It was this July, at Mariposa Folk Festival in Orillia, Ontario, that I realized the similarities between Saskatchewan and Prince Edward Island. Now, you may wonder how I would come to this realization in the middle of Ontario, and I was also surprised, but I think that it’s true. Isolated, rural-based living, and certainly not in the centre of anywhere. This could be said of both provinces. For me, though, the biggest crossover is something about the people.
I brought my PEI band to play with me at Mariposa, a festival named for Stephen Leacock’s fictionalized version of Orillia, where we saw many old friends and made even more new ones. For old friends, our first run in was with PEI’s Grass Mountain Hobos. These good time boys were having an impromptu country sing-along in the parking lot behind our hotel. Members of The Breakmen appeared along with Elliot Brood, Ashley MacIsaac, and many more to sing, to play and (some) to drink from a tequila gun. It was a fun beginning to a great weekend.
Morning came to soon, and we were off to the festival to perform in workshops and on the main stage. The great thing about these type of folk festivals is how bands and songwriters are thrown together on stages to see what will happen when elements combine. Our first workshop ended with a rowdy bluegrass version of Nirvana’s All Apologies, led by Madison Violet.
Our second workshop of the day was in the beer tent doing a double bill with the Grass Mountain Hobos. It was so fun and we had the crowd wrapped in our PEI-themed banter and songs. It was so easy to be there with those guys, they felt like family amidst a world of strangers, and we were sad to see them leave for home later that day.
The day ended with us playing a mainstage show with the blaring sun setting on us, my guitar burning hot. I felt so lucky to follow one of my songwriting heros, Chris Smither. He is a guy who has been around forever, his songs covered by people like Bonnie Raitt, and with a talent for grabbing the attention of a massive crowd with just his rythmic, blues guitar, his foot stomping and his beautiful lyrics. Really though, I was most lucky to be playing with my bandmates, my good old country boys – Reg Ballagh, Remi Arsenault and Chris Gauthier. Besides all the fun we have off stage, there’s something magical about the trust and the ability to be in the moment that we have found on stage with each other. I notice this with more clarity when surrounded by Canada’s best musicians and I know that my guys are on the same level.
On Sunday, after all our playing duties were over, we watched Chris Smither do a workshop with one of my favourite Canadian bands, the Deep Dark Woods. This is a Saskatchewan band with the sweetest vocals and raw, sad songs. We ended up hanging out with these guys as well as Little Miss Higgins, also from Saskatchewan. As the night stretched on and the drinks added up, we started talking about our favourite things about our respective provinces. Fishing, space, calm lifestyles, small cities, tiny towns, cheap real estate… We even discussed how PEI has ocean for wheat fields, and Saskatchewan has wheat fields for ocean. We got along so easily and understood each other on a very basic level, in a gut way, like family or at least that’s how I remembered it after 4 hours of sleep.
I guess that’s what we are all looking for, out on the road. Family. As touring musicians, we make our families out on the road, the people we see again and again and those that you bond with immediately. Thank goodness for folk festivals and for Saskatchewan.
(Originally published in PEI’s entertainment monthly, The Buzz.)