Books for Folk Festival Season

Book Cover Festival Man

It's that time of year again, folk festival season, when music lovers gather on hillsides to hear the strains of their favourite folk tunes, which are usually incredible stories set to beautiful song. 

This post was originally supposed to be a list of novels that made Canadian folk festivals as their setting. Kind of obscure, right? Right. Which is why the excellent works of fiction that anchor this list are joined by biographical and autobiographical works about Canadian folk stars and legends, fact and fiction blended in the truest folkish form. 

*****
Festival Man, by Geoff Berner

Maverick music manager Campbell Ouiniette makes a final destructive bid for glory at the Calgary Folk Festival. 

Travel in the entertaining company of a man made of equal parts bullshit and inspiration, in what is ultimately a twisted panegyric to the power of strange music to change people from the inside out. 

At turns funny and strangely sobering, this "found memoir" is a picaresque tale of inspired, heroic deceit, incompetence, and—just possibly—triumph. Follow the flailing escapades of maverick music manager Campbell Ouiniette at the Calgary Folk Festival, as he leaves a trail of empty liquor bottles, cigarette butts, bruised egos, and obliterated relationships behind him. His top headlining act has abandoned him for the Big Time. In a fit of self-delusion or pure genius (or perhaps a bit of both), Ouiniette devises an intricate scam, a last hurrah in an attempt to redeem himself in the eyes of his girlfriend, the music industry, and the rest of the world. He reveals his path of destruction in his own transparently self-justifying, explosive, profane words, with digressions into the Edmonton hardcore punk rock scene, the Yugoslavian Civil War, and other epicentres of chaos.

**

Mountain City Girls: The McGarrigle Family Album, by Anna McGarrigle and Jane McGarrigle

The McGarrigles are known around the world for their touching, insightful songs about love, loss and family. But where and how does a family so rich in musical luminaries take root? In Mountain City Girls, Anna and Jane recount their childhood in Montreal and the Laurentian Mountains, and go further back to their ancestors' early days in Canada, and their parents' courtship and marriage. A vivid snapshot of coming-of-age in the 1950s, the book recounts the sisters' school days and rebellious teenage antics, and their beginnings as musicians. It takes us through the vibrant folk music circuit of the 1960s in Montreal and New York City, and the burgeoning social movements of San Francisco, and ultimately leads to the formation of the folk music duo Kate and Anna McGarrigle, revealing the genesis behind some of their beloved songs and following their early days recording and performing. The book also reads as a tribute to Kate, who passed away in 2010, with insights into her character and creative development. Inspiringly, it speaks to the important (sometimes lifesaving) role of sisters, and is a deeply moving testament to the profound importance of family.

**

Cadillac Couches, by Sophie B. Watson

Cadillac Couches is a picaresque road trip novel that journeys from prairie to big city and back again. A quixotic tale set in the late nineties and framed by the popular Edmonton Folk Music Festival, it follows two music-smitten twentysomething women as they search for love and purpose. Annie Jones is trying to put her big love, Sullivan, behind her and squash her demons of anxiety and compulsion. In a post-fest funk, she and her more worldly sidekick Isobel jump in Annie's 1972 Volkswagen Beetle and race across the country to Montreal where her real-life fantasy man, Hawksley Workman, is doing a gig. A year later Annie and Isobel end up back at the folk festival, this time in a much different position.

A witty first novel, Cadillac Couches is a story about finding one's holy grail in life. The book comes with its own playlist.

**

Joni Mitchell: In Her Own Words, by Malka Marom

When singer, musician, and broadcast journalist Malka Marom had the opportunity to interview Joni Mitchell in 1973, she was eager to reconnect with the performer she’d first met late one night in 1966 at a Yorkville coffeehouse. More conversations followed over the next four decades of friendship, and it was only after Joni and Malka completed their most recent recorded interview, in 2012, that Malka discovered the heart of their discussions: the creative process.

In Joni Mitchell: In Her Own Words, Joni and Malka follow this thread through seven decades of life and art, discussing the influence of Joni’s childhood, love and loss, playing dives and huge festivals, acclaim and criticism, poverty and affluence, glamorous triumphs and tragic mistakes...

This riveting narrative, told in interviews, lyrics, paintings, and photographs, is shared in the hope of illuminating a timeless body of work and inspiring others.

**

Writing Gordon Lightfoot: The Man, The Music and the World in 1972, by Dave Bidini

From acclaimed musician and author Dave Bidini comes a brilliantly original look at a folk-rock legend and the momentous week in 1972 that culminated in the Mariposa Folk Festival.

July, 1972. As musicians across Canada prepare for the nation's biggest folk festival, held on Toronto Island, a series of events unfold that will transform the country politically, psychologically—and musically. As Bidini explores the remarkable week leading up to Mariposa, he also explores the life and times of one of the most enigmatic figures in Canadian music: Gordon Lightfoot, the reigning king of folk at the height of his career. Through a series of letters, Bidini addresses Lightfoot directly, questioning him, imagining his life, and weaving together a fascinating, highly original look at a musician at the top of his game. By the end of the week, the country is on the verge of massive change and the '72 Mariposa folk fest—complete with surprise appearances by Bob Dylan, Neil Young, Joni Mitchell, and yes, Lightfoot—is on its way to becoming legendary.

