I’ve been going to the Vancouver Folk Music Festival for a long time. Which is my way of saying that I can’t remember the exact year. I might’ve been twenty? Twenty-one? I used to volunteer for Security Team Q, which was a hand-picked group whose job it was to make sure that the disability access areas stayed safe and comfortable for the folks who needed the space. I worked right down at Main Stage for each evening performance, seeing the likes of Ani Difranco, Michael Franti, Steve Earle, Sweet Honey in the Rock, Utah Phillips, and more, up close and loud. Those were beach sunsets that have stayed with me, and music that has shaped my life and been the soundtrack through thick and thin. Each one of those singers was on my labour playlist most recently with Hawksley, which I listened to while the contractions went from mild to intense and then intensely futile when a c-section became reality.
My Folk Fest identity was being a part of Team Q, but ever since having children, I’ve hung up my volunteer shirt and joined the crowd. What a different experience! For now, and probably for the next several years, the Folk Fest is about friends and family, and less so about the music and performers. I can honestly tell you that I didn’t even look at the program this year. I can also tell you that I didn’t sit through a single entire daytime workshop or evening set, not even once. Not Hey Rosetta, not K’NAAN, not Lucinda Williams, not even Ani Difranco. Came close with Pied Pumpkin, but not quite. I didn’t mind though. I reconnected with so many friends, and the kids had a joyful, friend-filled three days of being outside in the sun and rain with amazing live music happening around them and a vibe that is invaluable and will forever contribute to the adults they will become.
Instead of concentrating on the music, I trailed behind Esmé as she explored Jericho. Trailed way behind, to be more specific. This year, she was all about venturing away and doing her own thing. I stuck a piece of masking tape on her back with my phone number on it, and showed her her boundaries — this tree, the marsh, our blanket – and she took off, only coming back for snacks and potty breaks. This morning I asked her what her favourite part of the festival was, and she declared, “Talking to strangers! I love talking to strangers! And then they’re not strangers any more!” This from my child who used to be so shy that I worried it would hold her back in life.
We also spent hours near Stage 1, which is the kids area. Esmé made paper crowns and mysterious clay blobs. She painted masks and mucked around the water station. She rolled around in the grass with friends and family and strangers, and played with hula hoops as if she’d never seen them before. She fed carrots to the resident bunnies and danced up a storm and wore herself out so that she was happy to have a nap each afternoon, so that she could stay until dark to see the lantern procession at the beginning of the last act. And all of this with some of the best musicians in the world serenading her. What an amazing way to play. What an amazing way to build her own community within our larger one. I love watching her explore the world. She does it with a panache that I admire, and could use a little more of myself.
Hawksley won’t remember this year, but we’ll remember it for him. He learned to clap this weekend, on Woody Guthrie’s 100th birthday. How cool is it to learn to clap along with thousands of people doing the same, cheering on Ramblin’ Jack Elliot and Vede Hille and Serena Ryder? He also learned to wave. And again, because of all the gorgeous people waving at him first. I was pregnant with him last year, and Esmé was newly out of diapers, which meant that we got to skip the line ups at the loos. This year, he’s standing on his own and taking his first steps, and his big sister can stand in line like the big kids. I can’t wait to see what next year brings. And no matter who’s playing on stage, it will be excellent.