Stanfest 2011, part one

July 7, 2011

Sometimes things just all fall together; call it coincidence, call it a guiding force—whatever the case, my collision with the Stan Rogers Folk Festival this year was clearly propelled by something outside my limited ability to control the events of my life. I went to visit my sister outside Halifax for a few days last week, awaiting Saki’s arrival from Japan, after which several of us were to caravan to Canso, on the eastern tip of mainland Nova Scotia, for a three-day fix of World Music (for Stanfest has long strained against the boundaries of traditional acoustic folk music). As it happens, my sis works for the Nova Scotia Liquor Commission, one of the major sponsors of the festival, and there were several unspoken-for free passes to be had. She was able to snag four of them, and they entitled the holders not only to free entry to the grounds and all the shows, but also to the performers’ building, backstage, and basically every other nook and cranny on the site. And they were about $100 apiece cheaper than the tickets I would have otherwise purchased.

It promised to be a particularly good year for the festival, with a broad range of artists catering to fans of all ages, backgrounds, and musical tastes: the weirdly wonderful Crash Test Dummies; folk legend Peter Yarrow (of Peter, Paul and Mary); Nova Scotia native son Dave Gunning; multi-instrumental virtuoso J.P. Cormier; French folksinger Gabriel Yacoub; Cape Breton Celtic rocker Bruce Guthro; pop icon Dan Hill (“Sometimes When We Touch”), looking much different from how I remember him from the 1970s (duh!); Canadian folk poet laureate James Keelaghan; Newfoundland singer/songwriter Ron Hynes (“Sonny’s Dream”); and timeless septuagenarian Judy Collins, an artist I last had the pleasure of seeing in, I think, 1973.

We hit the road to Canso around 10am, after a pass through a Tim Hortons for a bit of morning sustenance (a bacon, egg and cheese biscuit, in case you’re interested) and a jolt of caffeine. The ride was pretty uneventful, really, unless you count the fact that the sun was shining, something of a rarity in eastern Canada thus far this year. We did most of the trip with the car top down, but for a short section of highway where the combination of 120k/h speeds and gusts of chilly ocean wind threatened a July frostbite. By two-thirty or so, we were pulling into the Seabreeze Campground, where we’ve stayed for the past several years of Stanfests (Stansfest?). We were about to receive another pleasant surprise: the daily rate for our cottage was cheaper than I remembered (although my memory is not the finely-tuned instrument it once was); let’s just say that it was less expensive than I had either expected or budgeted for. It is very difficult to get festival-weekend accommodations in Canso (population 900-ish, except for Stanfest weekend, when it swells to 10,000-ish), so we were truly delighted when our hostess, Ann Marie, put us on the permanent list for a Seabreeze cottage. Now we don’t have to reserve in advance anymore; we only have to phone if for some reason we cannot make it.

So far, so good. Free tickets, check. Sunny day, check. Timely arrival, check. No car problems, speeding tickets, road work delays, check (times three). Lovely room at equally lovely price, check. And bonus points to the truly outstanding Days Gone By bakery in Guysborough (just west of Canso), which against all odds was open on Canada Day; we picked up a weekend’s worth of cookies, small cakes and rolls (and they even gave us real butter and a plastic knife; how cool is that?). As I say, sometimes things just coalesce, in ways you can neither predict nor explain; you just roll with the waves and enjoy the ride.

Stay tuned; pics and links to artists to come!