Brian Gladstone

BrianGladstoneFrom February 14 to 16, Winterfolk will be celebrating its 12th Annual Roots and Blues Festival, featuring more than 150 artists in four venues and on five stages across the Danforth in Toronto.

Raz Mataz Magazine got a chance to talk to Brian Gladstone, who brought his passions and skills as a musician, producer, and activist to launch the festival 12 years ago, and has since been the festival director of Winterfolk.

This will be a great year for the festival as it will be returning to the lively venues of Danforth, after moving temporarily, over the past couple of years, to the Delta Hotel.

The festival is all-ages, some paid and some free concerts, featuring blues, rock, jazz, country, folk and roots music.

Winterfolk, as Brian Gladstone says, will be a mixture of the past, present and future. There will be a lot of emphasis on honouring the rich roots history, yet at the same time, there will be a plethora of young musicians carrying that tradition forward.

Some of the artists include country darling Mean Mary, who will be coming up from Nashville, Tenn.; Tony Quarrington, who will be honoured at a special ceremony, the great guitarist and singer-songwriter Noah Zacharin, and soozimusic and her beloved Cajun band, Swamparella, to name a few.

On top of the performances, there will be workshops and award ceremonies for some of the greats in roots music. If you love music, this is the place to be.

Venues include The Black Swan tavern (154 Danforth Ave.), Dora Keogh Irish Pub (141 Danforth Ave.), Terri O’s (185 Danforth Ave.), and Globe Bistro (124 Danforth Ave.).

The full schedule is available online at

On top of talking about the many programs in the festival and the venues, Gladstone also shares with Raz Mataz the growth of roots music and the importance of songwriting.


on roots music and its growth. . . .

I think it’s strong, but it’s. . . I’m a child of the 60s, I’ve been doing folk music since 1967 or so and it was very strong then, the folk revolution they call it. Folk music then was mainstream because you had Bob Dylan and other folk icons in the Top 40 – that doesn’t happen today.

WinterfolkToday, I think there is a lot of interest in roots music, and I know that because I run open stages and see all the young people coming out, but to me it’s a bit underground, it’s sort of the “do it to your own audience” and that’s one of our goals, is to get roots music back into the mainstream. I think there is a good following, but it could be a lot stronger and I think it needs a lot more media attention and it’s ready for another growth spurt.


on Winterfolk’s Involvement in helping roots music grow. . . .

I think we are somewhat responsible for the growth because I don’t think there was really. . . a roots community [which] we are trying to build and we’re trying to build all the roots artists together, and I don’t think there was any sense of a community before Winterfolk and a lot of artists have told me the same thing.

It’s not just the festival; as with any event, it is an opportunity for artists to get to know each other. The artists at Winterfolk, they’re touring together, writing together, hanging out – it’s really a coming-together place, and it’s really putting together the basis of a strong roots community. We’ve pretty much contributed to that, established it, actually.


on the change of venue. . . .


The festival moves back to the Danforth – its original home – in 2014.

We worked with the Delta Hotel for two years and it was more of an experiment of growth than anything else, but it just didn’t work out how we anticipated it would. Our revenues were down, it’s a beautiful building and a nice plush hotel, but I think the message is that the audience and the environment didn’t really suit well for a folk festival. The artists were playing in large white square ballrooms, which weren’t practically good for acoustics. It just didn’t have that folk vibe, so we decided, you know what, we need to go back to the Danforth. We’re in five different clubs there, and every club brings its own atmosphere, its own labour, its own environment, it just works so much better for what we do.

We wanted to try to go a little bit more mainstream [by moving to the hotel]. We were pretty busy on the Danforth, we just needed a larger venue, none of the rooms on the Danforth. . . I think the largest room was 120 capacity and we were over sold every year. So when we moved to the hotel we had the ability to put 200 to 250 people in the room, but it didn’t work like that. A lot of our core audience I didn’t see them – we had an audience, but a different audience.

I’m very happy we are back, it’s like a natural home.

At the Danforth Avenue, there are a lot of festivals there; during Winterfolk the whole street, the whole area is just full of Winterfolk people walking around with their programs stage to stage, club to club, at ten o’clock we’re going to see this artist at the Black Swan, and at twelve o’clock we’re going to see this artist at Terry O’s. We basically take over the Danforth.

I call it an enchanted area, it just has that Winterfolk vibe.


on songwriting, speaking out about issues, and its importance to roots music. . . .

It goes back to my roots because when I went out to play music, if there was something on your mind or some social issue you disagreed with, you write a song about it. We don’t hire anyone who does cover tunes. All the artists we hire are singer-songwriters who do their own material, and I think in the digital world today it’s too easy – well Neil Young is doing a great job, but if you are against Alberta Oil, for example, people will start up a Facebook page against it, they’ll do a lot of things, but they don’t realize the stronger tool to get the message out is their words and their music, and that’s what we are trying to establish.

We have a voice, we have a stage, and we have people who listen and I think a lot of artists in increasing number are actually writing songs of protest. When we do our festival workshops, none of them are designed by the festival; we ask the artists for their input: what workshops do you want to do, what message do you want to send to the people. Everybody is set to play their own tunes, but we also give them one or two workshops with multi-artists themes. Quite a lot of artists want to do songs of justice, songs of change, songs of conscience. So what we do is we get three or four artists who have written the same ideas and we partner them together on stage, but this year especially, a lot of artists are becoming aware of issues and are using their music and their stage to send the messages out. We encourage it and that is what we are about.


on other programs during Winterfolk. . . .

Tony Quarrington will be honoured at the 12th annual Winterfolk Festival.

Tony Quarrington will be honoured at the 12th annual Winterfolk Festival.

It’s hard to pick out the highlight, but there are five highlights [and] one of them is what we started last year; it’s an honorary of our own and we try to celebrate the accomplishments of an artist who contributed a lifetime or many decades to the roots community. This year we are honouring Tony Quarrington; he has been a musician for about 40 years, he has 40 albums out. I don’t think he got the recognition and appreciation from the community that he really merits. So that’s one of our themes – honouring our own

One of our other themes is celebrating the rich roots industry in Toronto music and we have a number of programs to that, one of them is remembering Rick Fielding, who had an instrumental part in the roots music scene in Toronto. We’re doing a session called This One’s the Dreamer, which is the name of his last album and we were seriously overwhelmed from artists who wanted to play with Rick Fielding, we probably had 30 people come out. It was great, we had a hard time narrowing it down to 10 or 12.

Continuing our theme of remembering our roots history we have two sessions: one of them called Where Have All the Folks Songs Gone and we have two artists handing out lyric sheets and getting on stage and singing a lot of favourite folk songs from the late ’50s, ’60s, early ’70s; it’s audience participation, very old tradition – having a few beers and singing.

We also have a local author named Nicholas Jennings. He wrote a very well received book called Before the Goldrush and he goes into the history and interactions of the folk music scene, people like Joni Mitchell, Gordon Lightfoot, Bruce Cockburn, Murray McLachlan, a lot more. So I actually got him to do a session, it’s like a re-book launch 25 years later, and it’s talking about the rich roots history.

And then there is the Spirit of Yorkville. [Yorkville] was where the roots scene was, and there is an organization called the Yorkville Alumni, and they’re trying to bring back a lot of the artists. It’s part of our job to help younger musicians understand where they came from and who did this before them. So with the Spirit of Yorkville, we’ve got eight artists that were playing in all the coffee houses in Yorkville in the ’60s and ’70s, so thats going to be all in the spirit of remembering our roots history.

We cover the past, present, and future. We have a lot of young musicians, while honouring the past.


For more on the Winterfolk Festival, visit

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