For years, they were a staple in many Canadian homes – Sharon, Lois & Bram entertained kids in this country for several decades through records, television shows and concerts.
Sharon Hampson and Bram Morrison, now in their 70s, are not touring as much these days but will be performing in June at the ninth edition of the Montreal Folk Festival on the Canal. (Lois Lillenstein stopped touring with the group more than 15 years ago, and died last year)
Both entertainers say they are delighted to be coming back to Montreal, a city where they have longstanding connections (Hampson lived here and Morrison worked with a fellow folk singer from Montreal long before the group got started).
While much has been said about how different this generation of children is, Morrison says it’s no harder to capture their attention. “In that respect, kids are kids no matter what generation they are from.”
Hampson says what sets their music apart from other children’s performers is that they strive to make it for the whole family. Some artists today, she said, produce pop music for children. “It doesn’t draw people in the same way,” she said.
Festival co-founder Matthew Large grew up in Toronto, where they were based. He saw the trio perform a number of times and is a self-proclaimed admirer of their work. He says while this generation of kids may not have had the same exposure to Sharon & Bram’s music as previous ones, he says they’re still relevant because of their ability to connect with kids.
“They don’t use gags and gimmicks – they use folk idioms and melodies and write songs that can entertain kids of all ages,” he said.
Large also pointed out the nostalgia factor for parents, who likely were just as familiar as he was with their work growing up. Both Morrison and Hampson say that is something they notice – often at shows, parents are just as happy, if not happier, to get photos with them as their kids are.
“When [parents] say things like ‘we’re singing your songs to our children,’ or ‘I’m playing your music for my children,’ that’s as good as it gets,” Hampson says. “It means the music lives on, and the spirit of listening to music together as a family lives on.”
Large runs a company called Hello Darlin’ Productions and he co-founded the folk festival nine years ago. He said the challenge was to find their niche, something that set them apart in a city known for its festivals. They realized that while the city is home to a whole slew of summer events, there weren’t that many that were family friendly. Both he and his co-creators had kids, and the idea was to create an event the entire family could attend.
They chose to hold their event near the Lachine Canal, partly because it was an up-and-coming area at the time and home to many young families, which seemed like a perfect fit.
This year, the Lhasa de Sela Youth Stage will be back; it features performers playing music for kids as well as young musicians from across the city who get to showcase their talents.
They also give out the Lhasa de Sela Youth Bursary for Excellence in music. Named after a popular local musician who passed away, four teens from the Southwest borough who are between 13 and 18 will win $1,000 bursaries, private music lessons, a website and mentoring as part of the award.
Every year, something new is added to the festival. This summer, it will be dance parties under the big tent. Participants will learn to square dance Friday night and a traditional Quebecois dance Saturday night. The fun starts at 9 p.m. both nights.
The festival features a family area with free face painting, dress-up costumes, arts and crafts, instrument building, and bouncy castles, among other things.
There will be several food trucks on-site or families can bring their own food and have a picnic.
Large says some of the first shows he can remember attending featured old-time folk bands. He said while he has no problems taking his kids to rock or hip-hop shows, there is something about folk music that is inherently family-friendly and lends itself to community building at the same time. “The folk community is easier to deal with, a cleaner, kinder, nurturing kind of environment,” he said.
The festival takes place June 15 to 19 and the free, outdoor shows will be held Friday through Sunday at Centennial Esplanade, south of the Lachine Canal and near the corner of Pitt and St. Patrick Sts.
Sharon & Bram play Saturday, June 18 at 3 p.m. The festival also includes indoor, ticketed shows and offers VIP access to the outdoor shows.
For more information, visit montrealfolkfest.com.