The Canadian Writers' Collective

Writing, and writerly tangents

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Postcards from Courtenay, BC

by Tricia Dower

Friday night and first up on the program: our beloved Outlaw Social. We will see them three more times over the weekend in jams and workshops.

Saturday afternoon. Tanya Tagaq from Nunavut presents her own version of the ancient Inuit art of throat singing: moans and sighs, grunts and growls, gasping rhythms and high pitched wails. Primal sounds like those I made giving birth. I can’t listen for more than ten minutes. My throat begins to ache and I think I might hyperventilate.

Saturday evening. Boston rocker Sarah Borges interrupts her concert to announce that a boy has lost his mother. He’s waiting in Security. An hour and a half and Guy Clark later, a second plea goes out to the mother. I find it hard to concentrate on the music. I recall my son Mike at age four wandering off in a K-Mart and my relief at hearing over the intercom: A young fellow wearing green corduroy pants is looking for his mommy. I can still see those pants. During Watermelon Slim & the Workers, the boy appears a few rows in front of us with a man and woman in yellow Security t-shirts. He thinks his mother was somewhere in our section. He’s not four — thirteen, maybe, old enough to have emotional resources and a few phone numbers in his head. He says something apologetic to the Security duo and the woman says, “It’s not your fault your parents are irresponsible.” Colin and I speculate as to where the parents might be and dredge up sick jokes about abandoned children. Then, more soberly, we wonder if the mother is lying somewhere, hurt. After more time with no word, I seek out a Security guard who tells me the boy is with his grandmother and the mother is “enjoying the music.” I don’t know whether to be relieved or furious at her. I escape into the rich, bluesy alto of UK legend Joan Armatrading, buy her new CD and stand for over an hour while she's singing so I'll be first in line to have it autographed.

Sunday noon. We find relief from the burning sun in the shade of a tarp over a wooded stage not far from the river. Ontario-based harpist Sharlene Wallace teaches us how to pluck a string and plucks more than a few herself, transporting us to serene internal landscapes.

So many options all weekend. Six different stages. Forty-nine bands and soloists in eighty different performances, all but twelve running concurrently with others. We read the write-ups and mark our programme, making difficult choices. Over the 32 hours we spend at the fairgrounds, we take in 28 of the performances, including the closing night kitsch of thousands of people, many too young to remember the day the music died, singing along with Don McLean: Bye-bye, miss American pie. The high point for us, though, is the Sunday afternoon all-jazz jam in a barn with Ottawa’s Kellylee Evans, the USA’s John Jorgenson Quintet, and Germany’s Marc Breitfelder & Georg Schroeter. Hundreds of us rock the barn, jumping and dancing, clapping and cheering. The natural talent and improvisational skills of these performers is astounding. My eyes fill with the thrill of this experience you won't find on any CD.

Photos: Outlaw Social (credit Barbara Podrick), Tanya Tagaq, Joan Armatrading, Sharlene Wallace, and Kellylee Evans (credit Ed Lemieux) who performed at the 2007 Vancouver Island MusicFest in Courtenay, BC.


Blogger tamara said...

I love going to festivals like this; I often go to Bumbershoot in Seattle and get that same eclectic thrill from the broad range of music and arts. The hardest parts are the line-ups for the toilets.

Thanks for the report; sounds like you had an amazing time!

Sat Jul 14, 11:53:00 am GMT-4  
Blogger Tricia Dower said...

Ah, yes, the infamous port-a-potties. I got lucky in one of them -- found a $20 bill on the floor. I tried to spot the man who'd been in there before me, but he had disappeared into the crowd.

Sat Jul 14, 01:47:00 pm GMT-4  
Blogger Andrew Tibbetts said...

I LOVE Joan Armatrading! She has a voice I want to curl up inside- it's a big overstuffed armchair that comes with a fine scotch.

Mon Jul 16, 08:25:00 am GMT-4  
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Wed Jul 31, 05:43:00 am GMT-4  

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