Some Reflections on Mariposa-By-The-Shore, Cobourg, 1996


Many years ago, a Toronto reporter at an earlier Mariposa talked about "magic moments", when an indescribable melding of performer, performance, and audience produced a moment of magic, where the audience sat transfixed, lost in something the performer had sung or played. It was a moment to always be remembered, and a moment that the listeners did not want to go away.

Mariposa 1996, or "Mariposa-By-The-Shore" in Cobourg, for me produced some of those moments.

Right now I want to share with you some of those moments. Unfortunately, being involved in workshops myself or with Kate and John, there were others I would have loved to have attended, but it's impossible to be in two places at once.

We arrived in Cobourg, wondering what a change in venue, a down-sized Mariposa, perhaps a different approach to programming would be like. It all worked beautifully.

What a great location! With the lake and lovely beach along one side, only a block or so away from downtown....pretty hard to beat.

For an hour I sat transfixed at the "Old Tyme Hot Guitar" workshop. Listening to four outstanding guitarists - Rick Fielding, Arnie Naiman, Tony Quarrington and Paul Mills (a.k.a. Curly Boy Stubbs) - was an incredible musical experience. I can only describe it by saying "I know what they're doing, but damned if I know how they are doing it!" Awesome.

Listening to Sylvia Tyson and Tom Russell discussing the craft of songwriting, particularly after I had read their book earlier, "And Then I Wrote..." (which, incidentally, not only is highly entertaining, but a must for anyone starting out writing songs). Their combined talents, along with the virtuoso guitar playing of Tom's accompanist, Andrew Hardin (and Tom is no mean guitarist himself) completed a memorable workshop.

And who could forget Bill Russell, a singer, instrumentalist, string-play expert, square dance caller, doing his stuff for adults and kids on the Folk Play stage, teaching Martha, my young granddaughter, a complicated string game...calling off a square dance, and generally being an all-around thoroughly professional and entertaining guy...and a very funny appearance by Kenny, one of the Mariposa sound men, who Bill persuaded to don a vest washboard and play it, while Bill sang an Acadian bayou song. Kenny hammed it up, and we ended up in stitches - of laughter, that is.

A workshop, or memorial, to Edith Fowke, who passed away in February. Sid Dolgay, Kathy Reid and her husband Arnie Naiman, David Warren from Mariposa, and I started off talking about Edith, and found that our audience was slowly slipping away. I guess a lot of people just didn't know or care about Edith, or talking about someone who wasn't there just didn't grab their interest. As the workshop host I was wondering what to do, when Kathy leaned over and said "Let's give them some music"; and since she and Arnie had their instruments there, that's just what we did.

We alternated remembrances of Edith with songs from her many books, and I'd like to think that our listeners went away having gained some more respect and admiration for one of our greatest collectors of Canadian traditional songs and folklore.

An amusing incident, for my family and I anyway, was seeing Bill Russell lying flat on his back behind the audience at the Folk Play stage, while Kate, John and I were performing. He looked to be sound asleep, and I thought, "Oh, oh...our show is boring and Bill has fallen asleep....perhaps the audience has too and our show is down the tubes....". But it turned out that Bill had a sore leg and was merely resting it as he lay on his back.

And Les Barker with his witty on-stage readings as he MC'd the Saturday evening show. The job of MC is a tough one, as one tries to think of interesting or funny things to say to fill in the gaps as the stage guys get things ready for the next act. Les and his alter ego Holmes Hooke carried it off beautifully.

And what would a festival be without Bobby Watt? This big, bluff, hearty Scotsman, with a wonderfully ribald sense of humour, cracking jokes, bawdy and otherwise, and entertaining us with stories and great traditional songs.

And what a pleasure to hear Kathy Reid and Arnie Naiman perform, both individually and together. I first met Kathy many years ago when she took part in a memorable ceilidh I had organized for one of my classes when I was teaching a traditional folk music course at U. of Waterloo. For me, one of the "magic moments" was listening as she and Arnie entranced the audience, singing and playing with such a deep feeling and love for their music. No wonder she was involved in five workshops on Sunday.

