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University of Lethbridge student studies folk festival culture

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Folk festivals run in the family for University of Lethbridge anthropology student Gillian Moranz.Gillian Moranz dances with friends at the East Stage during the 2012 South Country Fair. Photo by Richard Amery
 Her father is Trent Moranz, one of the founders of the South Country Fair, a popular folk festival which happens every July in Fort Macleod. The South Country Fair  happens July 19-21 this year.

“ Because our parents were so involved with the South Country Fair, me and my older brother Ryland always joked the Fair was the middle child our parents loved the best. As we grew up we realized how important it was what they were  doing,” she said.
The fourth year anthropology major always goes to folk festivals across the country anyway, but decided to officially study them for her undergrad thesis.

So two summers ago, she got her first Chinook Summer Research Grant from the University of Lethbridge which paid for her travel expenses and just did that. In her first year, she went to nine festivals in her first summer and eight in her second, for which she applied for and received a second Chinook Summer Research Grant. She went to a total of 17 folk festivals — 22 events as she did the South Country Fair and Calgary Folk Fest twice.  

“  I got two summers worth of research, which is way more research than any undergrad needs,” she said.
She has expanded her focus and taken a more active role with the South Country Fair by booking the east stage for the past three years.

“ I started doing it during their 25th year.”
 She is also booking events for the Waterton Opera House for the summer. She is also helping out with Soul Fest in Twin Butte as well.

Throughout the year she has been writing chapters for different courses based on the research. She’ll spend the next year writing her thesis.

After sifting through all of the research she was fascinated by the idea of “exchange” that consistently appeared.

“ Most exchanges revolve around an economic exchange— exchanging goods and services for money. But there are so many more exchanges like the exchange between the artist and the fans,” she observed. There are so many different exchanges being affected,” she continued.

“And it is a continual thing.”
She went to folk festivals in western Canada for her first summer and spent last summer travelling to folk festivals from Ontario to the Maritimes.
“ Canada is such a cultural patchwork. Folk festivals are very special. I wanted to find out what brings people to folk festivals and how they find the experience,” she said.

“ I talked to everybody, artists, co-ordinators, volunteers involved. I found there were a lot of down to earth people involved, she said adding adding she found folk festivals are more than just about the music — it’s about the culture and the community created by a group of people who are drawn to a place by the music.
“ You can have a brain surgeon sitting neGeorge Arsene and Pete Loughlin play a song together in the South Country Fair  campground, during th 2012 fair. Photo by Richard Ameryxt to a hobo and there’s no difference between them. And it’s a beautiful thing,” she observed.

“ It’s always about the music and people opening their minds to new music. Usually they just want to find something new. That’s part of it. To find something different than top 40 radio,” she said.

“You’ll have blues lovers sitting next to country stars, next to kd lang fans. And they’re really listening to the same thing,” she described.
She was impressed by the festival community who co-operating to bring everything together.
“Everybody is working together,” she said.

 She not only discovered the community and culture, but that western and eastern folk festivals are markedly different in certain respects in terms of musical traditions and diversity.
“Folk festivals in the east are very tied to European traditional music, with a lot of roots and traditional music with fiddle and mandolin,” she observed.

“Further out west of Ontario, there is more diverse music. They don’t hold as true to Jana MacKenzie  gets some help tuning her ukulele during last year’s South Country Fair. Photo By Richard Amerythat tradition,” she said.
 She expanded her horizons as the research took her. She also included the Montreal Jazz Festival.
 She  noted it was difficult to choose a favourite festival, though she enjoyed Canada’s oldest folk festival, the  Mariposa Folk Festival in Orillia, Ontario, which began in 1961.

“It has survived so much, and new members. It is the blueprint for music festivals. It doesn’t have a big corporate feel. It feels like you’re surrounded by a lot of regular folks” she said.

“They are all so special. I hate to put one on a  pedestal,” she summarized.
 The age of attendees vary. It’s very diverse,” she said.
“Folk festivals are having to appeal to the next generation,” she said adding they have been moving more towards non traditional music.

— By Richard Amery, L.A. Beat Editor
A version of this story appears in the May/June 2013 edition of Bridge Magazine
Last Updated ( Sunday, 02 June 2013 10:37 )  
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