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MARIPOSA: Ten Years of Music Print-ready version

by Peter H. Nicol
Ottawa Journal
August 14, 1970
Original article: PDF

Mariposa, a ficticious [sic] and amusing little town born in the imagination of the greatest of Canadian humorists, Stephen Leacock, is also the name adopted for the largest festival of music and people in Canada, and the third largest of its kind in the world.

After its inception and difficulties in Orillia and the consequent move to Innis Lake, a small community some 35 miles northwest of Toronto, the Mariposa Folk Festival recently celebrated its 10th birthday on picturesque Toronto Island.

In its three days of music and sunshine, it drew people of all ages and from all parts of the country to hear the legendary figures of a subculture that, despite its recent popularity, has been a part of the North American way of life for hundreds of years.

The festival consists of two separate and quite different sectors: the day-time workshops and mini concerts, and the big formal productions each evening.

Mariposa, run by a non-profit organization called the Toronto Guild of Canadian Folk Artists, is based on the concept of presenting a highly varied program of music and information ranging from traditional Canadian ballads, to blues, to international folk songs to contemporary folk styles.

To this end the organization engages the best authorities in their respective fields to perform and explain the roots and life styles in their particular field of endeavor.

THE DAILY activities conform to this principle. At 10:30 a.m., you can pay your $2 for six hours of continuous entertainment at any one of four different sites.

These concerts and discussions are informal, and one can sit on the grass and listen or wander about from place to place as the mood and entertainment moves you.

For example, at any one time you may:

- See Michael Cooney discussing the influence of magic and the supernatural in songs;
- Listen to Merrick Jarrett and the Muirs discuss and perform the native music of Australia and New Zealand;
- Hear bluegrass stylings of the Toronto Bluegrass Committee;
- Listen to the original sounds of the Pennywhistlers as they sing Balkan and Slavic songs;
- Take the children to concerts just for them led by such people as Klaas Van Graft;
- Hear one of the greatest authorities, Edith Fowke, discuss and perform traditional Ontario songs;

[several of the following lines of text have apparent typesetting errors]

in Ottawa; - Stop by the International Song Swap hosted by Tex
- Listen as Doug Kershaw who has appeared many times Konig, a singer from Montreal

To this end the organization and Edith Butler discuss the histories and intricacies of Cajun music;

- Watch legendary figures like Mississippi Fred McDowell discuss and illustrate the roots and development of traditional blues;
- Hear Elizabeth Cotton, the composer of Freight Train tell of her life of over 60 years singing and performing;
- Hear an inspired workshop by rambling Jack Elliot [sic], the successor to the Guthrie-Seeger tradition of the wandering minstrel-balladeer, talk about and perform the songs of the greatest of North American singers, Woody Guthrie who was his friend and inspiration;
- Hear Barry O'Neill discuss the traditions of Ontario love songs.

And there is more. David Rea on country music, and Ottawa's own Bruce Cockburn giving excellent performances of his own topical music. All of this happening at the same time; over 50 different performers doing what they know best in a four-ring circus of good music.

But there is something else that makes Mariposa such an interesting experience, no matter if you are a first-timer or an old hand at these gatherings.

ASIDE FROM the tremendous range of musical offerings it presents to the public, there is also an intangible spirit, impossible to put into words working among the performers themselves.

It manifests itself in that even the biggest stars will sit down under a shady tree and play informally for anyone who wants to listen and discover that they are there.

Jerry Jeff Walker, for example, took an afternoon off from his engagement at the Riverboat and came to see his friends and sing with them.

Joni Mitchell rapping with people under a tree and later jamming with James Taylor in a quiet corner of the island is another example.

So is the unscheduled arrival of Gordon Lightfoot, his right hand in a cast, walking around the sight chatting with performers and anyone else who recognized him.

At 4:30 p.m. the grounds were cleared in preparation for the evening concerts and people could either watch or take part in the folk dancing just outside the gates, or wander around the other small islands to the zoo or the play-land.

The evening concerts are more along the lines of what most folks relate to when they hear of the festival. They are formal five hour performances (at a cost of $4) which combine the biggest names in the business with the best of the rising performers.

These include Elizabeth Cotton, Bruce Murdoch, Odetta, Perth County Conspiracy (the most pleasant surprise in the whole festival) Sandy Crawley from Ottawa, Rambling Jack Elliot [sic], J. B. Hutto and the Hawks, Doug Kershaw, Mississippi Fred McDowell, and in one show alone, Joni Mitchell, David Rea, James Taylor and Merle Travis.

Liberally sprinkled through these shows are folk dancing and singers of traditional music too.

And, as if this were not enough, the Festival organizers, who made a profit last year for the first time in their history, used the funds to bring in Indians from all over Canada and the United States to perform their dances and to display and explain their crafts and traditions to anyone who took the time to listen. And many people did, much to their own satisfaction and enjoyment.

IT WAS to be expected, of course, that a festival of this size, (over 50 performers and over 30,000 paid attendance) would not be without problems. The fantastic crowds which jammed the ferries, the food and washroom facilities were nothing less than a pain in the neck and served to discourage and enrage many people.

Planes flying overhead to the near-by landing field, motor boats of the yacht club which was only 60 feet away from the main workshop stage and steamboat whistles from Toronto harbor intruded on the calm and concentration of the performances.

The physical limitations of the island also presented some difficulties since the sounds of one group would often impose itself on another group, making it difficult to hear.

But all of these things, while a nuisance, did not dampen the proceedings, and generally things went soothly and enjoyable.

There was a major snag, however. The police, who did their jobs well and unobtrusively, were too few in number to handle the crowd of hooligans who crashed the gates on Saturday and then made a concentrated effort at disrupting proceedings on Sunday night.

THE RESULT of this juvenile display of bad manners is that the festival itself is now in danger of loosing [sic] the Toronto Island site, and perhaps in danger of its very existence.

On the one hand it is difficult to imagine that the organizers did not expect such things and should have taken steps to avoid them after witnessing the result of the rock festivals in the area. Perhaps they felt that folk music is not conducive to such behavior.

On the other hand though, it was nice to see that the people who were there, particularly the youths, behaved in an adult and responsible manner.

Only the lunatic fringe who crashed the gates and stole some microphones marred a particularly rewarding weekend.

It is to be hoped that the organizers and Toronto officials from whom blessings must come to hold this affair will not loose [sic] faith with those who came to be a part of the greatest festival of music and entertainment Canada has to offer.

It would indeed be a great loss if this festival does not continue. Let us hope that with planning and good fortune, the Mariposa Folk Festival will continue for many years to come. It would be sorely missed.

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