Strange Brew 85-90

Financial need can make for strange brew. In 1985 the Mariposa Folk Festival turned 25, and things were looking up. Although the festival was still in debt, Molson’s Brewery had put together a sponsorship deal that added Mariposa to the company’s annual summertime line-up at Molson Park in Barrie. Only 90 kilometres from Toronto, – with ample space for multiple stages, parking, and on-site camping – the park seemed like the perfect spot for the festival. Plus there were more than enough volunteers to be found in arts-friendly Barrie.

(above) Loreena Mckennitt in 1986
Source: Mariposa Folk Foundation
(below) Daniel Lanois in 1990
Source: Mariposa Folk Foundation

The festival’s 25th anniversary brought Sylvia and Ian Tyson back to the stage to commemorate their appearance at the very first Mariposa Festival in 1961—although this time they didn’t perform together as Ian & Sylvia but separately with their own acts. John Prine was another hit in the 1985 line-up.

The next few years saw performances from well-known artists such as Joan Baez, Arlo Guthrie, and Emmylou Harris.

But by 1987 the Mariposa Folk Festival was $200,000 in debt, and discussions at the annual AGM were heated as two sides exploded over whether to disband the festival. Two women, Lynne Hurry and Ruth Jones, won the battle to keep Mariposa going after rallying volunteers determined to fight for the festival’s survival.

As time went on, Molson’s Brewery wanted more rock than folk music at Mariposa with acts like The Moody Blues. The word “folk” disappeared from the festival’s name in 1989, and an electric guitar appeared in the advertisements for the festival. Now, as the Mariposa Festival of Roots Music, performing artists included Jackson Browne, Odetta, and Melissa Etheridge. 

In the late eighties, it seemed like everyone was grappling with the term folk music. In the 1990 festival weekend at Molson Park, it was plagued by rain, and sales plummeted resulting in Molson Brewery pulling out as a sponsor. 

The Mariposa Folk Festival needed, once again, a new home.