In 1961 at the peak of the folk revival that saw the likes of Bob Dylan, Joan Baez and Peter, Paul and Mary rise to prominence, the concept of a folk festival was revolutionary. Ruth Jones, using the Newport Folk Festival as a template, decided that Orillia could put on a festival and in ways beyond her imagining, she founded what has become a Canadian institution.
The first two Festivals were successful, peaceful and showcased the likes of The Travellers, Bonnie Dobson and Ian & Sylvia. The third one, in 1963, was another story altogether. Festival attendees outnumbered the town’s citizens; rowdy after-show “festivities” spilled onto town streets, and police could not cope with some of the drunken and unruly behavior. As a result, town council banned the Festival from Orillia.
In 1964, a last-minute arrangement was made to put on the Festival at an aging baseball stadium in Toronto. Gordon Lightfoot and Buffy Saint-Marie played that year (the Mariposa archives house a recording of Lightfoot introducing his new song, “Early Morning Rain”).
In 1965, the Festival moved to Innis Lake, northwest of Toronto, where Phil Ochs and Joni Mitchell (née Anderson) appeared. The Folk Festival was held there for the next three years and featured some of the all-time folk greats: Pete Seeger, Doc Watson, Sonny Terry and Brownie McGee. Under the direction of Estelle Klein, workshops became the predominant type of performance. This innovation was eventually adapted by most folk festivals in Canada and the USA.
In 1967 Leonard Cohen, Buddy Guy, Tom Rush, Richie Havens and Murray McLauchlan played the Festival. 1968 saw the event continue its nomadic ways as it moved to the Toronto Islands, a short ferry ride from downtown. Emphasis was placed on the workshops, the crafts and demonstrations, and it was estimated that over 15,000 people came to experience the event over the weekend. That was the year that Murray McLauchlan introduced the “smiling sun” logo, replacing the initial logo that Ian Tyson had designed for the Festival’s first year.
In 1969, Joan Baez was the headline act and it was the first year that the Festival actually made a profit. Protest songs were the prevalent type of music heard that year.
In the space of eight short years, Mariposa had not only survived but had thrived through an era of changing musical styles, disruption of the status quo, radical political upheaval and cultural revolution. True to its deceptive simplicity and its intellectual honesty, folk music remained a dynamic force and Mariposa seemed to demonstrate that strongly.