At the root of WR’s folk scene

Elizabeth McFaul

The first weekend in May brought folk music artists to downtown Kitchener for the At the Root festival. Featuring three days of performances and workshops in a variety of locations in Downtown Kitchener, the festival featured a diverse lineup of folk and grassroots music and a focus on audience participation and collaboration. Festival organizer Janice Lee described the performers as “some of the best folk-indie-grassroots activists and artists in WR and beyond” numerous times throughout the weekend. The weekend’s performers represented Kitchener, Waterloo, Toronto and Hamilton.

The festival opened Friday with Johanna Pavia & SoulDrive at Café Pyrus. The band’s unique blend of soul, blues, roots, and psychedelic rock had the crowd at Café Pyrus on their feet. The Waterloo-based band shared a compilation of originals and covers, and it was easy to see why this band has been experiencing significant popularity and notoriety since their formation last year.

Saturday night’s double feature included the monthly Kitchener-Waterloo Poetry Slam & Open Mic and a late night show by Mother Tareka and the Rebel Function. The Open Mic brought new poets, musical groups and an impromptu sing along. Five poets competed in the slam, sharing poems about mental illness, bicycles, immigrating to Canada and other topics. This month’s slam featured Ian Keteku, Toronto poet & musician, and the 2010 World Slam Poetry champion. The crowd adored his impecca- ble comedic timing in an ode to his beloved Vista laptop in “Laptop Love Poem,” but saw a more dark side with “Kay”. Shortly before 11 p.m., Queen Street Commons transformed into a dance party as Mother Tareka and the Rebel Function took to the stage. The Hamilton-based hip-hop funk band shared political and revolutionary messages in an upbeat style, complete with an orchestra including a violin, flute and trumpet. The band’s high-energy performance had everyone on their feet.

Sunday afternoon featured a workshop with Ian Keteku and a song-writing workshop with Richard Garvey, Nika Smith and Jesse Maranger.

“We ended up doing [the workshops] together: it was great to hear from people, experience so much amazing poetry, and share a new song with the group”, said Maranger later that evening. The festival closed on Sunday evening with low-key performances by Jesse Maranger and Nika Smith at Cafe Pyrus. These two talented artists graced the crowd with mostly acoustic sets, with soulful music and powerful lyrics. With the mellow atmosphere, it was the perfect conclusion to the weekend.

The At the Root festival is the brainchild of Richard Garvey and Janice Lee, and has been a few years in the making. Overall, the festival was a great way to kickoff the summer in a celebration of local artists and mellow music.