Every August in the town of Owen Sound, Kelso Beach Park transforms into a celebration of music, craft and food. Founded by brothers Tim and John Harrison in 1975, Summerfolk transformed this neglected green space alongside Georgian Bay into lively festival grounds that featured Canadian folk legends like Bruce Cockburn and Stan Rogers in its early years.
Acting as the first artistic director for Summerfolk, Tim Harrison defined folk as “music of all people, from different classes and different settings,” and the festival has honoured this inclusive definition ever since. While country-folk heavyweights from Buffy Sainte-Marie to Blue Rodeo have previously headlined the festival, an eclectic array of artists have been featured in recent years, including Serena Ryder, Bahamas, Tanika Charles, My Son the Hurricane, and Delhi2Dublin.
Over 12,000 people attend Summerfolk over the course of the three-day festival. During the day, an “Artisan’s Village” opens up in the pathway between stages, featuring dozens of vendors’ handcrafted work, from earrings to sock puppets. In the evenings, lawn chairs decorate the central bandstand.
Assuming the role of artistic director in 2011, Canadian folk icon James Keelaghan has described the festival to the Owen Sound Sun Times as “a big, family picnic,” noting its relaxed atmosphere. The festival features several non-musical events, from dance lessons to circus workshops for kids, and on the Sunday of the festival, musicians and attendees alike march in a boisterous children’s parade around the grounds. Many attendees camp across from the festival site in the Kelso Beach campground, host to many campfire sing-along sessions after festival hours.