Last week, the Harrison Festival Society announced the lineup for its 38th Harrison Festival of the Arts.
After the last six to eight months of travelling to conferences, writing grant proposals, preparing promotional materials, seeking sponsors, partners, and donors, and attending to the kind of day-to-day problems and details that come up in an arts organization, the society revealed what they have in store for the event that is the central purpose of the Harrison Festival Society.
“This year I would like to highlight two themes that run through our programming: discovery and re-working tradition,” said Andy Hillhouse, executive and artistic director of the organization. “These themes are there in some form every year of course but seem particularly relevant this year.”
Roots festivals in general are about personal artistic discoveries, and about hoping to find that particular performer you’ve never heard of with whom you resonate, he added.
“There will be many performers coming who were new to me in the last year or two, and who I am excited to get the chance to bring to Harrison,” Hillhouse said.
The Young’uns is a male vocal trio from England that sings songs about life in their corner of England, either a cappella or with minimal instrumentation, and with often hilarious banter in between songs.
Another international vocal act the festival will be presenting on the beach is the Cuban a cappella group Novel Voz, who perform a variety of styles including Cuban son and American swing.
“This year I encountered the sizzling Canadian electric blues guitarist Cecile Doo-Kingue for the first time over a total of three performances in the last 6 months,” said Hillhouse.
She comes with her power trio and will perform in a sizzling blues extravaganza double bill with Toronto’s 24th Street Wailers on July 13.
Also from Montreal, Haitian born Vox Sambou has been busy establishing a reputation across the country and abroad as a captivating live performer with a strong social conscience.
In his day-to-day life he runs a youth centre in one of Montreal’s most socially challenged areas, and his musical shifts from rap to reggae, afrobeat, and traditional Haitian rhythms within a set.
The dynamic Brazilian performer Flavia Nascimento comes with her quintet, and with her huge smile, playful energy, and repertoire of Northeastern Brazilian music she will motivate dancing on the beach and, in addition, bring her clowning skills to Children’s Day.
The society also presents Yemen Blues, from Israel. This is funky, groove oriented middle eastern music that combines traditional Yemenite singing style with west African grooves, blues-funk, and other Afro styles.
There are some returning favourites to the festival as well.
The ever-loved 24th St. Wailers join another popular favourite, The Paperboys, who last played in Harrison Memorial Hall five years ago, and who will get the crowd on their feet in the hall on Saturday July 16.
Elage Diouf, originally from Senegal, was at the festival several years ago as part of the brothers Diouf.
He is now a widely recognized performer on the Quebec world music scene.
David Francey, who over the past 15 years or so has steadily risen to the level of Canadian folk music icon, is coming to the hall on Sunday July 10, following on a successful performance on the beach two years ago that had the office flooded for ticket requests, despite it being a free event, according to Hillhouse.
“As we are a roots music festival, the idea of re-working tradition is a mainstay from year to year, even if we don’t always foreground it,” he said. “This year, I am featuring some performers who have made a special effort to research traditional music in archives and old recordings, and who have re-interpreted the music they discover in their own distinct ways.”
Richmond BC born Norah Rendell, now a resident of Minneapolis, reinterprets rarely heard Canadian traditional songs that she has researched, backed by the delicate string arrangements of the Back Forty.
Another locally based group now making waves across the continent is the brother and sister team Qristina and Quinn Bachand.
“Guitarist Quinn is a true prodigy who I have known as a masterful guitarist since he was about 11 years old, and who now at the ripe old age of 20 is a force to behold,” Hillhouse said. “The duo’s latest album Little Hinges is based firmly on the idea of tradition and innovation.”
Originally from Bowen Island and now residing in Toronto, Sarah Jane Scouten will be at the festival with her band the Honky Tonk Wingmen to sing her retro folk songs and to delve into her repertoire of B.C. folk songs from the collection of the late B.C. folklorist and collector Phil Thomas.
Singer Melisande presents a contemporary spin on traditional Quebecois song, dubbing her style electrotrad.
