I always know where I’ll be the second weekend in August. Sitting on a green hill, high above a stage, surrounded by people that I love.
KL and I have been going to the Edmonton Folk Music Festival for as long as I can remember. For four days in the heat of the prairie summer, we sit on a plastic tarp, packed between friends and family and strangers, and wave at the stars with our small, white candles.
When we were in high school, we danced late into the night on Friday and then woke at dawn on Saturday to line up at the entrance gate. Competition for a good spot on the hill was fierce. We never quite managed the front row, which always went to the girls who had the stamina to spend Friday night camped out in tents pitched right outside the festival grounds.
Times have changed. Camping at the entrance gate is no longer allowed. Line-ups before 7 am are also prohibited. A disruption to the neighbourhood, they say. And both KL and I have moved away from Edmonton.
But we still come back every year for our spot on the hill.
On Sunday night, the last song of the festival is always Ian Tyson’s Four Strong Winds. We sing it together, all one hundred thousand of us on the hill, this song that reminds me of those things that don’t change. And by the time we get to the part about how the snow flies in the winter, I realize I’ve come home.
This past weekend, far from home, I felt the same mix of familiarity and hope and solidarity that I always feel sitting on that hill in Edmonton. Except this time I was sitting in a three-hundred-year-old fort in Stone Town, surrounded by new friends, Tanzanians, expats, and visitors from around the world. We danced as a group from the Sudan sang about peace, listened as a Congolese artist dedicated a song to the 400,000 women who are raped annually in his country, and put our hands together for a Nigerian poet who stunned us all with lyrics about civilized armed robbers and modern slaveholders.