Codroy Valley Folk Festival celebrates 30th anniversary this weekend

Brodie Thomas
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On the eve of its 30th anniversary, The Codory Valley Folk Festival is set to honour one of its star participants.

Jerome Downey is being honored at this year's folk festival for his work preserving traditional songs and recitations.

This year’s festival will be dedicated to Jerome Downey, now in his late 80s, for preserving Scottish and local folk traditions that might have otherwise been lost.

Patsy Brownrigg, chair of the festival, said Mr. Downey carried on a lot of the traditional songs, ballads and recitations.

“We appreciate that because it has enabled us to carry on our heritage,” she said.

In the past 29 years, Mr. Downey has been involved with almost every festival, mainly as a performer.

Mr. Downey also performed at talent shows and school concerts in the valley over the years.

“He was a songwriter himself,” said Mrs. Brownrigg. “He wrote and performed his own ballads.”

Although ballads and recitations were common enough at family gathering or kitchen parties years ago, Mrs. Brownrigg said it was Mr. Downey who got up in public venues and shared them with generations of valley residents.

Local focus

A wealth of local talent including performers such as Mr. Downey has enabled the Codroy Valley Folk Festival to showcase local talent almost exclusively for three decades.

“You talk to people in St. John’s and they ask, ‘Who’s your headliner?’ said Mrs. Brownrigg. “We don’t do that. We focus on the locals. Every year someone new gets up.”

It has been that way from the start. Joe Aucoin served as chair of the organizing committee for over 20 years. He remembers getting ready for the first festival in 1982.

“Right from the start, my idea was to get people out of the woodwork who could perform,” he said. “There were people who got on the stage who would’ve never got on the stage if we hadn’t asked.”

In the spring of 1982, Mr. Aucoin helped form the Codroy Valley Fiddler’s Association. That group had been toying with the idea of a folk festival. The local Lions club, now defunct, also wanted to help start a folk festival in the valley.

The original venue was on the baseball field in Upper Ferry. Mr. Aucoin said a lot of hard work went into preparing for the first year.

“We had to build a stage, get a port-a-potties, build dance floors and a canteen.”

In later years they tried setting up on the soccer pitch but now the festival has found a permanent home on the foundation of an old arena.

The permanent stage has a roof and flush toilets. There are more flush toilets at the other end of the venue, and a big-top tent to keep the rain off spectators as well.

Mr. Aucoin said there were a few years when it appeared as if the folk festival might go by the wayside, but people always rallied to make it happen. Now he sees it as stronger than ever.

“It has promoted the music of the area,” he said. “People from away, they can’t get over the talent.”

The official tribute to Mr. Downey will take place at 3 p.m. on Sunday afternoon, the final day of the festival. A summer student has been putting together a video of his performances. Several performers will also play some Of Mr. Downey’s songs and traditional favourites.

Geographic location: Codroy Valley, Upper Ferry

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