A Life of Its Own
The Mariposa Folk Festival’s mission is “to promote and preserve folk art in Canada through song, story, dance, and craft”— but from the beginning it has done that and much more. While the magic of the festival experience is rooted in art and music, what audiences consistently rank more important than the names in the line-up is the atmosphere of the festival: the positive, vibrant, welcoming energy that permeates a Mariposa festival weekend and keeps audiences coming back for more.
As a Mariposa favourite, Gordon Lightfoot has said: “I always get an emotional lift at Mariposa. It has a life of its own.”
One or two early years aside, Mariposa has always had a laid-back and mellow vibe, especially in the Artisans’ Village and around workshop stages. With its dedicated children’s area and family-friendly programming, the festival encourages family participation and fosters a secure environment for all ages. The Food Trail and Artisans’ Village offer culinary and artistic variety.
As early as 1964, the festival has featured Indigenous artists — starting that year with headliner Buffy Sainte-Marie. Artistic director Estelle Klein saw the need for ‘native’ representation, and over the years she continued to prioritize hiring Indigenous artists such as Duke Redbird, Willie Dunn, and Alanis Obamsawin. Obamsawin, a musician and filmmaker, in turn brought other Indigenous performers into the fold, establishing a ‘Native People’s Area’ marked by a giant teepee.
Other Indigenous artists who graced Mariposa musical or storytelling stages include Digging Roots, the Métis Fiddler Quartet, Ronnie Douglas, Nadjiwan, Elizabeth Hill, Susan Aglukark, Florent Vollant, Rita Coolidge, Keith Secola, The Imbayakunas, Sherry Lawson and Mark Douglas, William Prince, Travis Shilling, and Bewabon Shilling re Studio Point.
Indigenous dancers and artisans have also showcased their craft over the decades. The Canadian Indian Dancers and other dance or drum groups have shared their traditions and culture. At the 1971 festival, festivalgoers watched Cesar Newashish construct a 10-metre canoe over the course of the festival weekend. It was later donated to the Royal Ontario Museum.
More than Music
From the very first festival, Mariposa has embraced interactive engagement and art forms beyond the musical. The first pamphlet—too small to be called a program—advertised a children’s concert, a Friday midnight street jamboree, and a ‘Saturday afternoon Symposium on Canadian Folk Music’.
Over the years, these symposia evolved into workshop presentations that pair musicians in exciting or unexpected combinations and give audiences the chance to learn and participate on a more intimate scale. Topics have included “Discussion of Foods and Dwellings” on the 1971 Native Peoples Stage; “The Woman’s Image in Songs” (1972); “Who’s Getting the Coffee? – Songs about Sexual Stereotyping” (1993); and two from 2010: “Choosing a Guitar: Factory or Handmade?” and “Fair Trade, Organic and Local”.
Each year the interactive stages invite hands-on participation. Attendees can build a ukulele, make jewelry, weave baskets, belly dance, learn the autoharp, and take up printmaking, songwriting, or rug-hooking. Studio Point offers anyone with artistic aspirations the opportunity to paint too.
The festival has also featured modern dance, square dancing, instructional folk dancing, Morris dancers, and African and Eastern European dance troupes, while storytelling has been a part of the festival since the 1960s. Craft areas were set up on Toronto Island and at Molson Park in Barrie, and they continue to take up a sizeable portion of real estate at Tudhope Park in Orillia. The children’s area, Folkplay, is home to concerts by renowned acts such as Fred Penner, and Sharon, Lois & Bram, while also offering dance, face-painting, puppets, and poetry by the likes of Dennis Lee.
In its various iterations, the Community Village has provided offerings from local not-for-profit businesses, interest groups, and charities—among them a “Canadiana kitchen,” the Ontario Hooking Craft Guild demonstrations, Kids for Turtles, and the Orillia Quilters Guild.