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Suddenly, Folk

April 29, 2015

I was in the library today when the P.A. system announced there was about to be a concert of British Columbian logging folk songs in a meeting room downstairs. History? Music? An excuse to stop writing the scene I was stuck on? Count me in! Plus I’d been meaning to pick up some regional folk music for “research”* and I didn’t know a whole lot about logging.

It was an interesting hour. The musicians, Jon Bartlett and Rika Ruebsaat, have been collecting and performing Canadian folk music for thirty years and had a good routine going. Informative and informal, entertaining, good variety. Most of the audience seemed to be people who’d been to their performances before or at least were familiar with the music, which shouldn’t really surprise me since there is a local folk song society. And, as usual at cultural events, I was half the average age of the rest of the attendees, but I’m used to that.

Things I learned:

  • The logging process a hundred years ago was really complex, but in a necessary way. When the most sophisticated tech you have is the steam engine and you’re trying to get logs off the interior side of a mountain, you have to get creative, and they really did. All sorts of ropes and pulleys were involved. So were oxen. No mention of a death toll, though I bet it was reasonably high.
  • Similarly, the level of skill you needed to make a go of it in any single job (for a fair span of time) had to be incredible. There were people, for instance, whose job it was to climb trees designated for the rope-and-pulley systems. I can’t even imagine.
  • The songs were collected from loggers, not people invested in romanticizing the industry. This meant that instead of sentimental, patriotic songs, the songs were about hardship and rough lifestyles, but told in very similar style to a tall tale and with a good dose of humour. I guess that’s how you cope with anything, though. Make it funny whenever you can.
  • The songs were also, by and large, sung to popular tunes of the day. That way, everyone could join in without having to learn the melody. Makes sense. We still do that today.**
  • Most of the songs are now unknown, or at least not in the general population. There are probably lots we don’t know, because we haven’t found the one guy in the retirement home who remembers them—and it’s such a specialized field, not many people are trying to find those guys anyway.
  • I now know where the term “going haywire” comes from. Bartlett and Ruebsaat made it sound like this wasn’t a common phrase anymore? Is it a regionalism, like skookum? That would explain why I think it’s common, when it isn’t. Or do other people know it?
  • I’m going to have to add a logging book to the series I’m working on.

Here are two of the songs they performed tonight:


* I am now the proud owner of a CD, but about mining and farming. I haven’t listened to it yet, though.

** See Friday.

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