Published Nov 06, 2013Vancouver folk musician Geoff Berner has worn many hats in his career, but novelist is a new one. The accordion player, who studied creative writing at the University of British Columbia, recently published his first book, Festival Man, which follows the exploits of music manager and impresario Campbell Ouiniette as he tries to con his roster of misfit musicians onto the bill at the Calgary Folk Festival.
"I've played just about every folk festival in the country," Berner tells Exclaim! "It's definitely a world that I know."
Written as a "found memoir," Berner inserts himself at several points, usually as the object of Ouiniette's disdain. "It's a way to let people know that Campbell Ouiniette isn't me," he explains. "I like the idea of being able to employ this guy's voice unfettered and trust the reader to parse out the parts that are fabrications."
When asked who the character is based on, Berner offers no comment.
The book includes a download code for a tribute album of Berner's own music, performed by a host of musicians including Corb Lund, Carolyn Mark and Rae Spoon. "When I told Carolyn Mark about it and she said, 'Yeah why wait 'til you're dead?'" he recalls. "It's not going to do you any good then."
Berner know most authors' first novels tend to have a relatively short media cycle, so he counted on friends to talk about it and keep word of mouth strong. "I thought I could use the fact that I have friends who are better musicians than me as a way to get attention for the book and have radio DJs at university radio [talk about the book]."
Festival Man is the first of what Berner hopes will be a trilogy of books "in this kind of realm." It will be, he says, about "damaged musical people and how they make the world a more interesting place. I'm in the middle of book two. Whether or not I get to put out a second one depends on how this one goes."
Festival Man is out now through publisher Dundurn. Berner also has several Canadian live dates coming up. You can see his entire schedule here.