Canada is in the business of folk festivals, and business is a-booming. On any summer weekend in a park or bucolic clearing, crowds of Birkenstock enthusiasts are gathering for crafts, songs and drum-circle fandangos. But how much is too much?
"We're sort of saturated with them," says Pam Carter, president of the Mariposa Folk Foundation, the parent organization of Mariposa Folk Festival, an iconic institution founded in 1961. "I think we'll see some of these events fall off, and the hardy will survive." In advance of this weekend's Mariposa in Orillia, Ont., we asked Carter how she expects to survive the kumbaya comedown.
Mariposa began in Orillia in 1961 and though you moved around a bit before settling back there in 2000, you've managed to keep the brand alive. What's the secret?
One thing that has stood us in good stead is that we've stuck to a particular artistic direction, which is the singer-songwriter and staying true to the folk genre. The mandate of Mariposa is the preservation of folk art in Canada through song, story, dance and crafts. That's what we do. And people know what to expect from us. They know it will be an exceptional weekend, and they know they will see artists perform together who don't otherwise play together.
You're referring to the workshop stages where individual artists are brought together, right?
Yes. Estelle Klein originated the format of the themed workshops. It stands today, and it's happening elsewhere. I think the format creates a real magic for Mariposa. You can buy a ticket to see an artist wherever. But where are you going to see three artists playing together?
Well, you could see three Mariposa artists – Mary Gauthier, Eliza Gilkyson and Gretchen Peters – at Hugh's Room in Toronto July 8. Doesn't Mariposa have a radius clause and exclusivity rules?
Mariposa is pretty liberal when it comes to artistic rights. We don't have an iron-clad geography radius for our artists. Getting back to our longevity, part of that has to do with partnerships. So, Mariposa does have a partnership with Hugh's Room. We complement each other. It just furthers the preservation of folk.
Those three artists are all American acts, but most of the schedule is Canadian. Is that a result of the weak Canadian dollar?
We look to Canada first. We have a fairly Canadian-weighted lineup as a rule. Having said that, the dollar has had an impact in terms of booking and the asking prices of artists from outside of Canada.
One of the headliners this year is Rita Coolidge. When booking non-Canadian acts, do you tend to look for the big names as opposed to emerging artists?
That's a tough question for me to answer. Mike Hill, our artistic director, does the bookings. But we do look for emerging artists, and Mike has a knack for seeing talent as it's developing, and to take advantage and get an early hiring in.
Like the Milk Carton Kids this year, from California? They're young, and yet with their harmonies and banter they would have been at home at Mariposa in 1964.
That's true. I was speaking to Mike this morning about them. He said the audience may not be familiar with the Milk Carton Kids now, but when they leave the festival, they'll know who they are.
Must be a delicate chore, balancing the established with the new.
You know, over the years we've had Joni Mitchell and Neil Young and Joan Baez and Gordon Lightfoot and John Prine – the list goes on. People ask me about bringing the old artists back, but I'll say to them, "You know what, if we hired the same people every year, you'd never hear the new artists. Don't you want to come away and say, 'Wow, did you hear those Milk Carton Kids?' Aren't you happy when you went to Mariposa and made a discovery?" That's what this is all about.
Mariposa Folk Festival, July 8 to 10, various prices. Tudhope Park, Orillia, Ont., mariposafolk.com. Three Women & the Truth: Mary Gauthier, Eliza Gilkyson and Gretchen Peters, July 8, 8:30 p.m. $32.50. 2261 Dundas St. W, Toronto, hughsroom.com.