As unexpected pleasure was listening to Jim and Maggie Yates during a "Strange Strings" workshop. Maggie played a small hammered dulcimer, possibly the only hammered dulcimer at the Festival, and Jim had made a banjo out of a tin can and other odds and ends, as well as a homemade fretless banjo. A very creative guy.

As I talk about all these people, I think, "What a wonderful group of interesting, warm, and friendly people to gather together at this Festival...musically talented, entertaining, with a deep commitment for the material they are using," and how fortunate we all were that weekend to have the privilege of listening to their music.

And then, as I was writing this, I thought of the background to the whole Festival. The number of people behind the scenes, the many volunteers, without whom a festival would never get off the ground, the people on the sound systems, the committees at both the Toronto and Cobourg ends, who smoothly coordinated their efforts to put it all together; and to the Mariposa Board and executives who had the courage to move Mariposa from its home in Toronto to not only one, but two new venues; in Bracebridge for one day and Cobourg for the weekend.

A successful festival like Mariposa doesn't happen by accident. Months of planning go into it, and I'm sure the organizers are already planning for next year. More on this later.

Back to the Festival, this time about family traditions.

Those of us who are lucky enough to have children who have followed along in our musical footsteps, whether it be instrumental, singing traditional folksongs, perhaps becoming singer-songwriters, get nice warm feelings when they perform with us. We feel that we are "passing it on" to future generations.

So who can blame us for being proud when we see Caitlin Hanford and her husband Chris Whitely, along with Dan and Jenny; Paul Mills and his son Trevor; Kevin Kennedy and his daughter Samantha; Martha Wainwright, Louden Wainwright and Anna McGarrigle's daughter; my daughter Kate and her husband John Hart; and doubtless there will be others coming along at future festivals. Isn't that a nice legacy?

I was thrilled to participate in a workshop on "Mariposa Reflections" with Sid Dolgay, one of the original members of Canada's own folk group, "The Travellers", Estelle Klein, whose contributions as Artistic Director for many years blazed a path, not only for Mariposa, but for other festivals, and Bill Garrett, whose musical contributions are legendary. Estelle has a complete set of programs from the first Mariposa in Orillia in 1961 on; and what a treasure that will be for anyone delving into the Mariposa years!

A good workshop, touching on what Mariposa has been and where it is going.

I have mentioned various performers, and I don't like singling out some performers over others, but one of my own "magic moments" came when listening to Rick Fielding. Rick is one of those people who has been under-appreciated by the public, having spent much of his career playing northern Ontario bars trying to make a living, and teaching guitar, etc. So fame and fortune haven't completely touched him as yet. But Rick, like Gordon Bok, Pete Seeger and others, bridges the gap between traditional and contemporary. Listening to Rick and his superb accompaniments was something to be remembered.

Two other "magic moments" were Sylvia Tyson ending the Sunday concert with a beautiful set of numbers, sung in her inimitable style that has made her one of our outstanding singer-songwriters, and a stunning performance by Tom Russell, singing his own songs, accompanied by some amazing guitar work by Andrew Hardin.

Remember "Navajo Rug", sung by Ian Tyson on one of his cowboy history albums? My family fell in love with this song, as did I. I didn't know Tom had written it until I read about it in his and Sylvia's book, "And Then I Wrote...."; and hearing Tom sing this, and other equally great songs of his....well, the performance was memorable.

Who can forget the magic moments following the Sunday evening program, when Sylvia, following her set, and with most of the Mariposa performers on stage, led us all in "Will The Circle Be Unbroken", followed by Chris Whitely leading "Good Night Irene", and Sid Dolgay and I ending the festival with "This Land Is Your Land", with the audience and the performers singing their hearts out.....and since Sid, who is one of the original Travellers who wrote the Canadian version of the Woody Guthrie classic was on stage, that made it even more memorable. Truly, a night to remember.

(And here, my abject apologies to those who heard me blow the lines to "This Land Is Your Land". I guess I got carried away emotionally by it all, and lost my concentration. Too bad that I'll be known as the guy who forgot the lines to Canada's national folk song, a song I've sung dozens of times...."c'est la vie", but we finished up OK!)

