The Stan Rogers Folk Festival returns with big names and a few surprises

If you’re heading to Canso for the 25th edition of the popular songwriters’ festival, make sure you get there in time to catch these lesser-known music acts

The Stan Rogers Folk Festival (StanFest) celebrates its 25th anniversary this weekend with a highly anticipated return and a lineup of eager talent ready to perform live after two and a half years of pandemic restrictions.

Among the more than 35 acts preparing to take the stage at Canso are country headliners George Canyon and Carolyn Dawn Johnson, as well as a host of national and local talent.

While crowds will no doubt flock to see such established East Coast artists as Bruce Guthro, Dave Gunning, The Town Heroes, Lennie Gallant and Catherine MacLellan, there are several other up and coming artists on the side stages that audiences should not overlook .

Dee Dee Austin

DeeDee Austin, the youngest artist to take the stage at this year’s StanFest, is a 16-year-old Indigenous singer-songwriter from Fall River who’s quickly made a name for herself.

Since releasing a six-song EP last year titled Stepping Stones, Austin has garnered many fans and the respect of her peers, even earning a prestigious nomination for Music Nova Scotia’s Indigenous Artist of the Year.

“To this day I am very grateful to have been nominated. Even though I didn’t win the award, it’s still a win for me to be nominated at age 15,” says Austin, thanking her church organist, the late Maxine Hibbitz, for mentoring her musically. “She taught me little things on the piano all the time and we hung out in church all the time. She was really a big inspiration to me.”

Austin is currently hard at work on no fewer than five songwriting projects with such acclaimed artists as award-winning producer Chris Kirby and 2022 Canadian Music Award winner for Young Performer of the Year, Isabella Sampson. She’s also had plenty of opportunities to perform live this summer — but none on the scale of StanFest.

“I’m ecstatic with excitement,” says Austin, who hopes to bring a youthful energy to the festival on July 23.

Inn Echo

This trio of gifted musicians have quickly become rising stars on the Prince Edward Island scene since 2018, with a sound that brings a modern twist to traditional music, incorporating elements of jazz, pop and even electronic music.

All graduates of the Charlottetown School of Performing Arts at Holland College, Karson McKeown, Tuli Porcher and Tom Gammons came to Atlantic Canada from other corners of North America, but each has made an individual contribution to the local music scene.

“Each of us has chosen at different times to join this program (and) study music and be surrounded by this amazing legendary community that we’ve all heard about from our different corners,” says Gammons, who hails from Montana .

“There’s old fiddlers and they have old competitions (in Montana, but) it’s not nearly what it’s like here with young people in the community and how it’s growing and living and breathing.”

Since their inception, Inn Echo have toured internationally and released an acclaimed debut self-titled album and EP, each nominated at the Music PEI Awards 2020.

Having established themselves on Prince Edward Island, Inn Echo are now bringing their music to Nova Scotia with a special performance at StanFest, which Gammons notes hasn’t gone unnoticed by the fledgling act.

“Stan Rogers is one of my heroes, so playing the Stan Rogers Fest makes sense,” says the guitarist. “But also, so many of our favorite bands have played there.”

Steve MacIntyre

Although this Cap Breton musician has been around for more than 25 years and has played with the likes of Ashley MacIsaac, he has recently focused on songwriting with a keen eye on rich, observational lyrics about love and loss.

One of the songs that captures his unique skill came shortly after the tragic death of 22 Nova Scotians during a murderous rampage that began on April 18, 2020 in Portapique.

“I don’t usually write songs about really specific events, (but) this one was just so intense,” says MacIntyre of the song “Too Small a Town,” which he co-wrote with girlfriend Robyn Chisholm. “I think everyone was just looking for a way to explain this to themselves or make it make sense.”

With a busy touring schedule this summer, MacIntyre is trying to make the most of the opportunity to play in front of live audiences, but says he’s particularly looking forward to his debut performance at StanFest on July 23.

“Just about every chance I get to go out and make some noise, I try to get out,” says MacIntyre. “(But) I’m excited. It’s like a bucket list show for me (and) I’ve seen some of my favorite artists there, so it’s definitely one that’s been on my radar for a long time.”

The full program and more information about the StanFest can be found on the website.

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