PtboCanada Interview: Candace Shaw, Artistic Director of Peterborough Folk Festival

Candace Shaw spreads the word about PFF. Photo by Evan HoltCandace Shaw is the Artistic Director and Executive Director of the Peterborough Folk Festival (PFF), a three-day music and arts festival which kicks off this coming Friday (August 27th) with a special gala concert at the Canadian Canoe Museum. The main festival day is Saturday and features events happening throughout the day at Rotary Park and Nicholls Oval. Sunday, things wind down with a few hours of music workshops happening at Trent University's Sadleir House.

Over the years, Shaw has been involved in various aspects of the Peterborough Folk Festival, including her first exposure as a parking attendant in the late 1990s. During the intervening years, her tasks have changed, and her involvement has increased to the point of being the driving force for a day of music which is known far and wide as one of the best free music festivals our country has to offer.

PtboCanada contributor
Jeffrey Macklin found out more about Candace Shaw and the festival in this interview:

Can you tell me a little bit about the history of the Peterborough Folk Festival?

Shaw: Well, to be honest, there is not a lot known about the early days of the festival. Some of the history of the festival was washed away in the flood of 2004, when our offices were ruined. Originally the festival happened on a Sunday. That was because the organizers of the day were aligning with the Festival of Lights [now known as the Little Lake Musicfest]. Having the festival on a Sunday meant there was no competition for audience and the stage at Del Crary Park was available.

At the time (1989), it was a one day festival and starred folk singer Ian Tamblyn, who had been a student at Trent University and maintained a Peterborough connection as one of the original Festival organizers. How and why the festival moved to Rotary Park is unknown to me. There are lots of rumours and a lack of credible evidence of what went down during that time.

In the early aughts, it changed into a three-day festival and featured a club crawl. Also, Federal Heritage funding came into play which meant we were mandated to look outside of the local area for some of the talent we booked. Up until that time, the music was all local.

The Peterborough Folk Festival is a festival contantly in flux. Since it's beginnings, the event has seemingly always been changing.

Macklin: How does the PFF use Social Media? And has it had an impact on how you get your message out?

Shaw: We've got a great Facebook fan page that was just started a couple months ago. We have done little to spread the word. We are using Twitter and you can follow us @ThePFF. There is a great community on Twitter, who have helped us by spreading the word on anything we post. A great example is the Royal Wood concert. Tickets have been selling really well, all without any conventional paid advertising. Social media is to blame.

Macklin: Tell us about the musical lineup you've booked for this year's main stage.

Shaw: Well, we get about 1,000 submissions from musicians each year. As well, I hear things on my own. I do my best to get a nice balance when choosing artists. I work to have a gender balance and cultural diversity. The idea is to not have just a bunch a white guys with guitars singing about ships sinking. I try to pick good musicians—musicians who support an inclusive community, who are of a high quality and musically accessible. We steer clear of anything too avant guard like Peaches. Even though Peaches is one of my personal favorites, she may not be suitable for a diverse community audience.

I like to choose some of my favourite bands who will draw people in; sounds that are happening in Canada today, but maybe people need to find out more about. I like to choose music which might reach out to parts of the community who don't necessarily go out to bars and see bands.

Macklin: Give me some of your best memories from the past years of the PFF.

Shaw: A favorite memory would be from 2007. The first time I got to sit down all day that year was for Old Man Luedecke's set. As he was playing, all these little kids were dancing and circling around by the stage, singing "we love this", over and over again. That was gratifying.

Also in 2007, during and after Shad K's set, people were coming up to me thanking me for booking a rapper. Folks were expressing the fact that they didn't realize they could like hip hop music. That's the beauty of the festival: booking music people might not have otherwise encountered. It's a low risk environment for exposing people to new things.

Macklin: OK, what's your worst memory from past years?

Shaw: That would have to be a moment when setting up for last year's festival. The rain was pouring down as we were outside getting ready at 7 a.m. I had to decide to go forward or not. I decided to pull the trigger, making the decision to just go for it. That half hour of indecision was the hardest. Once we finally made the decision to go ahead, everything worked out.

Macklin: How about volunteers? Do you have enough?

Shaw: We are still calling for volunteers. Usually we have just under 100, with a core of 12 to 15 who have worked on the festival for years. Some work year round, planning and organizing certain aspects of the festival.

Macklin: The weekend kicks-off with a gala concert on Friday night starring piano/popster Royal Wood. Tell us about the venue.

Shaw: Last year, we had Ian Tamblyn play right in the gallery space of the Canoe Museum. It worked out really really nicely. People were sitting throughout the collection of canoes. This year's show features Royal Wood and the show will be in the Education room, which is a better place for a group of people to watch a show.

Macklin: Why should people come out to the Peterborough Folk Festival?

Shaw: People should come out because it is one of the sweetest, nicest community events we have going in Peterborough. It's free and you can see beautiful artwork, eat great local food, relax and meet neighbours and reconnect after a long hot summer. The Peterborough Folk Festival is one last summer weekend to recharge your spirit before we fall into the autumn routine of school and work.

For a complete list of performers and vendors and more info on PFF, click here.

[Peterborough Folk Festival; Peterborough Folk Festival YouTube channel; Peterborough Folk Festival on Facebook; Peterborough Folk Festival on Twitter]

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