Friday, August 22, 2014

Princeton Traditional Music Festival

:-)           (-:
I grew up in the traditional music culture of BC's lower mainland, falling asleep on my mother's lap as she sang old ballads, Appalachian play party songs and Canadian and British work songs. Sounds of banjos, guitars, and old-time fiddling make me feel at peace. Every year my family looks forward to the Princeton Traditional Music Festival like it's Christmas. We count down the days.

Why Princeton? Why not Vancouver International? Or Mission? Our friends go there. But we don't. We drive half a day to Princeton because our souls need this food. We go to Princeton because it's real. We go because some people's voices break with the emotion in the ancient songs they sing, and other people interrupt their own singing to crack jokes about the words. We go there because almost every person watching each performance is also a performer; because on stage people often spend as much time talking about their music as making it, and the whole audience sits rapt, making mental notes... and then they spend more time singing in the streets and on Jon and Rika's porch than they do sleeping at night.

Jon and Rika. OK fine we also go because our adopted family happens to be the magnets for traditional music in Western Canada. Jon Bartlett and Rika Ruebsaat aren't trad magnets by default, but because they've spent decades researching, collecting, sharing and supporting traditional music in Canada and elsewhere. In fact over these decades they have left a trail of folk clubs and festivals in their wake, and an attendant passionate crew of musicians, folklorists and archivists.

This sweet video encapsulates a lot of what the festival (and Jon and Rika) are about. And then following will be a bunch of individual songs from this year's festival and others.

This year, to my heart's joy, I watched our dear Bevan make his traditional stage debut. Bevan (Jon and Rika's son) is like a cousin to my brother and me. He's now a writer and a wonderful DJ (read more here), and not generally living in the province. So to hear him come out (with accordion, too!) and sing the songs we all carry in our hearts literally brought me to tears. Enjoy a couple:

And then there's beautiful Morgan. She surprised us last year by picking up a euphonium and joining Orkestar Šlivovica. She has a tattoo running down her spine that says Carpe Diem... she's a (very busy!) archeologist, and she plays euphonium in the Tulameen River. Her completely badass exterior is the wrapping for one of the most heartful, loving humans I know. Isn't that always the way??  :-)

There is so much to see, with 2 and often 3 performances going on at any given time, we have to choose carefully. I chose this one because my grandfather's family were cowboys and my mother sings these songs. But Princeton's not only about music! After his set of working cowboy songs, John Kidder (yes he's also a founding member of the BC Green Party!) performed this gem of cowboy poetry:

Here Jon and Rika sing the Road to Gundagai at the Antipodean workshop:

More from the Antipodean workshop - Jill King sings the Town of Kiandra:

This video illustrates for me the community aspect of Princeton. Lyn and Jim (AKA Lemon Gin) perform Stay on the Farm:

Chris Corrigan sings a song he wrote - the Orchardman's Lament:

Jon and Rika singing Haywire Crew (video by George Elliot):

Barry Hall singing Pretty Peggy-O at the banjo workshop in 2013:

You thought you were finished? No way. This is what night looks like during the Festival (video by 'deturner')... all night:

If you want to get lost in Princeton for a few hours, go look at the youtube PLAYLIST I've put together! Thankfully there are lots of people putting clips out there.

Oh yeah. And Princeton? It's free. Musicians don't come for money. We come to sing. We come to be with our community.


  1. Dear Emily - Was this the year your children did a beautiful series of panals illustrating a song about a draft horse? Or am I thinking of a different family....? - Fiona, regular Princeton attendee

  2. Hi Fiona - yes that was my son's crankie, and... he's making another this year!


Your comment will appear after it is approved. This can take a while!