**

Rumours of Glory, by Bruce Cockburn

Award-winning songwriter and pioneering guitarist Bruce Cockburn has been shaped by politics, protest, romance and spiritual discovery. He has toured the globe, visiting far-flung places such as Guatemala, Mali, Mozambique, Afghanistan and Nepal, performing and speaking out on important issues, from native rights and land mines to the environment and Third World debt. His journeys have been reflected in his music and evolving styles: folk, jazz, blues, rock and world beat. Drawing from his experiences, he continues to create memorable songs about his ever-expanding universe of wonders.

As an artist with thirty-one albums, Cockburn has won numerous awards and the devotion of legions of fans across Canada and around the world. Yet the man himself has remained a mystery. In this memoir, Cockburn invites us into his private world and takes us on a lively cultural and musical tour through the late twentieth century, sharing his Christian convictions, his personal relationships and the social and political activism that has defined him and has both invigorated and incited his fans.

**

Fallsy Downsies, by Stephanie Domet

Lansing Meadows has one last shot to get it right. With the clock ticking, he sets out on the road one last time, to sing his songs to anyone who’ll listen, and to try to right his wrongs, before it’s too late.

Fallsy Downsies is a novel about aging, art, celebrity and modern Canadian culture, told through the lens of Lansing Meadows, the godfather of Canadian folk music; Evan Cornfield, the up and comer who idolizes him; and Dacey Brown, a young photographer who finds herself along for the ride.

**

Buffy Sainte-Marie: It's My Way, by Blair Stonechild

Buffy Sainte-Marie is a symbol of the free expression movement of the 1960s and her powerful songs inspired countless people seeking hope and change. Her life has been one of transitions; from songwriter to famous intellectually-oriented folk and protest singer, to country and western and rock and roll musician, to social activist, mother, script-writer, actress, digital artist, philanthropist, children's educator, and medicine woman." Within all these roles, and throughout her incredibly diverse and engaging, though private, life, Buffy Sainte-Marie has cultivated her unique vision for achieving collective beauty and purpose in an often lonely world.

In this ambitious biography of an international cultural icon, Blair Stonechild seeks to bring together the many facets of a remarkable life, and to develop a sense of the woman behind it all. In doing so, Stonechild also traces some of the tumultuous history of the Cree people, and offers a fascinating, and challenging, view into the impoverished Saskatchewan reserve where Sainte-Marie was born, and an exploration of the story and context of a Native culture which Buffy continues to inspire today.

Also check out Buffy Sainte-Marie: In Her Own Words, forthcoming this September. 

**

Four Strong Winds: Ian and Sylvia, by John Einarson

An acclaimed music historian brings us the long-awaited story of Ian & Sylvia, marking the first time that the legendary folk duo has endorsed a biography of their groundbreaking career.

Their classic "Four Strong Winds" is widely considered to be one of the great songs of all time. Bob Dylan, Gordon Lightfoot, Neil Young, Leonard Cohen, and Joni Mitchell count among their admirers. Their music, including hits like "You Were On My Mind" and "Someday Soon," has been recorded by everyone from Dylan, Joan Baez, and Johnny Cash to Sarah McLachlan and The Tragically Hip. Their influence on music—both in Canada and the United States—has endured over generations and surpassed genres. Yet until now, we have known little of the story behind the folk sensations Ian & Sylvia. In Four Strong Winds, John Einarson takes us back to Ian & Sylvia's early days in Toronto coffeehouses, to their experiences at the heart of the vibrant 1960s Greenwich Village folk scene, and beyond, as their personal and musical partnership continued to change and evolve. Based on Ian and Sylvia Tyson's own personal reflections as well as on the recollections of contemporaries, associates, and admirers, Four Strong Winds is the definitive account of this iconic musical duo and a window on a fascinating period in music history.

**

One Man Grand Band: The Lyric Life of Ron Hynes, by Harvey Sawler

In this long-awaited biography, author Harvey Sawler traces the life of Ron Hynes, one of the most respected singer-songwriters in Canadian history. Through personal conversations and interviews, Sawler captures the spirit of an artist whose stock-in-trade has always been authenticity over mere commercial acceptability, providing rare insight into the life of the man who penned some of the country’s best-loved music. Sawler guides us through the dark times of addiction to the triumphs of songs such as “Sonny’s Dream” and “Atlantic Blue” while capturing the true essence of Hynes and the source of his musical genius.

July 7, 2016
Books mentioned in this post
Festival Man

Festival Man

A Novel
edition:eBook
also available: Paperback
More Info
Cadillac Couches

Cadillac Couches

edition:Paperback
also available: eBook
More Info
Joni Mitchell

Joni Mitchell

In Her Own Words
edition:eBook
also available: Hardcover
More Info
Writing Gordon Lightfoot

Writing Gordon Lightfoot

The Man, the Music, and the World in 1972
edition:Paperback
also available: Hardcover
More Info
Fallsy Downsies

Fallsy Downsies

edition:eBook
also available: Paperback
tagged : urban life
More Info
Four Strong Winds

Four Strong Winds

Ian and Sylvia
by John Einarson
contributions by Sylvia Tyson & Ian Tyson
edition:Hardcover
also available: Paperback
More Info
One Man Grand Band

One Man Grand Band

The Lyric Life of Ron Hynes
edition:eBook
also available: Paperback
More Info
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