Rays from the slow-falling sun peeked through the twitching leaves and swaying branches of trees, the light dancing on the Keystone Centre grounds.
It was near-perfect weather Friday for opening night of the Brandon Folk, Music and Art Festival, an event now in its 30th year and one with audience loyalty so steadfast, it rivals the ground’s trees that still stand even after this month’s massive storm.
The slow pace of the sun was emulated by the people who sauntered down to the stage as B.C.’s shayne avec i grec (as in Shayne with a Y), the festival’s poet laureate, opened the festival with a nod to Brandon’s war on mosquitoes.
"Remember the dragonflies in your malathion dreams," he said with impact, "where humans spray mosquitoes from pickup truck cannons. They always get under your skin, the buzz, buzz, buzzing, mechanically amplified.
"When you get agitated, remember the dragonflies."
The coastal native has been at the festival for seven of the last eight years as an annual Prairie pilgrimage of sorts and the small plot of land here in Brandon has become a second home.
"Especially in the last couple of years, it has really gelled into the perfect hybrid of small festival and a big festival," he said after stepping off stage. "It’s cozy, comfortable, warm."
Singer-songwriter Wax Mannequin of Hamilton, Ont., opened the weekend, followed by Toronto-based singer and Winnipeg expat Iskwé.
Friday was rounded out by Amber Suchy, Chez Willi, Ben Figler and headlined by Winnipeg’s Federal Lights and New York’s Martin Sexton, known for blending styles from soul and gospel to rock, blues and R&B with an ability to improvise, beatboxing and scat singing guitar solos.
The festival is now celebrating its pearl anniversary, but the festival’s artistic director, Shandra MacNeill, said she isn’t one to count the years too closely.
"Every year that the festival is still around, I consider it an amazing accomplishment of the community to keep it alive," she said. "I’m still really amazed at the loyalty it inspires and the work that it inspires."
The festival "under the trees" does look a bit different this year. Nearly 30 trees — many of them more than a century old — toppled this month alone, leaving holes in the canopy.
"It was quite a shock when we did a tour of the site the day after that happened," MacNeill said, "but the Keystone did such a great job, we didn’t have a minute’s worry about whether the site would be ready or not."
But some good came from the storm’s ravage, she said. More attention was paid to the grounds and as a result, she said it’s the best the site has ever looked.
Headlining tonight is Halifax’s Ben Caplan, performing with his band the Casual Smokers. Closing out the festival Sunday night will be Canadian singer Cold Specks, returning to this side of the Atlantic after significant success in the U.K.
Both today’s and Sunday’s afternoon workshop shows start at 12 p.m.
As for Friday evening’s perfect weather, it may be fleeting. The forecast for today calls for cloudy skies and a few showers in the morning that are expected to clear by the evening.
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