It’s a warm Friday night in Vancouver, and the sun is disappearing beneath the horizon. We’re standing on a hill in Jericho beach, looking out across a multitude of music fans hunkered down on Mexican blankets, multi coloured towels, Japanese mats, bright blue and orange tarps. On the brightly lit stage, a musical ensemble plays hypnotic Persian music on an assortment of instruments, including flutes, strings and hand drums, while two amazing dancers in voluminous skirts perform the ancient, trance-like whirling dervish dance. A group of children nearby are imitating the dancers, and falling down laughing to the ground. Although we are perhaps two or three football fields away from the stage, the sound system is so crystal clear that we can hear the scrapes of fingers against strings.
An hour or so later we’re in the middle of a group on one side of the stage, and we’re all dancing to a mixture of funk, salsa, reggae and ska performed by a crazy band from Mexico City that packs enough voltage to light up a small prairie town. As the last notes fade into the night, a procession of lanterns appears out of nowhere, and we are led out of the park by glowing paper effigies of whales, seagulls, angels, goats, dogs, salmon, a particularly exquisite dragon with flashing red eyes, and a host of other bizarre and fabulous creations held aloft by wooden poles. Welcome to opening night of the Vancouver Folk Festival.
For 27 years now, the most beautiful waterfront park in Vancouver had been magically transformed by this festival into an impromptu village of disparate and fascinating souls: hippies in tie-dye and hemp; punks with Statue of Liberty hairdos; artists, musicians, poets, spiritualists, yuppies, mystics, insurance salesmen, college instructors, librarians, office workers – anyone and everyone with a love for music.
Over the years we have seen a sixty person gospel choir call forth the true spirit of the Lord on a sunny Sunday morning. We have seen circus acrobats swings gracefully through the trees, and stilt walkers pick their way through groups of delighted children.
Most inspiring of all have been the small stage musical workshops involving a dizzying array of musicians from immensely divergent cultures and musical traditions coming together to speak eloquently in one of our few truly universal languages – music. There may be other places on earth where it is possible to smell the blossoms in the trees and feel the sea breeze blowing through your hair as you listen to a steel guitarist from Alabama jamming with a tabla player from East India.
There must be other spots where you can sit in the shade drinking lemonade and eating falafels and watching dragonflies darting through cattails while you enjoy a musical collaboration involving an avant garde violinist and a Sudanese oud player. But they must surely be few, far between, and treasured. So the next time you find yourself in Vancouver in July, this is one place you might want to keep in mind.