While her performance is fresh, fun, and engaging, she digs deep for her source material and honours the traditional singers whose recordings she draws from.
The Estonian group Trad.Attack! has a similar blend of reverence for the old mixed with a contemporary sensibility and a dynamic performance style, combining bagpipes, flutes, and sampling of field recordings with drums and driving rhythm guitar.
The Ragpicker String Band digs into the vast repertoire of acoustic blues from the interwar period and unearths some great gems of that genre.
Hannah Shira Naiman is a young banjo player steeped in Southern old time music, who writes new songs faithful to that tradition.
Finally, banjoist Jayme Stone’s Lomax Project will come to the Memorial Hall on Friday July 15.
Stone has been to Harrison before, but this particular collaboration is getting him wider acclaim than ever, earning him a Grammy nomination and five star reviews in the Boston Globe and other major publications.
He has dug into the archives and recordings of folklorist Alan Lomax and has assembled a talented bunch of North American bluegrass, old time, and folk musicians including California-based singer Moira Smiley to perform them.
Moira was last in the village in 2014 with her vocal group VOCO.
“This year we have some strong, young indigenous Canadian and Hawaiian talent,” Hillhouse said, continuing down the list. “IsKwe is an indie R and B Anishanaabe performer from Manitoba who has grown by leaps and bounds as a songwriter and performer since first emerging on the scene just a few years ago, and is now a confident and uniquely compelling singer with a powerful classically trained voice.”
Shauit is an Innu reggae artist from northern Quebec who combines roots reggae and dancehall grooves with lyrics in his native Innu language.
From Hawa’ii, Kaumakaiwa Kanaka’ole is steeped in the ancestral spiritual and cultural traditions of her ancestors, and honours this heritage through contemporary songwriting and an unusually powerful singing style.
“While we bring acts from far afield, we also continue to support the finest local BC talent,” said Hillhouse.
Both Saturdays in the hall will feature two of Vancouver’s most popular feel-good festival acts.
Opening on July 9 is The Boom Booms from East Vancouver, and The Paperboys are playing the following Saturday.
The Boom Booms are just releasing their third album this Spring, and have developed a large local following for their good vibe and soulful music influenced by styles as diverse as Al Green, Brazilian samba, and reggae.
Keith Bennett and David Sinclair are two Vancouver music veterans who have each appeared on numerous recordings and tours, from Sarah McLachlan to the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra, and David Boxcar Gates is a fine acoustic blues player from Vancouver specializing in Delta and Piedmont blues styles.
The closing evening of the festival at the hall on July 17 will feature The Good Lovelies, a popular female vocal trio from Toronto who are touring on the heels of their latest CD and will appeal to fans of acts like The Be Good Tanyas or the Wailin’ Jennies.
Moving on from the beach and evening hall shows, the festival will continue with the multidisciplinary aspects it is known for.
The Literary Café this year will have a South Asian theme, with literature readings by authors of South Asian heritage and a musical performance by a Rajasthani folk group, Rajasthan Josh, who is in B.C. for the Indian Summer Festival in Vancouver.
The visual arts are on display in the festival’s annual art market that stretches along the waterfront, and by a display in the Ranger Station featuring a group show of work in various media inspired by a trip undertaken by the artists down the Yukon river as part of the Canadian Wilderness Residency Program.
The organization will continue their tradition of collaborating with the University of the Fraser Valley (UFV) for theatre night as well.
Children’s Day will continue under the direction of Janet Hutchinson, who has some fresh ideas this year, and will include storytelling, a theatre tent, crafts, performances by Charlotte Diamond, Hannah Shira Naiman, and Flavia Nascimento, and other favourite activities including the popular climbing wall.
• The 38th annual Harrison Festival of the Arts runs from July 9 to 17 this year. Full festival passes cost $140 for adults until June 24 ($155 afterward), with students and seniors $125 for early birds ($140 after June 24). For more information, visit www.harrisonfestival.com.