• By: Myka Burke

Folk Music Ontario Conference Celebrates 30 Years

All photos by Andre Gagne.

When Murray Foster of Great Big Sea and other bands took the stage at the Folk Music of Ontario Conference Awards Brunch on Sunday, he admitted it was his first time at the conference. He didn’t know what to expect and now that it is concluding, he is still not sure what it was. He offered the following description: a three-day house party at a hip hotel where some networking took place. For someone attending for the first time, it could easily appear that way. There was hardly a corner of the trendy Delta Ottawa City Centre that was not a backdrop to an impromptu jam session or a showcase concert but there is so much more to it. What began thirty years ago as a meeting of executive and artistic directors of folk festivals in Ontario has since grown into a community of stakeholders that encompass everyone from the artists to festival staff to media to promoters – everyone attending has prioritized the beauty of folk music.

Tony Turner was just one of the many musicians you could spot roaming around bringing music to all corners of the Delta.

The conference experience is intended to cultivate an inclusive community for all involved. Celebrating the diversity and history of folk music traditions in Ontario and Canada was front and centre. A panel on Indigenous Audience Development was moderated by Aboriginal Music Week’s Alan Greyeyes, who also hosted an Indigenous Artist Showcase.

A networking event for Women in Music was held for the third year, to which music maven Lynn Miles said: “It was great to be in a room filled with strong women who are passionate about music, and to listen to their stories of struggle and triumph. We hope more women keep coming to the meetings.”

Séan McCann formerly of Great Big Sea, now a local resident, delivered the Folk Music Ontario 2016 keynote address. Since leaving Great Big Sea, McCann’s work has dealt with the sexual abuse he faced at the hands of a priest and the alcohol abuse that ensued. His two solo releases (Help Your Self, 2014 & You Know I love You, 2016) enabled him to face this part of his life and also move forward. Both solo albums were produced by his friend, the gifted Joel Plaskett.

Local folky Chris White was live with the Folk Booth!

Abigail Lapell was honoured with the Colleen Peterson Songwriting Award by the Ontario Arts Council. She is being honoured for her song “Jordan”. The unapologetic lyrics, wintry voice and folk roots of her story-songs caught the jury’s attention. The award is designed to support emerging Ontario singer-songwriters. Further, the Estelle Klein Award recipient Anne Lederman, honoured at the concluding Awards Brunch which was hosted by CBC’s Alan Neal, reflected this attention to inclusivity. Beyond Anne Lederman’s efforts to preserve traditions of music and culture, she was lauded in particular for her work with the Indigenous fiddle traditions of her home province Manitoba and for bringing that music to the world.

The conference is also intended to support the tremendous possibilities innate to folk music. The rich panels and networking sessions looked something like this: developing your audience, industry insider tips and tricks to claim the maximum in allowable expenses, what is folk music, maximizing attendance in rural and remote communities, small festivals verses large festivals, this grant is your grant… to name only a few.

img_4528These serious subjects were framed by those jam sessions mentioned above and most importantly, the FMO Presents Official Showcases featuring great acts like Amanda Rheaume, AHI, IVA, Lynne Hanson & The Good Intentions, Moonfruits, Pretty Archie and so on. The conference is a good indicator that the FMO is working hard all year long and busy responding to artists’ as well as audiences’ needs.

To that effect, FMO President Rachel Barreca writes in her final annual report: “The good news is that we now have some breathing space to move forward in more creative, meaningful ways that will help us create more value for our members, sponsors, and funders, and to meet our mission, vision, and strategic goals. This, in turn, will be what takes us towards the next phase of this organisation’s life and makes us relevant in the 21st-century landscape of folk, roots and acoustic music.”

To further drive the FMO inclusivity point home, Ms. Baracca signs off in three languages: English, French and Ojibwe.

Next year’s event will be taking place in Toronto from September 28 to October 1 in 2017.