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The Mariposa Folk Festival was founded in Orillia, Ontariomarker, and after being held in various places in Ontariomarker for a few decades, has returned there. The festival's goal is to study, promote and celebrate folk music, especially that performed by Canadiansmarker.

After a very successful first year, the Festival was plagued with problems: persistent rowdiness, lack of a permanent venue, changes in focus, schisms and artistic differences. Nevertheless, despite these handicaps, Mariposa provided an opportunity for established and especially new groups and soloists of folk, country, Aboriginal, blues, zydeco or pop bent to perform. The related Mariposa in the Schools program nurtured child entertainers like Sharon, Lois and Bram, Raffi and Eric Nagler.

Difficult birth 1961-1967

Ruth Jones, her husband Dr. Crawford Jones, brother David Major and Pete McGarvey organized the first Mariposa Folk Festival in August 1961. It was named after the fictional place that Stephen Leacock modelled on Orillia, Ontario. The first concerts were produced by Ed Cowan with a stage designed by Ted Schafer who was also MC. The first poster was designed by Ian Tyson.The inaugural event, covered by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, featured all Canadian performers. Although obviously music performance began and remains the most important function of the festival, it developed to include workshops, children's programs, academic study and record label networking. The first participants were: The Travellers, Ian and Sylvia duo, Merrick Jarrett, Alan Mills, Jean Carignan, Bonny Dobson, Omar Blondahl, The York County Boys, Finvola Redden, Jacques Labrecque, Tom Kines, Al Cherney, Karen James, Winston and Mary Jane Young, plus song collector, Edith Fowke; Prestige Records executive Kenneth Goldstein, and musicologist Richard Johnston.

Despite its musical and financial success, Orillia banned the festival because of public disturbances at its evening concert in 1962 after the media, basing its story on riots which had taken place at the recent Newport Jazz Festival, predicted trouble. Campsites were said to be allocated to people who did not have weekend passes and who were there for a 'hot time'. So began its long trek looking for a permanent home.

Undeterred by the bad publicity, the festival continued under the artistic direction of Estelle Klein who remained at the helm until 1979. The first festival held in the Torontomarker area, in 1964, was at Maple Leaf Stadium. The subsequent three festivals were held at Innis Lake in Caledonmarker northwest of the city. Tom Bishop was president, and brought people like Owen McBride from Irelandmarker, Louise Forestier and Leonard Cohen from Quebec, and Buffy Sainte-Marie from Saskatchewanmarker.

Precarious zenith 1968-1979

Finally, some stability was reached in 1968 when it moved to Centre Islandmarker in Toronto Harbourmarker. The following year, the Toronto Guild of Canadian Folk Artists took over the responsibility for organizing the festival.

Mariposa’s music workshops continued as performers demonstrated a variety of instrumental techniques, regional music traditions, and thematically selected songs. Audience participation was expanded beyond this to include crafts displays and workshops as well.

Although big name performers like Joni Mitchell, James Taylor and Joan Baez were still heard at the festival, Klein and her colleagues tried to promote little known artists instead. Throughout the 1970s, First Nations and Inuit performers like Alanis Obomsawin, Willie Dunn and Inuit throat singers were given exposure to an appreciative and wider audience.

Troubles with security and crowd control continued to bedevil Mariposa, and after disturbances in 1970 it switched away from main stage evening concerts to simultaneous multi-stage daytime concerts. In 1977, Toronto Guild of Canadian Folk Artists changed its name to Mariposa Folk Foundation and obtained a Canadian Charitable number, but after two years the festival ceased to exist in its usual form.

Tenuous rebirth since 1980

During Mariposa’s two-year hiatus (and later in the mid-1980s), likeminded groups organized similar but less ambitions events such as the Toronto Folk Festival and Northwind Folk Festival on the Toronto Islandsmarker. Mariposa proper was revived as The Canadians-Les Canadiens at Harbourfront in mainland Toronto in 1982.

Mariposa reclaimed its name and its annual schedule in 1984 when it relocated to Molson Park in Barrie, Ontariomarker. The Mariposa Folk Festival dropped its “Folk” moniker in 1987 and experimented with “Roots Music” as its replacement. In 1991, the festival returned to the Toronto waterfront at Ontario Placemarker. It was held as two separate Mariposa Festivals in 1996 at Bracebridgemarker and Cobourgmarker.

Return to Orillia in 2000

In 2000 Mariposa returned to its original name and a new lakeside location at Tudhope Park in Orillia. Old and new blended as the lineup for the 40th anniversary festival included hometown boy Gordon Lightfoot introduced by the festival's founder, Ruth Jones McVeigh. It also featured the world-renowned The Travellers and folk favourites Tanglefoot, as well as the comic-pop stylings of The Arrogant Worms and Moxy Früvous. It has continued as an annual event at this location, featuring seven stages, an Aritisan's village, a Folk Play area for children, food vendors and two licenced areas: The Mariposa Pub and Alice's Patio. In recent years, Friday night headliners have traditionally been aimed at a younger audience, such as Feist, Joel Plaskett and Hawksley Workman. Saturday and Sunday night headliners are more established, older folk musicians, such as Gordon Lightfoot, Don McLean and Taj Mahal.

2008 Lineup

The 2008 Mariposa Folk Festival on July 4-6, 2008 was headlined by Joel Plaskett on Friday, Taj Mahal on Saturday, and Sarah Harmer on Sunday (following the cancellation of Ronnie Hawkins) Other notable performers at the 2008 festival include Hayden, Loudon Wainwright III, Dala, Peter Elkas and Great Lake Swimmers.

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