In 1980, I started to play at the major folk festivals across Canada. Although it was a joy to be playing for such an enthusiastic and informed audience, there was an equal joy to be in the company of a large number of amazing musicians. The practice in those days was to break up the bands and put individual musicians with similar interests on workshop stages in themed performances. Thus, I got to perform with a large variety of amazing performers, some of which were my musical idols. One year I found myself onstage with the incomparable picker Mike Marshall and fiddle player Daryl Anger, and there were so many notes flying around on stage it was mind-boggling. Another year I started to play a tune and this amazing bass kicked in and I turned to see Michael Manring sitting in. Yet another year blues musician Brownie McGee came to ask for my autograph as he collected everybody’s for his nephew, I was in shock as Brownie was one of my all time heroes. It should be noted that I think I was only asked for my autograph three or four times so far in my whole career!
One of the highlights for me was a concert I did at Edmonton Folk Festival in 1985 with fellow multi-instrumentalists Ken Bloom and David Amram. We each had brought a trunk full of instruments. We didn’t discuss at all what we were going to play, we just all sat on stage, opened the trunks at the same time, reached in without looking and started to play together with whatever we had in our hands. We played one piece that lasted the whole workshop switching instruments often. There must have been at least 100 instruments in total and we played all except one.
David Amram was around a lot in those days and after a fest he did a small club date and called about 20 of the top jazz, folk and world musicians in town to play with him. There was virtually no room on stage, and only one microphone was working so David put it on a boom stand and loosened the base so it could swing back and forth. He indicated two positions, one on each side of the mic stand. We started to play and David would point to a spot, and then one of us. We would stand on the spot, solo, and then swing the mic to the other spot for the next musician to solo. We played all night like that and it was amazing.
Festival musicians became like a family as we often toured from fest to fest across the country, seeing each other in another town a week later. For a number of years I held post festival parties at my house for all the world music musicians that were in staying in town for a few days before travelling to the next festival city. I would also invite world music musicians from around town. A typical party might include Tuvan throat singers, Vietnamese, Chinese, Russian, Italian, Brazilian, Spanish and African musicians, all jamming together. Twenty years later I was onstage with Huun Huur Tu, and the leader looked at me and said, “I know you, I was at a party at your house!” These parties were part of the genesis of the Vancouver World Music scene.
At one fest I saw blues musician John Hammond eating at a table by himself. There were a lot of people at the other tables, so the emptiness of this table stood out. I went over and asked if I could join him and we started a long conversation. Hammond had a stutter still in those days, which unfortunately added to the reason no one talked to him. Anyone who has heard Hammond in concert knows that he has hundreds of amazing stories, and he told a few that day. We developed a “festival friendship” which meant we saw each other at other fests, be it a week or a few years in between. I saw Hammond again a few years later at a concert and his national steel guitar was broken by the airline. Hammond said a man came up after the show and asked to look at the instrument. After looking at the damage he told Hammond that he could fix it for him. Hammond declined as he had a trusted repairperson at home. And the man said, ‘Are you sure, because I made this instrument?” It was one of the Dopyera Brothers who invented the resonator guitar and started the National String Instrument Company!
One year I was flying home from a festival with Roy Forbes (a.k.a. Bim) and a few other prominent artists. We got to the ticket agent and were told we would get our seating assignments at the gate. When we got to the waiting room, it was full of crew from a big rock tour featuring the Rolling Stones, Peter Gabriel and The Tubes. As the flight was full, we were upgraded to first class, and watched as the rock tour folks walked past us to economy. A stewardess (now called a flight attendant) was standing across from us and was noticeably excited by the rockers. She was exclaiming, “Wow, so many Rolling Stones T-shirts.” Asking the Stones’ tech crew if any of them were in the band (the Stones had travelled earlier). Next she saw some guys with Peter Gabriel T-shirts, and asked one, “are you with Peter Gabriel?” The guy behind him said in a bit of a dismissive tome, ‘Ma’am, this IS peter Gabriel!” All this time Bim was getting more and more restless, and when there was a lull in the passing passengers, he looked at the stewardess, stretched out the Folk Festival T-shirt he was wearing and exclaimed loudly, “This is not a rock and roll T-shirt!” She looked at him in shock and almost screamed, ‘You’re Bim!” The stewardess gave us a bottle of Champagne, which we all had a bit of and then sent the rest back to Peter Gabriel, courtesy of the folk musicians in First class.
© R. Raine-Reusch 2014