(Not to be confused with the Queen albums “A Day at the Races” or “A Night at the Opera”)
The Eaglewood Folk Festival is small even by folk festival standards. Held in the middle of nowhere in (well, technically, near) the hamlet of Pefferlaw, Ontario, its location is the Eaglewood Resort. “Resort” is using the word very loosely. It’s more like a rustic summer camp with horse stables, walking/hiking trails, and some old buildings (some resembling houses). But, the family and I headed up to the festival for the day since it’s close to home and we enjoyed it when we went last year.
Eaglewood’s been running for 24 years now, and, while its roster of talent isn’t heavy on the big names (big on the heavy names?), it’s a fairly smooth running, musically satisfying folk festival. It’s got a good vibe (and not just because their motto includes the phrase “good vibes!”), is very low-key and relaxed and includes the usual folk fest crowd – a mix of middle-aged weekend hippies, a few middle-aged genuine hippies, families, and the occasional hipster here and there (sometimes in pairs).
It was an Ontario Tourism Board kind of late summer day – sunny skies, temperatures in the high 70’s….
1:48 p.m. – Off to the side of a winding path called The Pine Ridge Trail (from the back of the program guide: “Don’t be afraid of the woods – all the trails circle back to the festival site.”) is a small circle of about 15 people, most with guitars. The host of this “Campfire Song Circle” workshop is affable singer/songwriter Ian Reid. I open my small chair just outside the circle and listen while Reid talks about the old blues folk song “Freight Train” by Elizabeth Cotton. Even though it’s supposed to be more of a collaborative kind of workshop, nobody really joins in. Which is okay, as Reid’s rendition is good enough to stop the occasional passerby. Finally, a woman from the group decides to add a surprisingly good harmonica solo. And now the song is stuck in my head…”Freight train, freight train, run so fast…”
2:45 p.m. – A dragonfly hovers inches from my face. Its red and black body reflects the sunlight arcing through the trees. I’m sitting on the edge of a shaded clearing filled with lawn chairs. At the front of the clearing is a small log-framed stage, where Emma-Lee has just done a faithful rendition of her 2008 Canadian semi-hit “That Sinking Feeling”. But right now Emma-Lee and workshop partner Peter Katz aren’t on the stage. They’ve walked off into the crowd to perform an unplugged acoustic version of Tina Turner’s “What’s Love Got to Do With It”. It sounds good, and their attempt to bond with the crowd is welcomed, but it sounds to me like they’re singing “Who needs a harp when a harp can be broken?” Must be the pine tree acoustics….
3:10 p.m. – The band doing their soundcheck has just launched into a fast ragtime version of Bob Dylan’s “Don’t Think Twice It’s Alright”. Complete with accordion.
3:18 p.m. – I walk by two performers talking by the side of the path back to the main stage. One says “Where are you off to now?” and the other answers “Back to my tent!” and points to the corner of the adjacent field at a sad, tiny tent baking in the sun under the power lines. “Holy shit! You have a tent!” the other performer excitedly exclaims.
3:20 p.m. – I’m strolling past the Fish Cleaning Hut while the smell of the nearby port-o-lets wafts through the air…
4:02 p.m. – The food vendor and artists area has a genuine flea-market vibe. I don’t think that’s what they were going for, but the tarp and plywood row of vendor stalls at the back really should be replaced with something else.
It seems every folk festival has someone selling expensive hand-made banjos, guitars, and other stringed instruments. Beautiful creations, yes, but shouldn’t folk festivals have instruments for sale that are affordable to the average person? I mean they’re festivals for “folks”, right? I’m happy to see a tie-dye shirt seller, as it just wouldn’t be a complete folk festival without one. Right across there’s a truck selling junk food, though, which messes up the healthy hippie vibe somewhat. The vibe is restored a bit when I see a little booth selling homemade tamales with all natural ingredients. A little bit of Mexico in Canada. And why not? I buy one and it’s really tasty. Even comes wrapped in a genuine corn husk. I’m warned not to actually eat the corn husk.
4:23 p.m. – I walk past a young guy with long hair, a guitar case, and a ripped shirt with “Nirvana” and “Pink Floyd” scrawled in marker across the front. Passing by, I glance back and see Pink Floyd and Nirvana song titles written in the same marker scrawl on the back. I wonder to myself if he’s wandered into this festival by mistake, expecting something like Bonnaroo, Woodstock, Altamont even…
4:40 p.m. – A large organized drum circle is pounding out increasingly complex rhythms on the lawn in front of the main stage. Mickey Hart would be proud. Large truck rumbles up to the row of port-o-lets behind our chairs and begins pumping them out. The rumble of the truck and pump don’t really sync up with the rumble of the percussion instruments. Still, you can sort of hear them. The sudden arrival of port-o-let fumes settling over us is luckily only brief.
5:58 p.m. – Newcomer Mo Kenney has just finished her set. At only 22, she’ll be someone to watch – deft guitar player and perceptive songwriter.
6:24 p.m. – Daughter wearing herself out at the playground, conveniently located right next to the main stage viewing area. I eat my 7th cookie. A mosquito bites my ankle. A light chill slides over the dusty parking lot and through the cedars overhead as Rob Lutes and accompanying guitarist play serviceable roots blues folk (is that a genre name?)
7:35 p.m. – The half-baked humor that Vance Gilbert injects between his songs is wearing a little thin. I say half-baked because it’s not all bad. The baked part is pretty funny, but the uncooked part is not as funny as Gilbert seems to think it is. His yellow-framed sunglasses stand out well in the gathering darkness, though.
8:08 p.m. – It’s mostly dark now. Madison Violet is taking a long time to tune their instruments and get set up, but once they do, they sound focused and tight.
9:05 p.m. – As we have a small (well, smallish) child who’s getting tired (even though she won’t admit it), we hit the road before the evening’s entertainment officially ends. We’re also getting tired of sitting in one place. Into the tree-lined country road darkness we drive, on the lookout for deer, slow turtles, and wayward banjo players.
[click thumbnails to enlarge photos]