Dancing around an issue at Vancouver Folk Festival


The annual Folk Festival is always a lot of fun, so it's ironic it is probably helping spread our reputation as No Fun City in the world's eyes.

You can't really blame the organizers, who bend over backwards to be as accommodating for the multi-generational masses as possible, but this seems inevitable when top-class international musicians come for a visit only to discover dancing is widely frowned upon here apart from in specially designated areas. This is, after all, meant to be a world-class city, not the town from Footloose.

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The problem, obviously, isn’t dancing itself but rather that it can block sitting peoples’ view. Essex-based folk singer Beans On Toast mocked the perennial elephant in the room by asking the crowd Friday night if it was OK for him to dance on stage as he'd been warned it's a sensitive topic. This prompted emcee Grant Lawrence to later offer his advice on “everyone's favourite subject at the Folk Fest: etiquette.”

(Somehow I doubt etiquette is actually anyone’s favourite subject apart from maybe Miss Manners and maybe a handful of other advice columnists, but I digress.)

Lawrence suggested anyone who felt the need to boogie was to first check to see if anyone sitting on the lawn behind them object to having their view of the stage blocked. Which seems the courteous thing to do but I'm not sure how this would work exactly. Would a show of hands be required to confirm permission to bust a move or would a general lack of dirty looks be enough?

It's tough to dance like nobody is watching when in fact people are watching and seething in silent rage.

In fairness, people didn’t stake out a primo piece of lawn with a good view of the stage hours in advance only to have someone park their butts right in front of them. And Vancouverites are known for taking their vistas so seriously that there’s actual legislation to prevent buildings from blocking views of the North Shore Mountains.

I’ve no idea what the solution is. Installing giant screens showing the action on stage like they do at most big festivals doesn’t really seem in keeping with the Folk Fest’s earthy vibe. Putting up bleachers would, of course, also pose the problem of blocking the crowd’s view of the ocean and mountains.  But, apart from symphony orchestra members, I think it’s fair to say the vast majority of musicians would much rather see their audiences on their feet and having fun than sitting on their asses out of fear of upsetting others. And it’s not as if a mosh pit is likely to suddenly break out.

There was a great moment towards the end of Pokey LaFarge’s set over at the smaller Stage 3 the same night. A tall man in his fifties was dancing up a storm all by his lonesome amongst the seated crowd enjoying the old timey band’s high energy performance. A few people who had been dancing up at the front moved back to join him, and within moments the whole crowd was up on their feet, which ended with an enthusiastic call-and-response singalong. It was truly a thing of beauty.

Because when it’s time to get down, it isn’t meant to be literal.

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