The Stan Rogers Folk Festival (StanFest) will be celebrating its 25 anniversary this weekend with a highly-anticipated return and a line-up of eager talent ready to perform live after two and half years of pandemic restrictions.
Among the more than 35 acts that are preparing to take the stage in Canso will be country headliners George Canyon and Carolyn Dawn Johnson as well as a wide variety of national and local talent.
While crowds will undoubtedly flock to see such well-established East Coast artists as Bruce Guthro, Dave Gunning, The Town Heroes, Lennie Gallant and Catherine MacLellan, there are several other emerging and exciting artists on the side stages that audiences should not overlook.
The youngest artist to take the stage at this year’s StanFest, DeeDee Austin is a 16-year-old Indigenous singer-songwriter from Fall River who has been quickly making a name for herself.
Since releasing a six-song EP entitled Stepping Stones last year, Austin has gained many fans and earned the respect of her colleagues, even winning a prestigious nomination for Indigenous Artist of the Year from Music Nova Scotia.
“I’m very grateful to this day to have gotten nominated. Even though I didn’t win the award, it is still a win to me to have been nominated at 15-years-old,” says Austin, crediting her church organist, the late-Maxine Hibbitz, for mentoring her in music. “She used to teach me little things on the piano all the time and we used to hang out at the church all the time. She was really a big inspiration to me.”
Austin is currently hard at work on no less than five songwriting projects with such esteemed artists as award-winning producer Chris Kirby and 2022 Canadian Music Award winner for Young Performer of the Year, Isabella Sampson. In addition, she has been getting plenty chances to perform live this summer — but none on the same scale as StanFest.
“I’m out of my skin excited,” says Austin, who hopes to bring a youthful energy to the festival on July 23. “I engage with the crowd so be prepared to sing along with me.”
This trio of gifted musicians have been quickly emerging stars on the Prince Edward Island scene since 2018 with a sound that brings a modern influence to traditional music by blending in elements of jazz, pop and even electronic music.
All graduates of Charlottetown’s School of Performing Arts at Holland College, Karson McKeown, Tuli Porcher and Tom Gammons came to Atlantic Canada from other corners of North America but they have all individually embraced the local music scene.
“We each, separately, decided to go into this program at different times (and) study music and be surrounded by this amazing legendary community that we had all heard about from our separate corners,” says Gammons, who is a native of Montana.
“There are old-time fiddlers and they have old-time competitions (in Montana but) it’s no where near what it is here with young people in the community and the way that it’s growing and living and breathing.”
Since forming, Inn Echo has toured internationally and released an acclaimed self-titled debut album as well as an EP which each respectively earned nominations at the 2020 Music PEI Awards.
Having established themselves on Prince Edward Island, Inn Echo is now bringing their music to Nova Scotia with a special appearance at StanFest which, as Gammons notes, is not lost on the young act.
“Stan Rogers is a hero of mine so to play the Stan Rogers Fest, it’s meaningful,” says the guitarist. “But also, so many of our favourite bands have played there before.”
Although this Cape Breton musician has been around for more than 25 years and played with the likes of Ashley MacIsaac, he has more recently focused on songwriting with a keen eye on rich, observational lyrics about love and loss.
One of the songs that captures his unique skill came shortly after the tragic deaths of 22 Nova Scotians during a murderous rampage that began in Portapique on April 18, 2020.
“I normally don’t write songs about really specific events (but) that one was just so heavy,” says MacIntyre about the song Too Small a Town, which he co-wrote with girlfriend Robyn Chisholm. “I think everybody was just looking for some sort of way to explain this to themselves or have it make sense.”
With a full summer tour schedule, MacIntyre is trying to make the most of the opportunity to play in front of live audiences but says he is particularly excited about making his first-time appearance at StanFest on July 23.
“Pretty much every chance I get to go out and make some noise, I try and get out,” says MacIntyre. “(But) I’m pumped. It’s like a bucket list show for me (and) I have seen some of my favourite artists there so it’s definitely one that’s been on my radar for a long time.”
For the full line-up and more information on StanFest, visit the website.