If there’s one lesson Linda Tanaka has learned since taking the helm of the Vancouver Folk Music Festival, it’s that, from the first Birkenstock 500 race on Friday afternoon to the final lantern procession on Sunday, you do not mess with tradition.
“A lot of people take ownership of the festival. If you change anything and they don’t like it, they’ll let you know,” Ms. Tanaka says with a laugh. “It’s their festival.”
Clearly it’s a formula that works, given that this year is the fest’s 36th year, and people who flocked to the popular seaside event decades ago are now bringing their kids and grandkids.
This year’s fest has its share of big names – Australia’s Cat Empire, folk icon Loudon Wainwright III, roots legend Steve Earle, the Dixie Chicks’ Natalie Maines and Black Prairie, a side project of three members of the Decemberists, to name a few.
There are also plenty of discoveries from around the globe, and some of Ms. Tanaka’s recommendations include India’s Raghu Dixit Project, Mongolian and Beijing fusion band Hanggai, Sierra Leone’s Refugee All Stars and 25-year-old Bronx singer-songwriter Hurray for the Riff Raff.
The lineup also reads like a who’s who of Canadian singer-songwriters, among them Hayden, Kathleen Edwards, Cold Specks, Hannah Georgas, Mo Kenney, Danny Michel with Belize’s Garifuna Collective, and roots rock duo Whitehorse, who this week made the short list for the prestigious Polaris Music Prize.
“It’s the new folk, really – and I think all generations love that kind of music, too,” Ms. Tanaka says. “It’s not just for young folk.”
So any big changes this year? More room at the sides of the main stage for people who want to stand and dance, Ms. Tanaka replies. “They want to be close to the band,” she says. “So we’re going to try and make that happen a bit better this year.”
The Vancouver Folk Music Festival runs Friday through Sunday