Mariposa Folk Festival

by Arthur Zeldin
Toronto Daily Star
August 6, 1966

At the Age of 6, Mariposa already seems retrospective

The air hung over Innis Lake last night like somebody's used washcloth; perhaps it was this dampness which made the opening concert of the 1966 Mariposa Folk Festival an essentially sedate affair.

But something else hung heavy in the air, too -- the feeling that what we, the 3,000 strong members of the audience, were watching, listening to, was a retrospective rather than a festival of everything that is current in the wide-ranging field of today's "folk" music.

This is not to say the performers weren't good: many of them were great. The headliner of the concert, for instance, was Pete Seeger, the dean of American folk-singers. Seeger is an excellent folk scholar and musician: he is also humorous, courageous, tender, an utterly unpretentious and dignified man. He brings these qualities to every performance including last night's.

But listen to Ian Tyson's introduction to Seeger: "If this man hadn't started singing folk songs 25 years ago, we may not have been here tonight."


Seeger is to today's music what D.W. Griffith is to today's movies: the founding father, the innovator, the influence. His talent, like Griffith's, will withstand the passing of time. But he is very definitely not in the midst of the musical styles that are developing in 1966.

Tyson himself, the dean of Canadian folk-singers was the headliner for the first half of the concert. Tyson is not only a singer, but a forceful stage presence. Brilliantly accompanied by David Rea on a complementary guitar, he delivered fine material, including some of his own, in a mature and timbrous voice.

But what he delivered was Ian Tyson 1965 and not the Ian Tyson who has lately been doing a lot of work with the big electric sound. His half dozen songs were in themselves an Ian Tyson retrospective.

With one unlikely exception, there was not an electric guitar in the whole conglomeration of sounds that were performed last night. What we were listening to was music from the mechanical age. And in 1966 the mechanical age is, while not dead, no longer really alive either.

Folk music in all its pure, non-electric varieties, from blues to blue grass to ethnic, and for all that it comprises the elements of today's big sound, seems destined to become the sub-culture that rock-and-roll once was.

It is a museum art, although one that can still be practised beautifully by occasional newcomers like Joni Mitchell.

Miss Mitchell plays guitar tolerably; her voice is an interesting, although not unusual, husky version of Joan Baez's. The songs that she writes and delivers so feelingly, though, are lovely poetic, even Canadian in their tone.

They make her performance.

But even Miss Mitchell's style seems destined to have limited appeal as opposed to the huge and growing popularity of electric music. So far, the sixth annual Mariposa Festival is out-pacing the attendance of the previous three trouble-plagued years.

Still, last night's audience remained significantly small compared to the halcyon days of the mid-1950s. And it was very definitely non-"Yorkville," older, more proper, with lots of mamas and papas and little sweat-shirted kiddies.

The majority there were young, of course, but they also behaved as if they were living in the mechanical age rather than the electrical. They didn't participate, they payed tribute.

The one electrical exception, incidentally, was Big Walter Horton's electric guitar in the Sunnyland Slim, Big Walter Horton and Johnny Young Chicago blues group.

But it seemed out of place, neither quite at home with the original, piano-laden sound of the Mississippi blues, nor vibrant enough on its own.

To my ear, the Chicago blues of this group seemed a strange hybrid, belonging whole-heartedly neither to the past nor to the present.

And this predicament also cloaked the appearance of the hip-talking Canadian Indians, who performed a variety of age-old Indian dances.

Ironically enough, I suppose, the Indians were the emblem of last night's concert. In effect, their routine said: "Here is a whole culture, lovingly researched, practised, performed and codified, classified, categorized."

Or even retrospective.

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