Having lived in PA now for well over a decade, it was hard to believe that we had not yet made it to the annual Philadelphia Folk Festival held over a mid-August weekend near Schwenksville, PA. With the weekend open on our schedule, and a little help from a good friend, Team GDW made the trip to Montgomery County and enjoyed a full Saturday of great Canadian artists appearing at the 57th annual Philly Folk Festival. Boasting a line-up that included several of our favorites, a quick preview of the Saturday festivities told us that we’d also get to hear music from other artists that we had not previously seen live. Of course, there were several other Canadian artists that we had no familiarity with too, making this a great day of music and song for us to enjoy. Here’s a quick recap of the artists that entertained us on this beautiful Saturday.
Having seen and chatted with Dana at The Sawdust City Festival just two weeks prior to this event, it was wonderful to know that we would hear from this well-travelled musician again so soon. Catching her eye pretty quickly upon her arrival, Dana was probably a little surprised to see us again so soon, yet was happy to chat for a while before preparing for the Northern Lights workshop that she was a part of. With four songs performed during her time on this stage, Dana would open with “Lighthouse Nights” from her new “Trick Of The Light” album. Offering the Philly crowd an opportunity to howl during part of this song, Dana was clearly impressed by the enthusiasm of those that opted to comply and howl whole-heartedly when asked. With her tale of the border crossing between Maine and New Brunswick, Dana would follow with “Stone Of Our Losses,” before adding with a brand new, unreleased track, “Breathing Barrel.” With her fourth and final number, Dana would return to her new album to close her set with “Do You Good.”
Also participating in the Northern Lights workshop, David Myles was accompanied as always by guitarist Alan Jeffries and bassist Kyle Cunjak. Dressed once more in his trademark wool suit, David was quick to announce that he was happy to be back at this folk festival, and that this time around, he was now sporting a mustache. “My wife likes it,” joked David, “So I might just keep it.” Making a reference to his main-stage show scheduled for later that night, David wanted to share a couple of new tracks and some old favorites to warm up the crowd during his early afternoon set. From his most recent, doo-wop inspired “Real Love” album, the trio would open with “Cry, Cry, Cry” from this release. Following with a tale of growing up in New Brunswick (Canada, not New Jersey, he would add), David would share how many consider the province to be the “Drive Through” province of the Maritimes, leading nicely into his 2011 hit, “Drive Right Through.” Returning to the latest album for a rendition of “Pair Of Shoes,” David, Alan and Kyle would close with their fourth and final number; the always popular “When It Comes My Turn.”
Earle and Coffin:
The first Canadian act that we would hear perform on this Saturday afternoon, the duo of Nick Earle and Joseph Coffin delighted all with their unique brand of Newfoundland blues music. Sharing the stage with fellow Newfoundlander Matthew Byrne, a flight delay out of Toronto would detain Byrne, thus allowing Earle and Coffin ample time to share some of their amazing sounds. With a mixed set of original and covers, this duo rocked the craft stage with just their acoustic guitars and great voices. Proud to acknowledge their musical influences, the duo would share a couple of Dennis Parker covers (“8 Ball Run” and “Crosscut Saw”) and pay homage to Muddy Waters with a cover of “I Can’t Be Satisfied.” Covering other blues tracks, such as “Eagle Riding Papa,” “Key To The Highway” and “Stranger Blues.” Earle and Coffin would also share a pair of their new and original compositions, “All Night Long” and their closing number, “Hopeless Situation.”
If anybody were to ask me to name the most memorable experience I had during the Philadelphia Folk Festival, I would not hesitate to respond with the words “Jay Gilday.” I had no familiarity with this artist prior to his First Nation workshop performance, but left the festival craving much more from this Alberta based singer-songwriter. The official festival program lists Gilday as “a vagabond turned mailman … [who] take his experiences from the roads of Canada, the daily roller-coaster of work, family and performance, and weaves them into song;” summarizing this artist perfectly. Blessed with some phenomenal finger-picking guitar skills, it is Gilday’s voice that earns your attention. Whether lured by his often soft, soulful delivery, or grabbed by his periodic bouts of raw, raspy and loud cries, his songs have multilayered meanings and experiences for the casual listener to interpret. This was certainly evident with his track “Guess I’ll See You,” performed during this set. Jay would participate in the Backstage Sessions later that evening, teaming up with Terence Jack for a fantastic collaboration of “Dream Your Dreams.” We picked up a copy of Jay’s “Faster Than Light” album as a result of this brief performance, and I can honestly say, it has proven very difficult to listen to anything else since inserting this disc into the CD player.
As previously mentioned, Matthew encountered a flight delay out of Toronto earlier that morning, leaving his Craft Stage partners Earle and Coffin to handle the performance duties during the Newfound Songs of Newfoundland workshop at noon. Ever the professional touring musician, Matthew would not let his audience down, arriving at the festival grounds and racing to the stage in time for two consecutive numbers, at least. Leaving his faithful guitar on the stand at his side, Matthew would perform a vocal-only cover of the Collins/Webber/Watkinson sea shanty, “Leave Her Johnny.” Receiving some well-deserved applause for his spontaneous heroics, the stage host would inform Byrne that there was still time for one more track. With a smile on his face, Matthew strapped on his acoustic guitar and closed the workshop with another sea shanty, the softer and slower “What Fortune Guides A Sailor.” Matthew would inform all that he planned to go check in to his hotel once this workshop had concluded, but promised that he would be back on Sunday with plenty more music and no more travel-related issues to deal with.
