The Mariposa Folk Festival: A Q&A with Michael Hill

The Mariposa Folk Festival: A Q&A with Michael Hill

Posted on May 25 by Michael Hill
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Michael Hill is the author of The Mariposa Folk Festival, and the festival's unofficial historian too. Both the festival and Dundurn had some questions for Michael about writing the book and his interest in folk music's legendary roots.

Here are a few questions we asked him, and a video Q&A he did with the festival below.

Q: Tell us about your book: What was your inspiration? Were there overarching themes you felt compelled to explore?

A: In many ways the Mariposa Folk Festival has been a part of most of my life. I was a small boy when it first began in 1961 in Orillia and I remember well the chaos that came with the third year of the festival. (I made a small fortune collecting beer bottles after the festival that year!) As I got older and became a folk-singing guitar player myself, I admired the people who were playing the festival — Pete Seeger, Ian & Sylvia, Gordon Lightfoot, Joni Mitchell, Murray McLauchlan — and attended the festival on the Island in 1972.  I saw Joni take over Murray’s set but I didn’t catch a glimpse of Dylan as he wandered the site. When Mariposa returned to Orillia in 2000 I volunteered. One thing led to another and I ended up being the artistic director of the festival. Over the entire span of the festival’s history, I was well aware of the contribution the festival made to Canadian musical culture. As the public’s taste and styles changed, the festival stayed true to its roots — pun intended. The financial ups and downs, the musical icons who played it, the peripatetic journey around Ontario — it was a story that begged to be told, I thought.


Q: How did you research your book?

A: As with any work of historical non-fiction, one tries to find primary sources when possible, and I was lucky enough to find many people who were willing to tell their story and the story of the festival. Founder Ruth Jones (as sharp as ever at age 90), folk icon Gordon Lightfoot, and organizers like Michael Cooney and David Warren were all generous with their time and commentaries. Festival programs and newspaper clippings from all the years, newsletters and a lot of personal experience went into telling the history. The archives at York University — my alma mater — have a wealth of material and the staff were very helpful in finding material.


Q: What was the creative process like for you?

A: From an early age, I always enjoyed writing and the creativity involved. This time, with an actual book project in mind, I was pleased with how naturally things seemed to flow. As I wrote, my focus was so intense that hours passed without me realizing it. That may sound clichéd but it’s true. In addition, my dog had a serious operation and had to be kept sedated and immobile last summer. It was a convenient excuse for me to sit on the couch with him beside me and write while I kept him still. I wrote several chapters while tending that sick puppy.


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Michael Hill

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Michael Hill photo

Michael Hill

Michael Hill is the artistic director and the vice-president of Mariposa, and has been an organizer with the festival since 2000. He lives in Orillia, Ontario.