CALEDON EAST - The Mariposa Folk Festival, aching to draw even larger audiences, is proving to be the latest battleground in the struggle between the non-electric and the electric guitar.
Despite clear, starry nights all weekend, this year's attendance, somewhere in the 10,000 to 12,000 range, wasn't significantly better than last year's 11,000. And the big looming question is whether Mariposa should go commercial - bringing in more electric folk-rock sounds and hopefully attracting bigger crowds.
When all the receipts are counted, the festival is hoping this year to at least break even.
But despite the fact that the acoustic (non-electric) guitar was fighting on home ground, the electric guitar is likely to be the ultimate victor.
In addition to the commercial bit about attracting bigger audiences, the electric guitar has another thing going for it. It's a boon to performers. If they're tired or uninspired, they can relax and let their amplifiers do the work.
The folksinger with the non-electric acoustic guitar has to be a top-notch performer with his voice and his instrument at all times.
Mariposa this year featured about 10 acoustic folksingers and four strictly electric groups. One singer, Gordon Lowe and his accompanists, compromised and worked with electrically-amplified acoustic guitars.
While the audiences gave warm receptions to Tom Rush, Leonard Cohen, Buffy Sainte-Marie and Joni Mitchell, it has to be remembered that these are well-known acoustical names.
Comparatively O. D. Bodkins and Company and 3's a Crowd (who also received good applause) are recently created electric groups and have minuscule popularity compared to The Paupers, The Jefferson Airplane or Bob Dylan (the acoustical giant who went electric two years ago).
However the exception to this somewhat contrived argument about what was happening at Mariposa is New York's Ritchie Havens.
With his shaggy black beard and the troubled squint of an old man, Havens is the closest thing to what the hippies call a "beautiful person" that I have ever met.
Soft-spoken, pleased to talk to anyone, and sincerely humble, Havens said more in one song than most performers could relate in an entire weekend. He sang an anti-war song about handsome Johnny marching to various major historical battles.
At the end of the song, Ritchie was strumming so hard he broke his bottom string. He shouted into the microphone "some of you are not even listening... why don't you do something about it... I can almost hear the H-bombs whistling."
The 26-year-old former gospel singer was the only performer to play a sitar on stage during the weekend.
The most spectacular audience-arousing act concluded the Saturday night concert. Buddy Guy and the soul sound of his blues band were the show-stealers.
Buddy, lead guitarist for the Chicago group, was "trying to get himself warm." The air was chilly at 1 a.m.
The drummer, tenor sax, and base players started warming Buddy up with "I feel good." Buddy did a little singing and then he jumped off the stage with his guitar.
While everyone was trying to figure out if Buddy killed himself, the Negro soul crusader went into a wild extemporization on his guitar, crouching under the stage.
Richard Waterman, his manager, tried to get him to mount a step ladder onto the stage. Buddy took the ladder and climbed over the snow fence that separates the stage from the audience.
He was still playing the guitar and singing.
Then he ran out of guitar cord and continued singing and crusading into the audience. He mounted a chair, his breath heavy with liquor, and removed his coat. The people cheered. Then his tie and shirt were off.
The lights went out before Buddy had finished his number. Faithfully, Buddy's band had played on despite the exhortations of Waterman and various Mariposa personnel. The band would have played on a sinking ship.
Other festival highlights included:
* A comeback on Sunday night by Rev. Gary Davis after a disastrous performance on Friday night.
* Buffy Sainte-Marie almost cried when she sung "a little history" about North American Indians. An Indian herself, she despises society for destroying her people and their culture. Buffy also announced her wedding this fall to a Hawaiian surfing instructor.
* Leonard Cohen philosophized in soft serious almost monotonous tones but thrilled those who are entranced by his writings.
* 3's a Crowd abstracted into the future and did a marijuana cigarette commercial and then someone threw some grass (the lawn variety) rolled in a cigarette paper on stage.
* Pretty, melancholy Joni Mitchell sang a few of her songs, including The Circle Game. The fast moving, multi-chord progressions she uses are most refreshing after hearing simplistic traditional blues chords throughout the festival.
* The rambling story-telling style of Tom Rush climaxed the Friday night concert.
Some patrons of the Mariposa Folk Festival found the workshops uninspiring and non-educational. Instead of sharing new techniques, many performers merely played the songs they wouldn't have time to sing in the evening concerts. Consequently aspiring folksingers found the water of Innis Lake or the company of their peers in small impromptu hootenannies more fruitful than the afternoon workshops.
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