2nd Annual Mariposa Folk Festival, , Orillia, Ontario, July 1962 - A Nostalgic Look Back (from the 45th Annual Mariposa)
Reprinted from ‘Sing and String -- Canada’s Folk Song Magazine’ July 1962 edition, with permission of its author and editor, John Stricek, to friend and fellow music journalist Joe Curtis.
By John Stricek
Had there been chandeliers, the audience would undoubtedly have hung from them. Since most of the Mariposa Folk Festival actively transpired outside under the stars, the enthusiastic participants crowded virtually every square foot of grass in Orillia.
The folk singing heard in Orillia that weekend, probably differed somewhat from that of Samuel de Champlain and his "voyageurs" who camped there more than 350 years ago. Had the town’s statue of Champlain come to life, he would have seen scores of tents pitched, as of yore, but the folk singing accompanied by Scruggs-style banjos and twelve-string guitars.
It was a weekend where singing literally never stopped. In our own bivouac, we turned in one night at 6 a.m., just as the oncoming shift started with a lullaby or reveille, whichever applied to whom. The three main concerts were only a part of the joyful fare. Enthusiasts flowed into Orillia by the thousands and sang wherever two or three could gather; on the beach, in the parks, at bus stops, and local restaurants. At Champlain’s monument pigeons had to pull a fast Dunkirk as wave after wave of minstrels delivered their "most personal message". So went the nights, till the last guitar string broke and the last vocal cord rebelled. It is just such an atmosphere that makes the difference between a concert and a festival.
When the Festival was brought up for group discussion at a recent folk singing session, the cheers and raves had to be purposely curtailed, in order to get some constructive criticism. There was indeed room for criticism, but knowing some of the difficulties which had to be surmounted, we state them not in reproach but solely as a help for next years festival. Much credit is due to Sydney Banks, Director, who admirably carried on under highly adverse conditions.
The children’s concert, which we severely knocked last year became a great success this year enjoyed by children and their parents as well. One of our main beefs was the gross mismanagement of Mrs. Edith Fowke’s workshop on folklore and we hope adequate apology was given her. The scope of her diversified knowledge of the folk idiom, had valuable potential and was sought by many, but alas, no stage, microphone, not even seats for the audience were provided. In fairness to the directorate, we found this was due to an unfortunate break in communications.
Some complained of the panel discussion as top heavy in American theme. Others mentioned too obvious an effort to divorce things Canadian from things American. We wonder if there is room in folk music for narrow provincialism. Even the most die-hard of "native sons" must be aware of the obvious inseparability of certain aspects of the two cultures.
Much was also said of the slick professionalism and commercialism as opposed to the lack of authentic "traditional" element. It must be realized however, that financial as well as artistic success is essential if the festival is to survive. The "in-groups" and "purists" would undoubtedly come to hear a backwoods logger or hardrock miner, but would these attract the general un-initiated public? A happy medium is possible. We would suggest some form of competition or contest limited to folk singers only and not folk performers. The winners could then be incorporated into the final concert. Competitions after all are the basic ingredients in festivals.
We would also recommend that more thought be given to those who stay in Orillia for the entire weekend. Festival scouts could seek out various locations for proposed campsites, "hootenannies" and other facilities. Since the restaurants cannot possibly handle the amount of business, various organizations could be approached to put on dinners or picnics. As we stated last year, maps or information centres are a definite must. The town Fire Marshall could be approached for permissable locations of bonfire sites.
The main concerts themselves can only be criticised on grounds of personal taste of individuals. Expertly M.C.’d by Ed McCurdy and Oscar Brand the audience in general, judged them a smashing success. Their thunderous applause for "The Travellers" must have awakened many an early-retiring Orillian. The insistent calls for encores by "Ian and Sylvia" ceased only when the audience was promised they may hear them again shortly in church next morning.
If rising popularity of the Festival continues, we soon expect the immediate association with Orillia will not only be Champlain and Stephen Leacock, but also Mariposa Folk Festival. On behalf of those who wish it to be we would like to cordially ask the press, general public, and particularly the citizens of Orillia, to please refrain from over-emphasizing isolated incidents of misbehaviour. Not long ago Toronto played host to a convention of high spirited Shriners---75,000 strong. During some of their antics, the city was virtually paralyzed for hours at a time. Granted, it is easier to laugh off the high-jinks of free-spending millionaires than of struggling students, but aside from monetary gain, the hosts and guests of both these events profited. The "seasons to be jolly" do not come often and the world does well not to forget its joys and laughter.
Certainly we have seen the picnic table that fell victim to the exhuberance of festivity but we have also seen a well-spoken attractive blonde who knocked on tent-flaps of campers (quite a feat at that) and made a voluntary collection for the pensioners who gave free use of their land. For the most part the crowd was well behaved and the Festival was publicly invited to return next year. One citizen even expressed a renewed hope for the future when he saw the college students, presumably our leaders of tomorrow, getting along so harmoniously and peaceably.
With the Festival ending this year in sound financial state, the means have now become available to make it a cultural as well as entertaining annual event. Canada has many serious scholars of folklore and dedicated folk song collectors. If more people like Tom Kines, Alan Mills, Edith Fowke and Dr. Helen Creighton could be invited to bring their wide scope of experience to the Mariposa Festival, Orillia would soon become the "Stratford" of folk activity.
For continuing success, the future directors of the Festival should closely bear in mind a remark made by Isreal Young on this year’s symposium. "People are turning to folk music because they are tired of having everything done for them they want to participate". Evidence of this was ample wherever you turned. During intermission, instrumentalists and singers clustered together, straining to burst into song, but no official sanction was given. Very little audience participation was permitted. In search of places to belt out a few songs, groups would cluster in doorways and on front lawns. One restaurant, too crowded for a conventional handling of instruments, had necks of guitars and banjos wobbling above their player’s heads like TV aerials in suburbia. This activity cannot be stifled and planning committees should make provision for it. In case of rain, perhaps the railroad, who so cheerfully pulled a "traditional" steam engine out of mothballs for the Mariposa run, could be asked to leave a few empty boxcars on the siding. Otherwise no dog in Orillia will be safe from forceful eviction while his doghouse is expropriated for impromptu "hootenannies".
Note from Joe Curtis:
The 45th Annual Mariposa Folk Festival, Orillia, Ontario, happens July 8-10, 2005 in Tudhope Park, Orillia, Ontario, Canada
For more information, go to:
Official Mariposa Folk Festival Web Site: http://www.folk-festival.org/
Copyright © 2005 John Stricek and Copyright © 2005 Joe Curtis. All Rights Reserved.