Vancouver Folk Fest turns 40, plans free party

Fourth night of music and expanded liquor licence await park board approval

In celebration of a 40th year of summertime beachside tunes at Jericho Beach Park, the Vancouver Folk Music Festival plans to hold a fourth night of folksy entertainment – for free.

The popular three-day festival started in 1978 with roughly 10,000 dancing in the rain at Stanley Park and now hosts an audience of nearly 40,000 who still dance and also lounge on picnic blankets. For the birthday milestone, organizers want to open the gates one day early for a free evening concert on Thursday, July 13.

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They first need the approval of the park board, which will consider the request of the party planners on April 10.

The regular weekend festival will continue as a ticketed event July 14 through 16. For information, visit the website.

An expanded liquor licence is also pending approval for a crowd of 3,000, according to documents prepared by park board staff.

folk music festival program cover archive
 Archival program covers for the Vancouver Folk Music Festival in 1980, 1989, 1991, 2006 and 2014. Collage Megan Stewart

The line-up for the free concert is not yet confirmed, but the music is, said the festival’s artistic managing director, Linda Tanaka.

“They will be performing songs by iconic Canadian singer-songwriters,” she said. “It is a little in advance of us having the final details. To a certain extent before we can confirm anything, we need to make sure we have the park.”

The full festival line-up will be announced in the last week of April. The free concert is also an opportunity for the non-initiated to experience a taste of the festival.

“It’s an introduction to people who have never been. Some people have never ventured over to Jericho Beach Park and seen the beautiful site we are on,” said Tanaka.

The anticipated Can-Con canon by artists like Joni Mitchell, Hank Snow, Buffy Sainte-Marie, Leonard Cohen and others is a nod to another milestone coming up this year, the signing of Confederation in 1867. Heritage Canada gave the folk fest an additional $50,000 to mark the 150th anniversary, which will help them host the public for free.

Gwen Kallio wasn’t at the inaugural Vancouver Folk Music Festival but did make it out in 1980. It was “the most mind-blowing event,” she said.

“There were all these artist who were such savvy, intelligent, interesting and talented people who I had never been exposed to before,” she said, remembering performances that year by blues guitarist Roy Book Binder and folk singer Jim Post.

“I’d never seen anything like that before and many people hadn’t,” said Kallio, now the marketing manager for the festival, noting the Vancouver Children’s International Festival started the same year and together they made 1978 something of a reckoning.

“It’s been quite a run. They have come of age, these festivals,” she said.

In her experience, the folk fest globalized music in the city.

“What it did for me and so many people, is it has created a sense of the world. It’s not just that the festival brings in music, it brings in world music, it brings in the voices of people from all of these different cultures, politics and countries and it’s really about an exploration and discovery for people in Vancouver about the world. There are not that many cities that have really had this opportunity. It’s quite a legacy."

The free concert planned for Thursday night will include “seasoned and emerging artists, choirs, and solo artists who represent a wide range of genres, perspectives, cultures, regions, and generations,” according to the park board staff report. “The program for this free public concert will feature acoustic music with solo artists and choirs, thereby producing lower sound impacts than regular festival programming.”

The request for a fourth concert date and expanded liquor license has already been “reviewed and conditionally approved” by key stakeholders, including the Vancouver police, fire and rescue services, and city’s special events department.

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