I just got back from a vacation with a bunch of friends. Mind you, it wasn’t supposed to be a vacation, really, but that’s how it turned out. So here is a recipe for the perfect holiday. Start with one musician’s dream to have a folk festival, add a beautiful location (Grand Manan, N.B.) with a ton of like-minded, hardworking musicians, throw in a great restaurant with free food, beautiful little cabins to stay up all night in, and the secret ingredient: everyone’s willingness to take a risk and play for free.
It was called the First Annual Island Folk Festival, organized by up and coming songstress Carly Maicher, originally a Manitoban now living in Grand Manan. Carly had this idea that she’d like to throw together an event in her new home, and what started as a seed inside her imagination sprouted into a magical weekend for all those involved.
The trip began for me with a drive with Meaghan Blanchard, Dennis Ellsworth and John Connolly from PEI to the ferry in Blacks Harbour. We started the day early with too much coffee and marched onward past Sussex and their call for hot air balloonists, laughing all the way to the ambiguous ferry line.
It felt like old times on the boat, reminding us of how we Prince Edward Islanders were so dependent on this service to connect us with the mainland. I’m sure most of us remember the meeting and greeting of seldom seen friends and neighbours on the ferry, the slow ride to the other side. Within minutes I spotted an old friend, the incredible Petunia, who taught me how to play French Whist while my fellow islanders were outside spotting whales.
The ferry announcements guided us back to our vehicles and we were suddenly on the beautiful island of Grand Manan. A few trips past the French-style bakery (with one delicious trip inside) and we found our way to what would become our home base for the weekend, Gallaways Restaurant. We were greeted with our first of many great meals there and then ushered out into the cold and rainy September evening to begin the festival with a PEI song circle. The crowd was small but brave. The night was filled with great music from Carly, Del Barber, and then Petunia, who ended the evening with a steady flow of Western Swing and Rockabilly. We were then led, convoy-style, to our cabin in the woods where we proceeded to play cards and laugh until the sun was almost shining.
The rest of our musician team showed up the following day with Tanya Davis, Acres and Acres, Babette Hayward, Mike Biggar, David Simard, Pat LePoidevan, Clinton Charlton, J.D. Edwards, Chris Braydon and Owen Steel. It seemed like most of my friends were all in one very beautiful place, and even those I hadn’t known were suddenly close. I think one of our favourite new discoveries was J.D. Edwards, the son of a math teacher, a good songwriter, and a far too good cribbage player. He tried to let me win, but in the end I was defeated without exception.
By the time Sunday rolled around, the sun was there to stay but we were not. We all drifted out according to the ferry schedules and said farewell to our new found friends. The three-thirty ferry stole away the entire PEI crew along with Tanya Davis and David Scholten (of Acres and Acres). We spotted more whales, watched some amazing dog tricks, had great conversations with strangers, and listened to the sweet songs of Meaghan Blanchard floating out over the ocean air. It seemed our vacation was a total success.
(Originally published in the October edition of PEI’s entertainment monthly, The Buzz.)