I fell very sorry for those of you who didn't make it to Cobourg. I wasn't at the Bracebridge part of Mariposa, but from all accounts it was the same; a happening, a joyous meeting of public and performers, a warm, friendly atmosphere, great talent, interesting workshops, beautiful surroundings - all of which go to make a folk festival.

In finishing, we are all looking at some problems which face all festivals, ranging from small festivals like Peterborough, just getting started, to the large festivals such as Mariposa.

Nobody wants to lose money. One reason Mariposa moved to Cobourg was that after a series of deficits, there wasn't much cash in the kitty. This resulted in a great festival, down-sized somewhat from previous festivals; but, nevertheless, produced what we hope the public likes to think of as a folk festival. I don't know if Mariposa lost, broke even, or made any money -- I would hope the latter.

Here are some thoughts that crossed my mind while writing that I toss out for your comments. I do not speak for Mariposa; these are my own opinions, and I certainly don't have all, or perhaps any, of the answers. But I know that the Mariposa people would like to hear your pro or con comments, and what you think is the road to follow.

Which way does Mariposa go? Will it have to go the way it went in earlier years, culminating in having to book high-priced "name" performers to bring the crowds to pay for other "name" performers the next year to bring in more crowds, and round it goes?

Is it possible to get more corporate sponsorship, with the possibility of lots of obvious advertising by the sponsors, with beer tents, etc., and possible interference in the artistic aims of the festival, which might destroy the intimate feeling of Cobourg and Bracebridge, for example?

Something else to be considered is the funding, or increasing lack of it, available through Federal, Provincial or Municipal grants. Such funds are becoming harder to come by in this period of austerity and cutbacks, compounded by the proliferation of folk festivals in Ontario, all of whom would need some sort of grant, if not to survive, at least to sometimes make the difference between profit and loss. As well, corporations are tightening their purse strings.

Should we try to go back to the earlier days of Mariposa, when every performer received the same reasonable flat rate, plus mileage and accommodation; and knowing that everybody was being paid the same, would some of the bigger "name" performers come just for the pleasure of making music, meeting and working with old friends, etc.? This may be dreamland in this day and age, but something that might be considered.

Should Mariposa be moved to later in the fall, say September or October, when chances of the weather being better, and the competition for the summer festival dollar is not quite as bad? Yes, I know, you run into the fall agricultural fairs, but I'm just suggesting....

Is today's public interested enough in the mix of contemporary and traditional that we supply, or is it looking for something more like Hillside in Guelph, which is to me (and I may be wrong on this) moving almost to being a rock festival?

I personally liked the idea of the evening concerts starting at 6 PM, which meant that the public is up and away by 11 PM or shortly after. I also feel very strongly that it would be hard to improve upon the wide and eclectic variety of workshops offered at Cobourg.

Just some thoughts. I know that a lot of folks at Mariposa have spent a lot of time concerned about what possibly is a major question. How does Mariposa maintain its artistic integrity, provide a lovely venue, showcase so much individual and group talent, provide educational and entertaining workshops, with, at the same time, the bottom line being "who pays the piper"?

By now you are no doubt getting tired of my philosophical meanderings, but I want to leave you with this.

Beverlie Robertson (whom most of you know through her work as a founding member of Mariposa In The Schools, and as a member of the group "The Chanteclairs" in the 60's) dropped by the other day and we kicked around just what folk music is all about. She said, generally speaking, that we need a broader definition of "folk music" with which people can identify; such music is more eclectic and broader based than what it used to be. It preserves, but it also develops and grows, with basic facts being the same, but people changing in their musical tastes.

But folk music represents our history and culture and all the other things that make us proud Canadians; and if Mariposa can continue doing as it has been doing for the past thirty five years, in showcasing the incredible variety of talent that brings these things to our audiences, and at the same time solve its other problems, we are all well on the way to continue saying "Mariposa".....and that one magic word says it all.

Thank you, Mariposa, for inviting us. We had a wonderful time. May you grow and prosper, and provide us with more of those "magic moments".

Merrick Jarrett

22 Ahrens St. W.

Kitchener, ON. N2H 4B7

(519) 578-8075

August 25, 1996