In the news : Canwest News Service article
Old folkie charts music history in radio series
Vancouver Folk Music Festival
co-founder Gary Cristall brings People’s Music to CBC
BY PETER NORTH
He may not find the description all that endearing, but Gary Cristall is a living template for today’s definition of “old folkie.”
At 58, Cristall has spent pretty much his entire adult life working in one capacity or another as a disciple and champion of all things folk. Thirty years ago he helped found the Vancouver Folk Music Festival and then went on to run it for 17 years.
He was the driving force behind Festival Records and Aural Tradition Records, spent six years in the music division of the Canada Council for the Arts, and has managed and guided the careers of many a folk artist.
It was his experience programming the Folklife Pavilion at Expo 86 that gave him the idea for the most ambitious folk project of his career — researching and writing the definitive account of folk music in English Canada.
The early fruits of that particular 10year labour can be heard this summer in a new five-part radio series on CBC called The People’s Music, part of the network’s Inside the Music program. The first hour-long instalment airs at noon Sunday on both CBC One and CBC Two.
Although he is still compiling interviews for the book, Cristall has packaged some already taped conversations into a radio documentary that traces Canadian folk roots back to 1909 and up to the present day, where artists like Serena Ryder have explored some of our finest Canadian folk compositions.
“We look at how the Jewish left and cultural institutions were so pivotal in championing folk music in the ’40s,” Cristall said in an interview. “I’ve found that the ’50s were a particularly fascinating time and then it became an industry in the ’60s.”
Cristall, a longtime Vancouver resident who now teaches arts administration at Capilano College, sticks to a chronological path for the first three instalments of The People’s Music.
It’s a compelling journey culled from some 150 interviews that snags cataclysmic moments in the evolution of Canadian folk music from the memories of club owners, singer-songwriters, promoters and iconic figures like Montreal impresario, producer and record distributor Sam Gesser, who passed away earlier this year at the age of 78.
Along the way, Cristall has taken stock of the influence certain artists had on their generations.
“In interview after interview the name of the Kingston Trio came up. It was amazing to hear how many people became folkies after hearing that group,” he said.
“I was also reminded that if Canada has contributed anything to the world it is songwriters. We’re a nation of really talented storytellers.”
Cristall uses the music of Gordon Lightfoot, Ian and Sylvia Tyson, Leonard Cohen, Neil Young, Joni Mitchell and Stan Rogers to great effect as the series unfolds.
Born in Ontario, Cristall’s parents were ardent lefties who listened to Woody Guthrie and Pete Seeger. When just a baby, his parents took him along to a Paul Robeson concert where he proceeded to make such a fuss Robeson was inspired to leave the stage, scoop up the crying baby and sing to him until his distress passed.
Cristall hopes the series stimulates others to start looking into the history of their local folk scenes and feels the future is bright for Canadian folk and roots music.
“With artists like the Duhks and Serena leading the way, how can it not be?”