Geoff Berner is the author of Festival Man and the graphic novel We Are Going To Bremen To Be Musicians. A singer/songwriter and accordion player, he has released six albums and toured in seventeen countries. He lives in Vancouver.
Maverick music manager Campbell Ouiniette makes a final destructive bid for glory at the Calgary Folk Festival.
Travel in the entertaining company of a man made of equal parts bullshit and inspiration, in what is ultimately a twisted panegyric to the power of strange music to change people from the inside out.
At turns funny and strangely sobering, this "found memoir" is a picaresque tale of inspired, heroic deceit, incompetence, and – just possibly – triumph. Follow the flailing escapades of maverick music manager Campbell Ouiniette at the Calgary Folk Festival, as he leaves a trail of empty liquor bottles, cigarette butts, bruised egos, and obliterated relationships behind him. His top headlining act has abandoned him for the Big Time. In a fit of self-delusion or pure genius (or perhaps a bit of both), Ouiniette devises an intricate scam, a last hurrah in an attempt to redeem himself in the eyes of his girlfriend, the music industry, and the rest of the world. He reveals his path of destruction in his own transparently self-justifying, explosive, profane words, with digressions into the Edmonton hardcore punk rock scene, the Yugoslavian Civil War, and other epicentres of chaos.
Geoff Berner's debut novel is a fun, fast read. Berner's career as an international touring musician undoubtedly provided a wealth of experience to pull from. Filled with rock'n'roll misadventure and emotional debris, Campbell's speed- and booze-fuelled ramblings reflect — accurately and often hilariously — the unconventional characters who exist within the music industry.
... Berner employs his unreliable narrator as effectively as Paul Quarrington's Whale Music, or, say, Keith Richards's Life – each of which, page for page, Berner can match with both anecdotal hilarity and razor-sharp Richler-esque satire. Festival Man is required reading for anyone who's ever played, worked or fallen down drunk at a folk festival.
You should read this ... it's short, fun and hilarious.
Berner's debut novel, Festival Man, pays brilliant homage to that [folk festival] background. It's an absurdist, sort-of-based-on-real-life, snarky tale primarily based at the Calgary Folk Music Festival ...
It's a picaresque little tale indeed, full of pitfalls, pratfalls, sex, and drugs, but then so's the business in which Festival Man is set. So be warned: If it's The Sound of Music you're after, this one's definitely not for you.
This mighty book is much like a festival in many ways: it throws in a dash of the unexpected – unruly, unlikeable yet endearing characters, life-changing musical interludes and conversations – and it ends much too quickly... A remarkably unique tangent of a tale, Festival Man is a riotously funny, heartfelt and honest portrayal of life on the Canadian festival circuit.
There's a sweetness to Ouinette's story that underpins the sardonic, cynical masterminding of Festival Man's main character, and Berner writes the story as Ouinette in first-person mode with a delightful wit that makes the book hard to put down ... It's a story about how, despite all the shady dealings behind the scenes, people's lives are saved by music.
... one of the most truthful accounts ever published on life as a touring musician.
[Berner has] created a hilarious book in which laughter and outrage mix in equal parts to paint a portrait of mayhem in the Canadian folk world that the reader won't soon forget. His prose is both tight and brilliantly evocative...it's a wicked bullseye of a book.
...Berner/Ouinette's prose can be as effusively engaging as it is scathing and vitriolic...these pages sidestep cliches and comparisons and get at the heart at what the music sounds like and what it does to the listener, an extremely hard thing to do, effectively showing, not telling, the reader what 'real' music sounds like.
...our friends are here too, in the underground Alberta that Berner has inexplicably nailed, despite not being of the Prairies himself. That is one of his many gifts. Another is his third act: near-imagist in its precision, making up for functionally concluding what feels like a long night of talking with long-missed and beloved friends by relating something that feels like it's true.
A searing, side-splitting book with charm and character, painting a vivid picture of the Canadian music landscape in all its grand bamboozlery.
Filled with dark humour, staccato storytelling and alcohol-soaked momentum...Festival Man is for any wayward music lover, washed up wild card or religious festival attendee. It's a tour de force of the grit and seedy underbelly of the music industry, and lands somewhere between self-indulgence and redemption.
"If you want a truly illuminating look at the music industry, this is it. It's a fantastically hilarious read."