Slow Music & the Summer of Transformation

MUSIC RISING by Bruce Mason

the big tent and crowd
The big tent at Atmosphere Gathering

• Hope you’ve had one or two transformative musical moments during this far-from-finished summer. One such moment occurred under the canopy of trees at stage 3 at the Vancouver Folk Music Festival when hundreds of highly appreciative fans soaked up the sight and sounds of Rising Appalachia (as in throw an apple at ‘cha) and lined up afterwards in droves for autographed CDs and a few words.

“We’re trying to take the glitz and glam out of the music industry and bring performance back to its roots…where musicians influence the cultural shift as troubadours, activists and catalysts of justice and aren’t just part of fast-paced entertainment,” the group’s soulful sisters Leah and Chloe Smith told me back-stage.

Their Slow Music movement – inspired by the Slow Food movement – encourages musicians to try ‘non-industry methods,’ linking to communities, staying with friends, pursuing alternative venues, supporting local businesses and non-profits, exploring transportation alternatives – including train, bike, low-impact vehicles, boats, horses – focusing on regional touring and encouraging audiences to take in “more than just the catharsis of the music.”

The sisters are genuinely excited about performing August 14th at a Vancouver Folk Music Festival concert at the Fox Cabaret, and at the Atmosphere Gathering in Cumberland August 14 – 16. The event features a 1,000-person circus tent imported from Europe, a one-of-of-a-kind in Western Canada, partially funded through Project Intent, a localized community crowdfunding platform in the Comox Valley.

A revitalized, re-imagined song from their repertoire, Cumberland Gap, helps connects dots. Appalachia is the cradle of American music and the site of many uprisings. The narrow pass through the Cumberland Mountains at the junction of Kentucky, Virginia and Tennessee shares its namesake with the Vancouver Island community and Cumberland in the UK where the song, among countless versions and various genres, was a #1 hit for Lonnie Donegan’s skiffle group in 1957.

Originally named Union after its coal company and BC’s entry into Canada, Cumberland, BC, contained the second largest Chinatown in Western North America. Many old company houses and structures are still intact. Like much of the world, it has risen from the ashes of coal, in uprisings and in celebrations such as its premier electronic and live dance music festival – an “exciting, multi-sensory extravaganza.” (

Another festival that embodies the transformational is the Blessed Coast Ceremonial Celebration in Squamish, BC (August 21 -24). It also features three days of live fundraising music, mixed in with organic food, yoga, workshops and emergent and evolving culture – traditional, indigenous and post-modern inventiveness. (

A shift in global consciousness? As David Suzuki notes in “Science Matters” in this issue, “Although we may not recognize its significance without the benefit of hindsight, we appear to be in the early stages of something huge.”

On tour last month, Graham Nash (of Crosby, Stills, Nash and sometimes, Young, fame) in his only Canadian appearance (Vancouver Island Music Fest, Comox Valley) said, “If everyone who’s told me they were at Woodstock had been actually there, the audience would have totalled many more millions.”

If you missed the “Summer of Love,” for whatever reason, take part in the “Summer of Transformation,” as diverse as the palpable change now taking place, complete with a live, festival soundtrack.

Bruce Mason is a Vancouver and Gabriola-Island based five-string banjo player, gardener, freelance writer and author of Our Clinic.


photo courtesy Atmosphere Gathering

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