The 57th Annual Mariposa Folk Festival will return to its hometown of Orillia this year with a stellar lineup. The festival programming also includes story, dance and crafts, community village, food, onsite camping and free wi-fi.

All-time favourite Canadian artist Bruce Cockburn returns to the main stage for the first time since giving up his set to Neil Young in 1972. Mike Hill, who has worked with the festival since 2000, recalled an early experience when he was a reveller just wanting to see his favourite Canadian artists perform.

“I was at the 1972 festival where Bruce Cockburn was playing – he was one of the scheduled guests and he said ‘I’m giving up my set today, Neil Young is here and he’s going to take over,” recounted Hill.

But it didn’t stop there, as Murray McLauchlan also gave up his set for Joni Mitchell who then gave up part of her set for Jackson Brown who was also an unscheduled guest and just dropped in.

Legendary Canadian artist, Gordon Lightfoot is also a well-known regular who has a “nostalgia” for the festival that began in his hometown of Orillia. Other artists who have just decided to show up unannounced at the event include Serena Ryder, Dani Michelle, and Greg Keeler and Jim Cuddy of Blue Rodeo.

This year’s Friday night line-up will also include the Barenaked Ladies, and (up and coming) singer Ruth B who is “really popular with the high school kids,” according to Hill. On Saturday, the New Pornographers will perform, along with Whitehorse and Matt Anderson.

As for unscheduled drop-ins; you will have to be there to find out as past years have proven that just about any surprise is possible. The likelihood of the odd legend dropping in is great considering that the festival will take place in its hometown of Orillia.

The audience is split for the most part between Toronto and Orillia and even parts of the U.S. and Europe:

“We do get people from as far away as California, there was one guy who was coming every year from Germany. We had lots of people come up from the Philadelphia area because there’s quite a good folk community down there,” says Hill.

They also do a bit of advertising in the U.S. with the help of government grants and work with an array of partners.

“Ticket sales alone would not support the festival, we have to have Government agencies, we have lots of sponsors and then we have community partners like Lakehead University, for example where all of our performers stay,” explains Hill.

The Mariposa Folk Festival is the oldest and probably best-known folk festival in Canada even if it isn’t the biggest “places like Edmonton and Winnipeg, Calgary – they all have way more financial clout and bigger money, but I think we’re still the most famous,” says Hill.

This is due, in part, to being around since 1961 and having travelled to various cities like Toronto, Barrie, Innislake, Cobourg and Bracebridge. Hill also shared that the festival has adopted family programming to attract new and younger audiences.

“What we’re also trying to do is bring in the 20 and 30-year-olds – people who have young families because we have a really great children’s program. We actually have a stage that’s dedicated to children. We have something that’s called the musical petting zoo – there are no animals, when I say musical petting zoo you can sit down and you can try to play the clarinet or a mandolin or a banjo. It’s one of the hits of the festival every year.”

Among his fondest festival memories to date, Hill says “besides having Gordon Lightfoot call me at my house” it was the reunion of Ian and Sylvia at their 50th Anniversary.

“In 2010 we had our 50th Anniversary and Ian and Sylvia – you know, they were the big stars of the very first festival back in 1961. I brought them back and they’ve been divorced for about 40 years as well but they got up on stage together and they sang Four Strong Winds.”

Special Canada 150 activities are planned this year. “One thing we have special this year that’s different because this is Canada’s 150th birthday, is a 150 Village – again it’s Canadian crafts, Canadian themed music and arts and dancers fiddlers and so on. I think that will add a new element to this as well,” says Hill.

For information and tickets, visit www.mariposafolk.com.

(Pictured: Bruce Cockburn, Photo Credit: Kevin Kelly)