By Michaela Whitehawk
People came to the Vancouver Folk Festival expecting good music and sunshine, and while Murray Porter cannot reasonably take credit for the clear blue skies, he certainly delivered musically.
Porter, who is Mohawk Turtle Clan, performed what he describes as “barrel-house blues with native influences” to a diverse crowd of music-lovers on Sunday, July 20th. Porter said that the best part about performing at the festival was the people. The audience seemed to reciprocate his affections. Hat-clad listeners of all ages sprawled on towels or foldable chairs gathered to show their appreciation for Porter’s old-school brand of blues. Whether it was with a subtle toe-tap or full-on gyrations to the rhythm, it was obvious that the crowd was ‘feeling’ the music.
For his first set of the day, Porter shared the stage with seven other seasoned blues musicians. It was the first time these musicians had ever performed together, but you would not have known it. “They make it sound easy,” said Porter who enjoyed “jamming” with the other artists.
Later in the day, the bluesman performed a solo show, sharing the stage with only his keyboard. Listeners were treated to a full-bodied brew of old-fashioned storytelling blues. The set included deep, smooth blues songs as well as up-tempo shuffles. One couple took advantage of the jive rhythm in the song “1492, Who Found Who?” spinning and shuffling to the energetic beat.
Naturally, Porter’s music is strongly influenced by his aboriginal heritage. “Being First Nations affects themes more than structure in my music (structure is dictated by the laws of blues),” said the artist. Porter said he is no stranger to oppression, having grown up on a reservation with no running water. “The struggles of our people help me to write music that is relevant to me and other First Nations,” he said.
Although many of his songs deal with serious issues, they are often delivered with a healthy dose of humour. With lyrics like “where’s your white man card, prove to me you ain’t black,” and “I don’t have no bow and arrow, but that don’t mean I won’t attack,” Porter addresses stereotypes while also eliciting laughs from listeners.
The song “Colours,” which was formerly titled “I’m a Red Man Singing the Black Man’s Blues, Living in a White Man’s World” garnered many grins from the Folk Festival crowd. “I had to change the title because it wouldn’t fit on the CD,” said Porter with a chuckle.
Porter cajoled one final laugh from the audience after his final number at the Folk Festival, lamenting, “Buy my CD- I need the money.” His new CD is to be released in December.
Porter has been singing the blues since he first heard B.B. King on the radio at age 16. With artists like Pinetop Perkins (one of Porter’s favourite musicians) still playing well into their 90s, Porter will likely be belting out the blues for many years to come.