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Folk Alliance International: Toronto history told through folk music

Bernie Finkelstein has written a new book about his life in the music business and the early days of the legendary Yorkville music scene. Finkelstein is photographed at the former site of Boris's, one of the many clubs that featured performers in the 1960's.

Moe Doiron/Moe Doiron/The Globe and Mail

With the giant Folk Alliance International conference currently happening in Toronto, we asked music-industry veterans Richard Flohil, Larry LeBlanc and conference keynote speaker Bernie Finkelstein to recall an iconic moment in this city's folk-music history. Independently of each other, all three zeroed in on Mariposa Folk Festival, a folk institution that put Toronto on the music world's map.

Larry LeBlanc (former Canadian bureau chief for Billboard; currently senior writer with CelebrityAccess): "In 1970, Joni Mitchell showed up at Mariposa on Toronto Island. She had been away for some time. It was a big event. She was coming back to family, in all honesty. She had been in Crete, where she had written parts of the album Blue. She sat down next to me at a bench, with her dulcimer, and said 'Larry, I haven't seen you for a while.' I asked her if we could talk after her show. She said yes, but after her set – she was mesmerizing – she didn't want to do the interview. She eventually relented. She was already beginning to feel the pressure of being a star."

Bernie Finkelstein (founder of True North Records and author of True North – A Life Inside the Music Business): "It was 1972, the summer Joni, Neil Young, Bob Dylan and Gordon Lightfoot all came to the island. Dylan and Lightfoot didn't perform, but anyplace where Dylan showed up that wasn't a stage seemed amazing. I was working with Bruce Cockburn and Murray McLauchlan. I was asked if Murray and Bruce would mind sharing their stages with Joni and Neil. Nobody likes to give up time – it's all about exposure – but we were happy to do it. We all felt we were on the same mission. And that weekend, with all that great talent, put Toronto not only at the heart of not only the folk world, but the whole music world at that moment."

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Richard Flohil (Mariposa's former artistic director): "In 1988, Mariposa was at Molson Park, in Barrie, Ont. There was a huge budget, but no food after the Saturday night show. So, Bonnie Raitt, John Prine, Maria Muldaur and Taj Mahal went up the road to the McDonalds, where a huge crowd of happy festival-goers were snacking after the show. The quartet walked into the place, received a standing ovation and were ushered by the crowd to the front of the line. They ate their Big Macs and headed to the hotel happy. It's not an epic story, but it happened."

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About the Author

Brad Wheeler is an arts reporter with The Globe and Mail. More


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