend. A musician’s musician, he founded this ensemble in 1994 from his brightest students, and so it continues with each new group of brilliant youth fiddlers breaking through. Accompanied by bass, guitar and keyboards, nine fiddlers (plus Lapp) powered through an ecstatically received set of traditional jigs and Lapp originals to inject incredible energy into the market. Such was the hubbub following the performance that the Active Pass Revue, comprised of a procession of undoubtedly talented singer-songwriters, including Emile Scott of Real Ponchos, could barely make themselves heard.
Back at the main site in the afternoon we arrived to claim precious territory in the shade on what had developed into a blazing hot day. The barn dance was about to wrap up, as a few dozen folks of all ages took a final whirl around the field to a caller leading an ensemble comprised of members of visiting bands. How anyone could charge about like that in such heat was beyond me, but the musical temperature was soon to considerably increase upon the arrival of the fantastic Tremblers of Sevens.
‘Wise’ (Dan Weisenberger) on guitar and powerhouse drummer ‘Rad’ (Juli Steemson) cranked up the volume, fuzz and distortion to deliver covers of material by Buffy Sainte-Marie, Blind Lemon Jefferson, Bert Jansch, Son House, and other diversely sourced tunes, played, Wise commented, “like Black Sabbath would do it.” “I hope it’s too loud,” he quipped, and the crowd went nuts. Tremblers of Sevens’ music is only available from their Bandcamp page, with every cent going to Doctors without Borders.
After the primal power of Wise and Rad came a sonic about-face in the form of the truly gorgeous Elisa Thorn’s Hue. As I have been enjoying the work of Dorothy Ashby, Màiri Chaimbeul and Lavinia Meijer of late, I was very much looking forward to seeing Vancouver harpist Elisa Thorn perform. Accompanied by a drummer and double bass player her subtle, jazzy set was drawn from her stunning six-tune EP, The Painting Project, inspired by her father Bruce Thorn’s abstract paintings. But poor Elisa was really struggling with the heat, showing the crowd angry red sunburn on her inner thigh, and stating she was “sweating in the most inconvenient places for a harpist.” As if her lush music was not charming enough, this very human performance greatly endeared her to the audience.
Having already missed two opportunities to see New Westminster art-rock band Douse play this year, we were grateful for a third, and they did not disappoint. A more muscular and intense live proposition than their dreamy, melancholy debut album The Light in You Has Left would suggest, the two-guy, two-girl band was on good, lively form in challenging conditions, and got people moving to their rockier material. One charming moment came when drummer Jeremiah Ackermann told of how, when attending the CBMF as a youngster years before, he vowed to play on its stage one day. Job well done, Jeremiah.
The pastoral, banjo-led epics of Toronto’s young, progressive folk outfit Ptarmigan – “poetic kingdoms for the ear,” they call them – found a perfect home in this rural setting. Echoing Stornoway, Horse Feathers and the Strawbs, Peter McMurtry’s songs are grand, strident and pretty at once, and considering that Ptarmigan has only been a band in this form for four years this is one very accomplished and cohesive ensemble, with two fine albums already delivered. It was a lovely performance, visually enhanced by high-circling bald eagles and dragonflies zipping around the site.
If Canada has a contemporary equivalent to The Free Design and The Singers Unlimited, then it is the class act that followed Ptarmigan: Vancouver’s Only A Visitor. Emerging from Robyn Jacob’s previous band, Fistful O’ Snacks (who played the CBMF in 2015), this wonderful art-pop project is centred on tight harmonies from three female singers, and masterful, euphoric arrangements of Jacob’s original material. On such a hot, cloudless day, their sophisticated, summery vibe worked to perfection.
The penultimate band on the main stage was simply breathtaking. The Stash! Band is political, irreverent, hilarious, as tight as a tick, and the crowd went crazy for them. With acoustic guitar, double bass, drums and fiddle, this folk-bluegrass-punk-jazz quartet from Boston, Mass. operates in the same all-over-the-map territory as Ween, with a healthy dose of Zappa-esque humour and social commentary running through their unique material. The Stash! Band is an incendiary live act, sure, but there is more to it to adrenalized wackiness. Bearing in mind the recent news concerning the Larsen C ice shelf, the message in a blast of sonic energy like Ice Crisis is deadly serious. Led by one of the most natural and confident front-persons one could ever hope for in the form of Stash Wyslouch, The Stash! Band was a real highlight of the weekend for me. If you ever get a chance to see this group, do not let it pass by.
Already fit to drop, we had decided to, unfortunately, forgo the forest stage altogether, later missing The Tailor, cabaret comedian Shirley Gnome, and Betty & the Kid. Apologies to those folks. Next time. So, on the main stage, came our final band of CBMF 2017, Cuddle Magic. Hailing from Brooklyn, in filtering them into their stately compositions this ambitious sextet draws on a great many influences, but considering that its members have individually collaborated in various ways with such as Okkervil River, Joan As Policewoman, Amanda Palmer, Bridget Kearney (Lake Street Dive), Fred Frith, Larkin Grimm and – yes, Beyoncé – to name just a few, it is clear that this is a band setting no parameters on their creativity. Benjamin Lazar Davis, Kristin Slipp and the droll Alec Spiegelman form the three-pronged focal point, yet summing up what they and their bandmates do is not so easy. ‘Chamber pop’ is how they are commonly tagged, but modern R&B is obviously also a huge influence, and as a consequence of Davis’ trips to Ghana in 2009 and 2014, some material is based on northern Ghanaian drum patterns. Live, the unfeasibly lush, slow-burning songs surge and swell, washing over the audience in waves. It is dramatic, grandiose, hypnotic and moving. We just loved Cuddle Magic, and for us, it was the perfect conclusion to another fantastic Campbell Bay Music Festival.
On the ferry to the festival, we struck up a conversation with Patrick Fewtrell and Christine Adams, headed to Mayne Island to celebrate their 10th Anniversary. Previously oblivious to the existence of the festival, they were curious as to where everyone was going. By a twist of fate, we had two spare tickets to sell, which they decided to buy from us, especially because Patrick had never before attended a music festival. Catching up with him when it was over, particularly as this was a totally new experience, I asked what he had thought of the weekend:
“I’d been hearing a bunch about music festivals my whole life, and the opportunity you presented was too much to pass up. The variety of music was excellent; the first day was incredibly eclectic, and the second day was more generally my style, but all of it was pretty great. And the people… were just so nice, and so pleasant!”
It is a simple summation from Patrick but absolutely spot on. In total agreement with his view were two CBMF first-timer families, friends of ours, who loved every minute and stated that they could not wait for next year for what should be a memorable 10th Anniversary. Theirs is a common reaction because the Campbell Bay Music Festival is a magical event where all the good things one would hope for from it are unfailingly present in abundance. The best of everything comes together on this dot of land in the Salish Sea for one weekend a year, and as long as we have the resources and health my wife and I will never miss the opportunity to soak it all in, returning home each time with our souls enriched.
Main image by Susan Morrison Young