The Edmonton Folk Music Festival 2011 begins this coming Thursday, August 4 and flows through the weekend. If you are among the fortunate to have tickets to this sold out event, you have a wonderful four-days of music ahead of you. Hang in there…you’ll never know what you miss if you miss it.
I’ve attended many EFMFs in the past 15 years but find I no longer have the stamina to attend the entire weekend. I volunteered a couple times and I’ve purchased my share of tickets. As well, they have been very generous in previous years in allowing me to attend as a member of the media.
I always leave the EFMF exhausted but richer for the experience of hearing (and seeing) favoured performers as well as discovering acts I had not previously encountered.
I’m not attending this year; instead I hope to head to Carstairs for the Mountain View Music Fest. If I were attending EFMF this year, the following are ten elements I would try to catch:
10. k. d. lang & the Siss Boom Bang- mainstage, late Sunday- nothing needs to be said
9. The closing rendition of “Four Strong Winds” featuring everyone still around the site
8. Wanda Jackson- stage 7 concert, Friday evening at 6:00- a legend I missed last time around- the voice isn’t what it once was, but…she’s Wanda Jackson!
7. Mary Gauthier- stage 3 concert, Saturday at 4:00- always engaging and I understand that Tania Elizabeth adds an interesting element to the performance. Then, Guy Clark- stage 3 concert, Saturday at 5:00 and Sarah Jarosz- stage 3 concert, Saturday at 6:00- after a day of racing from stage to stage, stay put after Mary Gauthier for a couple more hours
6. Guy Clark, The Flatlanders, Nanci Griffith, and Lyle Lovett- stage 3 “Influences” session- expect to hear songs from Townes, Walter Hyatt, and Tom Russell. Who’ll be the first to do a Guy Clark song?
5. Blackie & the Rodeo Kings- main stage, Sunday at 2:00 ADDITIONAL NOTE: Serena Ryder will be performing with BARK as well as at sessions on her own.
4. The Deep Dark Woods- stage 1 concert, Saturday at 1:00- Could they be the ‘next big thing?’ With a U.S. deal (Sugar Hill) and a hot new album out tomorrow in Canada, Saskatchewan’s finest export this side of Fantuz Flakes needs to be heard. They also appear at several sessions notably Stage 5’s Going Up the Country (Friday 7:30) with Wanda Jackson, Garnet Rogers, and Ane Brun and Stage 1’s Turn, Turn, Turn (Sunday 11:00) with Bill Bourne and Braden Gates.
3. Etran Finatawa- stage 1 concert, Sunday at 4:00- Why this West African band isn’t on the main stage is a mystery to me. Get to stage 1 early which (unfortunately) may mean skipping out on Nanci Griffith’s performance early.
2. Nanci Griffith- stage 3 concert at 3:00- Do you really need a reason?
1. Del McCoury Band and the Preservation Hall Jazz Band- main stage, Saturday at 7:00- the deepest cut for me. There is no end to the performances I’ll regret missing at EFMF 2011 but they all pale beside this one. Dang!
Yes, I overly emphasize singer-songwriters of the Texas variety. Deal.
The full Edmonton Folk Music Festival schedule is posted here: http://www.edmontonfolkfest.org/performers-2/schedule
Thanks for visiting Fervor Coulee. Donald
This past Saturday, I took the highway north to take in my (almost) annual day at the Edmonton Folk Music Festival. As I’ve detailed elsewhere, I find it difficult to do more than a day at any music fest although there was a time when I could do three days in Calgary, three at Stony Plain, and then four in Edmonton; those days are long gone. In fact, this year, I needed to sleep away most of Sunday afternoon just to recover from my day at Gallagher Park.
Because I limit myself to a day at the EFMF, I do try to take in as much music as possible. I go in with a bit of a game plan as to which sessions I most want to catch, but try to allow for some spontaneity. This year I was very much looking forward to finally catching Rodney Crowell as he has been a long time favourite I haven’t caught in concert; I remember a scheduled Red Deer show in the early nineties was cancelled after only a few dozen tickets sold- and this after six consecutive number ones on the Canadian country charts.
Celebrating its 30th anniversary, the festival is well-established and there are usually not too many organizational surprises, leaving one to discover music without worrying about food (lots of vendors), water (two different locations with plenty of taps with potable water), potties (go early is my advice!), or discs (the CD tent is fully stocked, although some artists still don’t bring enough (or any) product to satisfy the demand). I’m estimating this is my tenth festival over fifteen years, and despite attending only the one day, I must admit I have never more enjoyed an Edmonton Folk Music Festival. It helps that the weather was sunny without being uncomfortably hot.
