Walking with Carmanah

Photo of Carmanah by Alexis Kastner

Photo of Carmanah by Alexis Kastner

You’re speeding on your bike through a winding forest road; a slight
breeze rustles the canopy of leaves far above your head; a swath of large cedar trees and fir trees flank the sides of the road; and a rushing and gurgling stream follows beside you, gushing and cutting through the forest on its way to the ocean. And, you have a big smile on your face.

This is what it feels like to listen to Carmanah. The aptly named band
from Victoria has a distinctly West Coast sound – a swaying harmony of voices that sometimes soars and sometimes hymns and always keeps you dancing. It’s an ensemble of instruments that, like the forest, spreads a smile across your face.

I recently saw Carmanah at the Tall Tree Music Festival in Port
Renfrew, where, on top of Brown’s Mountain overlooking the Pacific
Ocean, they brought down the house.
Arms were swinging and feet were stomping as they played “When
I’m Out Walking”, a song that hips and strings and beats and bounces through the sinewy paces of a bluegrass style violin, before rolling back and forth in a Johnny Cash-like dialogue between lead singers Pat Ferguson and Laura Mitic. And like any good story this song has a climax. The band is strumming and tapping and the crowd is stomping and laughing and the singers are whipping up a frenzy of sounds:

“When I’m out walking the sun starts to set/I see yellow and green/
purple and red I do believe/life is a dream/come true/walking with you.”

They’ve been described as “Folk-Rock-World” – a mix of brass and drum and string and harmony. Pat rocks the vocals and has a deft hand with the djembes; Laura rounds out the other half of the vocal duo and is also a classically trained violinist, giving the band an East Coast rhythm; Mike Baker plays a mean guitar as well as a soul searching saxophone; Jesse Crawford brings the heat as a gifted player of the bass guitar; and Daniel Frey, a proud Nanaimoite, keeps the beat and steadies the ship with his whaling drums.
Toward the end of the festival I had a chance to chat with Carmanah at their campsite, inside an old handi-dart bus turned camper van. I asked if they could put a visual scene to their music, and what it would look like.

“Ideally, a festival in a gorgeous spot,” says Pat, “with people dancing down the path on their way to the stage, moving like a bunch of hummingbirds going to the nectar.”

Pat’s nectar metaphor has us laughing. Humans as searching
hummingbirds: perfect.

“And if you were a plant, what kind of plant would you be?”

Laura tells me that Pat would be a maple tree. “And not just because
he’s tall,” she says. “They’re nice to climb and they bring people
together.”

“I do love maple syrup!” Pat concurs and Laura agrees.

They’re both chill and relaxed people and you can see how this plays
out in their vocals – smooth, effortless.

“And you’ll soon be playing at the Kulth Music Festival in Coombs on
July 21st?”

“It’s gonna be a lot of fun,” says Laura, “I love Coombs, what’s not to love? They’ve got goats on the roof,” she adds, ‘it’s just awesome!”

Coombs is just north of Nanaimo and is surrounded by a vast forest of trees; the area contains many streams and rivers and it’s possible to bike there. Carmanah will be playing and when they are, I guarantee you’ll be smiling.

– Story by David G.

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