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Mission Folk Festival attracts global talent

Canadian actor-musician Jim Byrnes brings the blues to the Mission Folk Festival.

The 24th Annual Mission Folk Music Festival begins next week, combining modern and ancient music from local and international performers over four event-packed days.

The evening concerts have been split into four separate musical genres, said festival organizer Francis Xavier.

There will be Vikings and Celts for the Irish-Norse folk music, the international World Encounters, the soulful From the Hills to the Blues, and toe-tapping grassroots folk music in A Song and a Dance.

For the Celts, several featured musicians are hailing from Ireland.

The quintet Caladh Nua strikes a balance between traditional and new Celtic music; Maire Ni Chathasaigh has been described as an Irish harp virtuoso; and John Doyle’s rhythmic style and innovation has set new standards for the Irish guitar.

Harald Haugaard, and Lorcan Mac Mathuna and Northern Lights, meanwhile, present the Viking side. Denmark’s Haugaard, in particular, has been acclaimed as one of the top three fiddlers in the world.

What’s interesting about Lorcan Mac Mathuna is they are a Norse-Irish group that links the ancient music between the two peoples, says Xavier.

“It’s not just Irish music. It’s the old-style singing that has a depth and a richness that is really grounded in a very long past and history, and explores those links between Ireland and the Danes and the Vikings.”

In the World Encounters category, Xavier has booked renowned Belgian bagpipe players, Griff; the Siberian/Mongolian “transcendent music” of Namgar; the traditional accordion and tambourine stylings of Basque’s Tapia eta Leturia; and Quebec’s gypsy-ska folk group Sangapool and Ontario’s Juno-winning Jayme Stone on banjo.

But the feature attraction here, according to Xavier, is Norwegian-Sami singer Mari Boine, whose haunting voice blends traditional storytelling with contemporary rock, jazz and electronica. Though she may not be well-known in Canada, Boine is usually sold-out during international venues.

“Getting a ticket would be difficult,” he said, noting her career spans more than 25 years.

The blues feature prominently in the festival with the prolific Dirk Powell Band, whose Appalachian heritage is imbued in deep-south Louisiana soul.

There’s also Port Townsend’s ragtime country blues-jazz band, the Crow Quill Night Owls; a festival repeat favourite in Bellingham’s Gallus Brothers; and the Church of the Blues, colloquial namesake for the local Historic Dewdney Pub.

A must-see is the actor-musician Jim Byrnes, simply referred to as Canada’s blues man. Originally from Missouri, Byrnes moved to Vancouver in the 1970s, and has since won Junos for best blues album three times, and was named Male Vocalist of the Year in 2006 and 2009 at the Canadian Folk Music Awards.

Xavier said Byrnes has the sort of “lived-in blues voice” one might hear passing through the heart of Mississippi.

He’ll be performing with Steve Dawson, a Juno award-winning musician and Vancouver-based producer.

Rounding out the festival are several famous Canadian and American musicians, some of whom are veritable legends.

There’s Newfoundland’s poetic songwriter Amelia Curran; the musical troika Dry Bones from Manitoba; America’s well-travelled Matt Greenhill with the festival’s resident dancer, fiddler and artist, Matt Gordon; and Washington’s Robert Sarazin Blake, whose melodies of lost loves, old hotels and long, hot drives conjures up images of the roving folk troubadours of old.

Xavier is particularly excited about Newfoundland’s Ron Hynes, an icon in Atlantic Canada, and known as “the man of a thousand songs.” His life was profiled in a recent 2010 documentary in the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) of the same name. It explores his obsession with music, as well as the personal costs of trying to eke out a living in Canada.

TIFF programmer Steve Gravestock describes Hynes as having a “cracked and wispy voice [that] imbues his songs with profound emotional weight.”

Perhaps best known for his song Sonny’s Dream, composed while on Canadian tour in 1976 with the Mummers Troupe, it placed 41st in the 2005 CBC Radio One top 50 greatest Canadian songs of all time.

It wouldn’t be a folk festival without a few folks from Mission, which is why Xavier has lined up several local talents.

Ukrainian percussionist Boris Sichon has lived and travelled in 40 countries, settling in B.C. in 2004. Sichon has worked with masters like Russian conductor Maxim Shostakovich in the St. Petersburg Symphony Orchestra. A former singer in the Russian National Folkloric band, Xavier said he has a unique collection of well over 1,000 ethnic instruments in his home.

Mission vocalist Cathy Hardy has just released her first major CD called Love Shines. Formally trained with the Royal Conservatory of Music of Canada, Hardy has taught music since she was 16.

And Ontario fiddler Jennie Bice moved to Mission years ago, mainly for her love of the folk festival, serving as host in the past. All three teach music in Mission, which Xavier says enriches the community.

The festival begins July 21 at 7:30 p.m. at the Clarke Foundation Theatre with the gala concert. The main stage concerts at Fraser River Heritage Park start Friday at 7 p.m. with Blues, Bones and Quills, and continues Saturday at 6 p.m. with World Encounters, and Sunday at 6 p.m. with Vikings and Celts.

Aside from these featured singers, there will be three stages with various singers, demonstrations, audience participation, music workshops and collaborations between artists.

Advance tickets are available until July 20, ranging from $45 for adults ($30 for youth, $35 for seniors) for gala and evening concerts to $115 for a pass to the entire four day event ($70 for youth, $75 for seniors).

They can be purchased online at, by phone at 604-826-5937 or in person at Shoppers Drug Mart in Mission.