I got to the park in plenty of time to catch the opening sessions, and made a bee-line for Stage 2 for Newgrass, a pairing of Nashville’s The SteelDrivers and Mongolia’s Hanggai. I had checked out Hanggai’s Myspace site (http://www.myspace.com/hanggaiband) the day before and was intrigued at the interaction that may occur between southern bluegrassers and an Asian stringband. I was not disappointed.
Richard Bailey, the SteelDrivers’ five-stringer and one of the most in-demand session players in Nashville, had a huge smile on his face as he dropped in some basic fills while the throat singer and other members of Hanggai performed their music. Quite a bit of interplay occurred between the quintets, with Hanngai’s electric guitar player taking an extended break during one of the SteelDriver tunes- can’t recall which one.
This was my first chance catching the SteelDrivers, and they didn’t disappoint. Tammy Rogers has played Edmonton numerous times as a member of the Dead Reckoners, and her contributions to a song are always appreciated. Chris Stapleton’s growly blues vocals are as effective on stage as they are live, and Mike Fleming kept things moving along with a restrained approach to MC duties. The bands came together for a rousing closing on “The Drinking Song.” This was one session that ended much too soon, and it seemed that everyone on the stage left quite pleased with their collaboration.
Next up were my favourite Canadian alt-country band, The Swiftys. I was pleased to see Marc Ladouceur hanging around the stage area as the SteelDrivers and Hanngai performed, leading me to believe he might be sitting in with the band. And he was, performing on acoustic and electric guitars and mandolin. It became clear early on that Jody Johnson was no longer playing with Shawn Jonasson and Grant Stovel as a new bassman was on stage with them- and Jody was off to the side. Roger Marin was also sitting in on pedal steel, making the trio a quintet.
I didn’t take notes during the show, and instead just sat back to enjoy the forty-minute set. They played songs from both of their albums including “Ridin’ High” and “Sweet Rose”. They dropped in Shuyler Jansen’s “Bottle of Wine” and Darrek Anderson’s “26 oz of Gin”, both recorded on their Ridin’ High disc, as well as a cover of Waylon’s “Sweet Mental Revenge.” I don’t know how much this line-up has been gigging, but they sounded quite tight and there were no noticeable slips. Knowing how much Marc likes the electric guitar, I was pleased to finally, after how many years, get to hear him play in a couple spots. Very nice, and complemented the band’s sound nicely. A strong set of electric barroom-inspired country music was enjoyed by a fairly large gathering of friends, family, and fans at stage two.
After touching base with acquaintances after the show, I rushed off the catch the final bit of a session featuring Tift Merritt, Sam Baker, Alana Levandoski, and Slaid Cleaves. To be able to listen to three of my favourites- four, if one includes Gurf Morlix who was sitting in with Sam- was an opportunity I couldn’t pass up. I don’t often enjoy the sessions that include a number of singer-songwriters taking turns playing their songs with little interaction. It often seems pretty stiff and awkward. Maybe it has to do with the mind-set of the songwriter.
Sam Baker was finishing up “Orphan” as I got to Stage 5. Slaid slipped nicely into “Drinkin’ Days” along with a backing duo whose names I didn’t catch. Tift was next up, and sang a beautiful version of “Something to Me” unaccompanied. Very nice, and a great way for my only chance to see Merritt at the festival to begin. Later, she moved over to the keyboard to perform “Good Hearted Man.”
I only caught a couple songs by Alana, one of which was a cover of “Those Memories of You” inspired by her dual love of Emmylou Harris and Brit-pop bands.
Sam Baker performed “Truale” and Slaid’s mando player was invited to drop in a four-second break. Gurf Morlix wrapped things up, playing it “weird and scary”, transforming the Stones’ “The Last Time” into a breezy gospel clap-a-long. A nice way to close things down.
The session- at least the portion I witnessed- didn’t feature a lot of interplay between the participants although many quips were exchanged and laughter was plentiful.
The mid-afternoon main stage performance was by Oysterband. I’ve long thought the Saturday afternoon 2:00 set as the toughest of the weekend. By Sunday afternoon, most folks are tired enough to sit down and just veg and listen. But on Saturday it seems the performers always face a sea of movement, lanes of wanderers in search of sustenance, shade, and lost pals. While it didn’t seem many were listening to Oysterband initially, John James’ personable interactions, encouragement of audience participation, and the band’s lively Celtic-rock hybrid seemed to bring things around. Fortunately, the sound system was cranked up loud enough that the set could be heard throughout the site, allowing one to indulge in green onion cakes and the like. I want to dive back in and explore their catalogue a bit.
