by Emily Bednarz
Those who know me know I love the “folk fest.” My family doesn’t even have to qualify which “folk fest;” it’s just the folk fest. It’s our folk fest—it’s lodged in our hearts.
But there’s something quite unexplainable about Mariposa Folk Festival. Before I started attending (around age sixteen), a friend of mine said, “You have to go. It’s amazing.” When I asked her why and how this festival was so great, she replied, “It’s just so chill. I can’t even describe it. You would love it. You just have to go.”
And that pretty much sums it up: The Mariposa Folk Festival, often called the “Grand Dame” of North American music festivals, has possibly the most welcoming, inclusive, laid-back, yet invigorating atmosphere of any outdoor music festival around. And Mariposa veterans will tell you: You can’t explain it, you just have to be there. As Chris Hazel, manager of the Mariposa Folk Foundation, says: “Our return rate is well over 90%. If we can get you in the door the first time, you’re going to want to come back every year. And that’s the kind of thing that’s sold more by vibe and feel than it is by the three biggest acts you’ve got this summer.”
Other than the obligatory amazing vibe, what else is exciting at Mariposa this year?
Hazel offered Look Local some insights on how Mariposa increased their competitive edge, given the recent boon in Ontario’s music festival scene. “The presence of for-profit festivals with deep pockets affects the market for acts out there. So, we made a decision to put more money into artists this year than we have before—and it’s really paying off in terms of the excitement and the buzz that there is around the festival but also in terms of ticket sales. We’ve already sold as many weekend passes as we had all of last year.”
And Mariposa’s line-up is indeed impressive: Barenaked Ladies, Bruce Cockburn, Ruth B (Juno Breakthrough Artist of the Year), The New Pornographers, Matt Anderson, Whitehorse, Great Lake Swimmers, and the list goes on!
In addition to the amazing line-up, Mariposa has added a new element to the festival to celebrate Canada’s, Ontario’s, and Orillia’s 150th birthday: The Community Village 150+. Just inside the front gate will be a completely Canadiana-themed stage, featuring spoken-word acts, Canadian music, and First Nations dancers. Surrounding the stage, “so that it feels like a village you can meander through” says Hazel, will be exhibitors partaking in old-fashioned artisanal crafts, including First Nations beaders, a Canadiana-kitchen cooking up recipes from 150 years ago, and weaving and needlework demonstrations. “And sprinkled within that is going to be our normal Community Village, the local not-for profit groups that always have their booths at the festival,” adds Hazel.
But why 150+? “The reason for the ‘plus sign’ is that, while it’s the 150th birthday of all those three entities, there were obviously people who have been around here a lot longer than 150 years. So, we are working with the local First Nations people to talk about the contributions they’re willing to make to this village and to the festival. We’re not wanting to say that these celebrations aren’t worth having, but we want to hold them in as mindful and respectful a way as possible.”
First Nations inclusion has weighed heavily in the organizers’ discussions, says Hazel. “We want to make sure that we include First Nations presence not in a token kind of way, but in an on-going commitment that folk, world, and roots music should be. Why would we bring in a Peruvian drummer playing indigenous music from his part of the world and not include First Nations culture from our part of the world?”
Hazel adds, “I mean, if the folkies can’t get it right, we’re really in trouble, right?”
The Mariposa Folk Festival is in its 56th year of production and will be held July 7, 8, and 9, 2017 in Tudhope Park, Orillia.
Mariposa Folk Festival