Festival Man tells tales

Geoff Berner informed by real-life shenanigans

Geoff Berner guesses that he’s played around 100 distinct festivals over the years not counting repeats. It makes considerable sense from a programmer’s point of view; his raucous style of klezmer accordion-playing is ideal for the summer setting. He’s also a master storyteller combining politics sex and drinking (in no particular order) into darkly humorous narrative-heavy stories that can draw in even the most hungover/sunburned of listeners.

Berner’s debut novel Festival Man pays brilliant homage to that background. It’s an absurdist sort-of-based-on-real-life snarky tale primarily based at the Calgary Folk Music Festival (although digressions carry the reader to the Siege of Sarajevo and small-town Alberta). While the story is fictitious it’s clearly well-informed by real-life shenanigans.

“In the musical world people say things and do things and have stories of things that happen that wind up being told in the beer garden or at four in the morning after everybody’s gone home and the doors are locked in the bar” Berner says. “Somebody will say ‘somebody should write this shit down.’ And nobody ever does. But I did. Turns out some of it is not so good in the light of day but some of it really is. Like anyone who’s trying to write good stuff it takes life as its raw material.”

Festival Man tells the story of Campbell Ouineiette a veteran/alcoholic manager/con artist via 160 pages of fantastically interesting “memoirs” that Berner allegedly found in 2003 near Pincher Creek. Subtle jabs at everything from Down Under musicians (“an Australian lyricist is aiming with her words for a kind of McCartney-esque mellifluousness like the waves crashing soothingly mindlessly repetitively on the beach”) to the city of Calgary (“the people who run Calgary would give Jane Jacobs an aneurysm if they ever met her but they don’t run in the same circles”) are throughout completing the already engaging plot line of Ouineiette’s desperate effort to gain some semblance of financial security.

The witty thoughtful work is the first of three planned; the remainder of the trilogy will continue the music-anchored theme of Festival Man about “the way that damaged people actually make the world a better more interesting place to live” Berner says.

Every copy of Festival Man comes with a download code for an album of Geoff Berner songs covered by other excellent artists (Rae Spoon Corb Lund E.S.L. and many more) only adding to the fun.

WordFest presents Geoff Berner as part of Lit Up in The Club on Friday October 18 at The Club at The Banff Centre and Festival Man on Sunday October 19 at Festival Hall.