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Sunny on the inside: The 35th annual Folk Festival

12 Aug 2011 by Clare-Marie Grigg in Culture and Entertainment
Region: Avalon

By Clare-Marie Grigg

Well, it can’t be denied. The Folk Festival this year was a damp one. But it also can’t be denied that the performances were as amazing, and surprising as ever – and the vibe of the audience was gun ho and game for anything. The weather couldn’t deter the folks from attending, and dancing, and singing along.

Friday night, everyone was abuzz with the beginnings of the weekend and the promise of seeing Sarah Harmer live. People milled in and out of the various concession stands, exclaimed over beautiful crafts and jewellery, ate moose burgers and queued up for drink tickets – well, that’s what I did; with my umbrella tucked into one rubber boot (a surprisingly handy place to store it when your hands are full).

The Newfoundland and Labrador Folk Festival in Bannerman Park has become a staple in the St. John's summer events scene over the last 35 years. Attracting all kinds of audiences, young and old, it's a celebration and reminder of the incredible musical talent that hails from here. It's also a magnet that draws great talent from around the globe – artists keen to mix and mingle with some of the best singers and musicians in the business.

A Crowd of Bold Sharemen was playing when I arrived, encouraging the audience to shake off any wet weather blues. The rousing Masterless Men followed, serenading in the headliner of the evening for a crowd ready to sway and sing along. As I inched closer to the stage and Sarah Harmer began swooping through a repertoire of tunes alternating between keening vocals and upbeat accompaniment, more than one person murmured, “Oh, that Sarah Harmer, she’s lovely.”

Sarah Harmer performs at the 2011 Newfoundland and Labrador Folk Festival in Bannerman Park

Lovely indeed when she snuck into the tiny – but bursting-with-character – Inn of Olde Pub in historic Quidi Vidi the following Saturday evening. Quidi Vidi is an old fishing village on the outskirts of downtown St. John’s. Sarah nabbed Matt Hornell’s guitar (Matt’s the lead singer of Matt Hornell and the Diamond Minds, a jewel of a local folk band) and gave an impromptu, heartfelt performance. To the audience’s delight. Matt and his band also performed at the inn and on the folk festival stage that night.

Earlier that day, the festival had completely relocated to dryer turf under the cover of Mile One Stadium, courtesy of a quick turnaround by the City of St. John’s and the diligent organizers and volunteers. It was a different vibe indoors, no doubt. But in many ways, the move worked. There were thousands of seats to choose from (no blankets or fold-up chairs required!) and lots of floor space for dancing, which people – and particularly the kids – took full advantage of.

The Celtic Fiddlers play the main stage at Mile One

The craft stalls, various storytelling, cultural diversity and dancing tents, and the Neil Murray stage for young performers all relocated too, so people could still enjoy the variety of the festival’s events.

Printmaker Caroline Clarke at the Newfoundland and Labrador Folk Festival

It would take more than a bit of rain to put a dampener on the 35th annual Newfoundland and Labrador Folk Festival.