Attending her first Philadelphia Folk Festival, Melanie took advantage of this event to showcase some of her brand new music to a wide and diverse audience, especially with the upcoming release of her “Fire, Floods & Things We Leave Behind” album. We caught up with Melanie during her appearance on The Backstage Sessions, where she and co-writer/instrumentalist Kevin Neal would perform three tunes. While the first number would see Melanie provide backing vocals for bluegrass bassist/vocalist Missy Raines & the New Hip, the remainder would put her under the spotlight. With her acoustic guitar and infectious personality, and joined by Kevin on electric guitar, the duo would commence with “Whisky and Wine,” another new track that Melanie is eager to share. For their third and final number, Australian folk singer Tom West would join the duo on stage, and after a brief moment to allow Kevin to trade his guitar for his pedal steel, Melanie introduced the Culture Tent crowd to her bilingual cover of “Ces Bottes Sont Faites Pour Marcher;” the Nancy Sinatra classic hit. Tom would recite his parts of the chorus in a variety of languages, adding a comedic element to the track and demonstrating some instant rapport and chemistry between two artists that barely knew each other just a short while ago.
Hailing from Vancouver, Terence Jack was another artist completely unknown to us, but once again one that left a very positive first experience and a band that we would love to hear more from again. While we would see this five-piece band perform together for a short time during The Backstage Sessions (including that great collaboration with Jay Gilday), our initial encounter was during the Northern Lights workshop earlier that afternoon. Joined on stage by just his guitarist Thomas Hoeller and bassist Adam Willey, Terence would inform the crowd that “We are from British Columbia, Canada, and we have more than just seal meat.” Formal introduction aside, the indie-rock trio would launch immediately into “Ready To Die Young,” before following up with “Want And Need” from their 2016 “Never Get Back” EP. Terence would also share a tale of how excited the band were about being invited to play at this festival, and had written a song titled “Philly Nights” as a way of showing their gratitude. For their fourth and final number, Terence would mention about time spent living in south east Asia, before performing “Treasure Map” from their 2014 “Reckless Abandon” album. With a mention of new material currently in the works, we very much look forward to hearing more from Terence Jack.
The Small Glories:
When learning that we would be attending the festival, we were very excited at the prospect of finally getting to see The Small Glories perform live. Having been fans of the duo of Cara Luft and JD Edwards for quite a while, for some reason, we’d simply never been in the same places at the same time, until now. Hailing from Winnipeg, MB, it is still hard to believe that pure fate brought these two musicians together for what should have been a one-time collaboration. This was a duo whom we wanted to see so badly that we even suggested that friends go to one of their shows (when we could not, and our friends took our recommendation and had a wonderful time). So the time was now, and The Small Glories did not disappoint. As the final artists participating in the Northern Lights workshop, the duo opened with a brand new composition from their upcoming album, which Cara described as “the happiest broken hearted love song that we’ve ever written.” The duo would follow with “Time Wanders On” from their 2016 “Wondrous Traveler” album, before continuing with the Woody Guthrie classic “Way Over Yonder” too, complete with some energetic and entertaining dance moves being offered by Cara whilst plucking away at the banjo simultaneously. Closing both their set, and this particular workshop, Cara and JD would opt to cover Neil Young’s “Don’t Let It Bring You Down,” much to the appreciation of the ever-growing crowd of folk music lovers surrounding them.
Making an appearance during the First Nation workshop, William Prince was another artist whom we had never had the opportunity to catch live until now. He had performed at a festival last year that we attended, but of course, only on the day in which we were already heading out of town and back home to the US. So yet another good reason for us to be at this festival, and not miss out this time around. Hailing from Manitoba, this JUNO award winning singer-songwriter from the Peguis First Nation would share three tracks during this workshop, including a wonderful rendition of his hit, “Leave It By The Sea.” With frequent references to his friendship with stage companion Jay Gilday, both artists discussed how William had recently given Jay’s parents a ride home in Manitoba. “We spent over five hours in the car,” shared William, “I sure learned a lot more about my friend here after that drive.” Closing with a track (title unknown, but contained the lines “It’s Been A Long Time Coming”), William paused mid-song to reflect on the positive changes in his life that formed the origin of this song. “I’ve been trying to get healthier in my life now,” he stated, “As a father now, I feel blessed, and want to be around a lot longer now,” before returning to, and closing out the song.
Over the course of one afternoon and evening, we caught up with nine Canadian artists here at the Philadelphia Folk Festival. Experiencing some great music on a glorious summer’s day, it was a pleasure to meet and chat with many of them, catching up with old friends and making wonderful new acquaintances. A fun time was had by Team GDW around the town of Schwenksville, PA, and we are eager to see how many invitations are received by Canadians for this prestigious event next summer.
You can see video footage from these artists’ performances on our Facebook page.