Stanfest Illustrated

Because my sister’s workplace (the Nova Scotia Liquor Commission, how cool an employer is that?) was a major sponsor of Stanfest (the Stan Rogers Folk Music Festival, in Canso, Nova Scotia, for those of you who have just tuned in) this year, she was able to promote not only free tickets for us, but also backstage passes to the performers’ lounge and (perhaps most importantly) the performers’ lunchroom, which served up some mighty fine lasagna and a wealth of high-calorie high-flavor snacks. There were real bathrooms in there (well, not in there exactly, but adjacent to the lunchroom), not the port-a-potty variety used by the majority of festival attendees. I cannot speak for the women’s room, but the men’s room featured rather close quarters, closer in fact than in any other men’s room I have ever visited. The urinals in particular, of which there were only two, offered an intimate experience hitherto unparallelled in my lifetime; there was no separating mini-wall, just two porcelain bowls separated by mere inches (actually centimeters; this is Canada after all). I happened to share my first moment there with Canadian singer Bruce Guthro, who observed wryly that it was a first for him as well, although not nearly so off-putting as one might initially expect. He left before I did, likely because he is a seasoned performer, and I (not being a performer, at least in front of other people) apparently suffered from temporary performance anxiety. We met up again outside, at which point he grinned and said “We’ll always have Canso”, or something along those lines.

Urinal encounters would become a running theme of Stanfest 2011 for me. There was a brief Highland dance with Scottish-originally-but-now-Canadian folksinger David Francey, as we jockeyed for position at the entrance, and a rather longer encounter with emcee Eric MacEwen, who regaled me with a hilarious tale of the search for Peter Yarrow mere moments before the sixties’ folk icon was due on the main stage (this tale began in the urinal, continued in the common area of the wash room, and concluded in the main lunchroom some ten minutes later, by which time several other folks were in rapt attendance, for Eric MacEwen is nothing if not an engaging storyteller). The story goes something like this (with allowances for beer and my notoriously cheeseclothy memory): the stage had been cleared from the previous act, the quirky and entertaining Crash Test Dummies.

Yarrow’s accompanist had already made it to the stage, and was in the process of doing a sound check on his accordion, but Peter Yarrow was nowhere to be found. Eric did a quick search of the performers’ area to no avail, and minions were sent hither and yon to root out the missing artist. Meanwhile, onstage, Eric improvised an introduction worthy of a James Michener novel, not knowing how long he would have to talk before Yarrow showed up: “I remember being in Boston in the sixties, a young disc jockey at station WBZ…, touching upon the highlights of Yarrow’s career with Peter, Paul and Mary.

Every so often he would turn around to see if Yarrow had shown up, to no avail. And so he continued, recounting tales of the trio’s political involvements, their string of worldwide hits, their lifelong friendship. Still no Peter. Meanwhile, somebody found the missing artist keenly engaged in conversation with a fan, and told him he was needed backstage promptly, to which Yarrow allegedly replied “the world is my backstage…”, and continued talking with the fan. Eric was about out of anecdotes when Peter Yarrow ran onstage, a stage on which only Eric MacEwen was illuminated, I might add, so Yarrow was able to sneak up on Eric largely unnoticed by the audience. He embraced Eric in a bear hug from behind, lifting him entirely off the ground, a gesture clearly unexpected by the suddenly-quite-alarmed-looking Eric, who likely thought he was being abducted by aliens or terrorists. He regained his composure admirably, though, and quickly wrapped up his introduction, leaving the audience blissfully unaware of what had transpired over the previous ten minutes or so. Half an hour later or so, Eric had a new audience, this time in the urinal of the performers’ lunchroom, and I have transcribed as much of it as I can remember, although with nowhere near the immediacy or humor that Eric put into the telling.

Incidentally, earlier in the day, Peter Yarrow did a show at one of the numerous tents scattered around the Canso Fairgrounds. Saki and I met him before the show, where I had the opportunity to mention that I had been a fan of his since both he and I were kids. She mentioned that his most famous song, Puff the Magic Dragon, was very well known in Japan, and that the lyrics had been adapted into Japanese. He allowed as to having heard that at some point, and then surprised us immensely by singing a verse of the tune to “his new friend from Japan, in the front row”, entirely in Japanese! Here is a picture of Peter Yarrow and his exceptionally talented (if somewhat impromptu) backup chorus:

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