[By Stuart] Today, February 12th, is Charles Darwinâ€™s bicentennial birthday, so I can plug my favourite Quarrington book, the boy on the back of the turtle. Itâ€™s a tough volume to find, but Paulâ€™s story about cruising the GalÃ¡pagos Islands with father and daughter in search of Darwinian insights is funny, wonderfully informative and deeply touching. (Itâ€™s also the only Quarrington book with a bibliography; five pages closely typed!)
I have my own Darwin story. In 1991 I was in England studying the â€˜naturalâ€™ or valveless baroque trumpet. England is a hotbed of â€˜authenticâ€™ instrumentalists, who play gut-string violins, wooden flutes and such, and near the end of my stay I heard Handelâ€™s Messiah played by such an orchestra. This was in a nave of Westminster Abbey with the audience sitting on folding chairs. At intermission I noticed an inscription on the large stone slab under my chair. It was Darwinâ€™s tomb. I had been engaged in a sort of â€˜rear-view mirrorâ€™ approach to music-making on primitive historical instruments while five feet below me lay the author of The Origin of the Species.
This is a good time to reflect on our festival appearances over the summer.
First off the mark was Toronto’s City Roots Festival, following up on our show there last year. City Roots takes place in the historic distillery district, and the venue, the crowd, the weather (and the distilled products) were all first rate.
This year, Paul was featured as both writer and musician, which was nice of them. Speaking of Paul, his latest novel The Ravine has just been “long-listed” for the Giller Prizeâ€¦
In July we performed at Mariposa, on the shores of beautiful Lake Simcoe at Orillia. I referred to Mariposa a few posts ago so you can read about it below, but months later it’s still a great memory.
Next was The Ottawa Blues Festival. We had a wonderful audience at one of their huge outdoor stages, but we also spent a lot of time in audiences, listening to Cindy Cashdollar, Redd Volkaert and other killer acts. In addition, the festival presented the Porkbelly “trio” in a lovely, small indoor theatre. This acoustic group consists of Paul, Rebecca and – on guitar instead of drums – Martin.
Next up was London’s Home County Festival. By all accounts our main stage evening show went well, but we were mostly looking forward to what might transpire at the next day’s workshops. The first, a blues event, put us on stage with Jackie Washington and Mose Scarlett. The second, a Willie P. Bennett tribute, paired us with Stephen Fearing and Tom Wilson from Blackie and the Rodeo Kings plus Tony Quarrington and other special guests, and this is when the rainy weather Porkbelly had been dodging all summer finally found us. Even that, though, could not dampen the enthusiasm of the London audience. They stayed, they clapped, they sang along.
The month of August took us to eastern Ontario and Clarendon’s Blue Skies Festival on Hwy 7 west of Ottawa. This happy hippie event is something to behold, with all 2,000 audience members actually camping on-sight every August holiday weekend. Blue Skies was similar to London’s Home County Festival in the following respects: we played our regular set to a large crowd; we participated in a great Willie P. tribute; it rained. It actually rained an incredibly great deal, but again, nobody complained.
Our final festival engagement consisted of three nights at The Forest Festival. This was a Words & Music affair, presented in an historic logging museum in the Haliburton Forest and Wildlife Reserve. We are much taken with the acoustics of this logging museum and are threatening to record a live album there. After the final show, forest owner Peter Schleifenbaum took us into the woods for a wolf howl, trying to get a response from the several packs that inhabit the forest.
Reflecting on this summer of festivals, it’s astonishing how different they are, that each has its own, distinctive character and appeal. The commonalities, of course, are great music and happy audiences. It was a privilege to have participated.