Each year as I get ready to leave the Eastern Hemisphere and head back to Canada for the summer, I get conflicting pangs of separation anxiety and antici………….pation. It will be good fun to hook up with relatives and friends I haven’t seen in a year, and of course any excuse for travel is okay with me; but the thing that really predicates the move at that particular time (the last week of June), is not the changing weather, for by then it is already too hot in Tokyo and still not quite warm enough in the Maritimes. Instead, it is a well-kept secret, known to but a comparative handful of folks worldwide who once a year brave the torrential downpours, the legendary mosquitoes, the ill-maintained roads (and one another) for the opportunity to take part in… Stanfest.
What’s Stanfest, you might ask, and rightly so. Well, it is an iconic music festival that takes place in an out-of-the-way corner of an out-of-the-way province, of what is to most people an out-of-the-way country: Canso, Nova Scotia, Canada (said to be the oldest fishing village in North America, and at 45 degrees and change north latitude, almost equidistant from the equator and the north pole). If you attempt to go any farther east in mainland Nova Scotia than Canso, the next place you will set foot will be the coast of France. A ravaged and narrow two-lane highway leads into town, perfectly adequate most of the time for the 900 hardy souls who call Canso home. However, the highway is taxed to its limits and then some as more than 10,000 visitors descend on the tiny fishing village over Canada Day weekend. There they will rock out (or folk out, as the case may be) to the sounds of musicians from all over the planet.
In the several years that I have been in attendance, I have seen such diverse musicians as:
Cape Breton folk singer Bruce Guthro (“Falling” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RebDnhGkG4U );
Singer/songwriter Gordie Sampson (“Jesus Take the Wheel”);
Prince Edward Island native son Lennie Gallant (“Which Way Does the River Run?” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YtslyNhoazM&feature=related )
Italian guitar virtuoso Beppe Gambetta (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ob75_Y7fdJw )
African a cappella group Black Umfolosi (“Summertime” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=myxnYE-9Nb4 );
American songwriter John Gorka (“Blue Chalk”; http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9eIc3ubvfEo );
70s hitmaker Don McLean (“American Pie”);
Country singer Nanci Griffith;
Torch divas Po’ Girl (“Gandy Dancer” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q2d04iRgL54 );
Nova Scotia troubador Dave Gunning (“Hard Working Hands” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hUp7O_mtJzw&feature=related);
Award winning violinist Samantha Robichaud (“Always Remembered” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A8Hx6LhQyuU);
New Brunswick blues legend Matt Andersen (“When My Angel Gets the Blues” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BdsNQ-W1m20 )
Boundary breaker Martin Sexton (“Can’t Stop Thinkin’ ‘Bout You” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o8dHhYZtshQ&feature=related )
There is something for every age and musical taste. Seven venues within the Stanfest grounds offer nonstop music from lunchtime until ‘way past bedtime for three glorious days. You can see your favorites numerous times throughout the weekend and in unusual collaborations, as artists group thematically (“guitar legends”, “electric bands unplugged”, “folk songs of the prairies”, “world beat”, etc.) during the daylight hours. Then every evening, the main stage is filled with back-to-back acts, nonstop for six hours or more.
“Stanfest” is actually an abbreviation of “The Stan Rogers Folk Festival”. It draws its name from a well-loved Canadian folksinger and songwriter who died in an airplane fire in 1983. He left behind a legacy of songs well known to every Canadian: “Barrett’s Privateers” (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G-PQbdmQRwc ), “Fogarty’s Cove”, the anthemic “Northwest Passage” (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TVY8LoM47xI ), “The Mary Ellen Carter”, “Make and Break Harbour”, and I am just scratching the surface here. Stan was only thirty-three when he played his last show at the Kerrville Folk Festival in Texas.
PS: Thanks to ace photographer Saki Aoki for the pictures!