Concerts Concerts Toronto Hosts Folk Alliance 2013

Toronto Hosts Folk Alliance 2013

Folk Alliance
Folk Alliance
Delta Chelsea Hotel in Toronto, ON
February 20-24, 2013

Review by: Lee Fraser

The 25th Annual Folk Alliance Conference took over a downtown hotel for four days and nights with all variations of folk music.

Imagine if you will the lobby of a large downtown hotel filled with people: the constant murmur; the energy; and the aura of excitement. Now imagine that most of those people have instruments. Some are being carried, some are being inspected and compared, and some are being played. There’s music around every corner, accompanied by accents from all over the world.

The Folk Alliance Conference is an annual event that moves from city to city around North America. The 25th rendition took place in Toronto. The Delta Chelsea Hotel, host of the very Canada-centric “Winterfolk” every February, was a well-suited choice. With a pub at street level and two floors above that with ample meeting rooms, there were ten different stages set up with a different act playing every half hour in each one.

When most people hear “folk music”, images of long-haired, granola-eating hippies come to mind. The surprising thing about Folk Alliance is the looseness of the term “folk”. The word has its origins in a Germanic noun meaning “people”, so technically, any kind of music fits the bill. At Folk Alliance 2013, there were the expected genres like Newfoundland/Irish traditional or folks strumming acoustic guitar while singing politically motivated lyrics. And you would find related acts, such as Scottish, Irish and Australian bands with a trad style. What you might not expect, though, is genres like blues, Latin, soul and - yes, it’s true - even rock and roll.

Another surprising aspect of Folk Alliance, due to the world-wide attendance, was the variety of instruments. There was a band with not one, but two bagpipe players, playing at the relatively small and very enclosed Monarch’s Pub. A band comprised of two Irish guys and an Australian guy that one of them met while living on the streets, played a Jaw Harp, something that looks like a bit of throw-away wire, but sounds like a didgeridoo. Who has ever even heard of a Shunti (an Indian accordion the size of a small briefcase) never mind actually heard one? All of this, and more, was there to be discovered at the conference.

Aside from all the fascinating, and sometimes odd (tap dancing!), acts to take in for free, there were several Canadian bands that really stood out as acts to follow as they tour across the country in the coming months. Sherman Downey and the Silver Lining is a band from a small town near Cornerbrook, Newfoundland that have the catchiest tunes and possibly the biggest potential for turning any space into a swaying, singing, joyful party. Young Benjamins are a four-piece from Saskatoon with plenty of creativity and energy in equal doses (think along the lines of Rah Rah and Library Voices). The JD Edwards Band hails from Winnipeg and was easily the most rocking band in the hotel all weekend.

Being a folk festival, there were stellar acts along the lines of roots and folk music. Three Maritimers, Amelia Curran (Newfoundland), Catherine MacLellan (PEI) and Old Man Luedecke (Nova Scotia) stood out above the masses. In terms of most unusual and pleasing arrangements, the blues-infused folksy music of The Harpoonist and the Axe Murderer, a duo from Vancouver, were a highlight; seeing them back in the city, playing in a small club will be a treat. On the bluesy soul side of things, Charlie A’Court sprinkled goose bumps through the crowd with his distinctive voice and amazing cover of Sam Cooke’s “Change Is Gonna Come”.

All in all, it was a fantastic music conference, with many of the performances open to the general public from about 6 pm until the wee hours, four nights in a row. While you could see popular Canadian bands like The Wooden Sky or Ben Caplan in this unusual setting, there were many new discoveries. We were fortunate to get the Folk Alliance Conference in Toronto this year and let’s hope we get it again sometime soon.