I was a bit torn for the next slot. The Skydiggers were doing a concert set, and as they are a new-to-me favourite, I was tempted. But, in the end, seeing a bit of Fred won out- how can I attend any festival and not spend at least a bit of time being amused, enlightened, and offended by our Fred? So, I went over to the Megatunes session for Fred Eaglesmith and Loudon Wainwright III. Joining them at the far stage six were Danny Michel and Jill Barber, two singer-songwriters that don’t much interest me but whom I know have devoted and- judging by the crowd in attendance- sizeable fan bases.
This one had all the makings of a session disaster- too many chairs on the small side stage, too many hands setting up too much gear. The start time of 3:00 came and went with only Danny Michel appearing ready to go. Plugs, cords, and mics were still being manipulated by the time Fred and Jill were ready, and Loudon was still nowhere in sight. Of course, the biggest straw hat in the park had to sit directly in front of me, ta boot. I considered beating a hasty retreat, but elected to hang in. Loudon took the stage at seven past, and by about eleven after the hour things appeared set to go.
Jill Barber did a couple of her jazz-tinged songs of an earlier time. She has a lovely voice, but it doesn’t quite stick with me or hold my attention for very long. She did “Wishing Well” and “Be My Man” and audience loved that.
Joined by Bill Chambers, Fred launched into one of his ‘lesbian love songs’ “Wilder than Her,” offending half of the slope with an off-colour quip about gay pride and rainbows that I figure will somehow be edited out by the time this session is broadcast on Radio 2 August 27. He also pulled out “Rough Edges,” which I haven’t heard in years. That’s one of the many things I like about Fred, he is willing to pull out older songs and give them an airing on occasion. Some songwriters, well you have a fair idea of what you’ll hear, but with Fred all bets are off. Fred is able to do more in two songs than lesser entertainers can in an entire set.
Loudon performed a pair of songs from his upcoming Charlie Poole project that really interested me, and will encourage me to check out High Wide and Handsome when it is released.
Knowing that I would only likely hear another song from each of the performers, I decided to head back across the park for the 4:00 concert by Chumbawamba, a band I really wanted to experience. They were booked into the festival a few years back, but I missed their performance and since then I’ve purchased a handful of their discs and quite enjoyed them. I am also interested in them because of their refusal to fall victim to the ‘pop trap’, and have gone out of their way to maintain their values and aims while setting “Tubthumping” well behind them.
Chumbawamba Acoustic is a very impressive group- heavy songs, lightly presented. Two guitars, accordion, trumpet, tambourine, a pipe and usually four but occasionally five voices taking on the world. I spent a wonderful fifty minutes listening to them, and was absolutely impressed in every way. They engaged their audience- actually went a bit far with that and had a young gal from the audience come up to sing the first verse of “Ring of Fire” within “Charlie”- and were completely brilliant. They even dropped in a bit of “pissing the night away” into “Charlie.” I’m gushing, I know, but I just loved what they did. The did several songs from The Boy Bands Have Won (including “I Wish They’d Sack Me” and “El Fusilado”) as well as the chuckle inspiring ode to the joys and perils of social networking, “Add Me.” “Hanging On the Old Barbed Wire” brought things back to somber realties. I downloaded a couple albums last night- UN and Boy Bands-and can’t get enough.
Which brings me to a suggestion I’ve thought of making to the festival’s A.D., Terry Wickham. I think it may be time to let go of the mid-day main stage performance. Many (most?) people appear to have trouble focusing on the music during the middle of the afternoon when the stage is so far down the hill from many of the audience. Judging by the number of folks in the food lineups, under the shade of the sheltering tent, and just wandering the grounds, I wonder if the slot might be better used by having seven extended concert sets going instead of one main stage performance.
While a Fred Eaglesmith, Chumbawamba, or Tift Merritt- or for that matter, The SteelDrivers, Hot Tuna, or Joel Plaskett) may not warrant a full, main stage set, they are more than deserving of greater than forty-five or fifty minutes to show their wares. Perhaps if one scheduled a series of 80-minute concert sets between 1:30 and 3:00 on all the stages, more engagement may occur between listeners and performers.
I know I would have much rather had the Oysterband play to a really enthusiastic but smaller audience than have them playing to a sparsely populated hill of half-listeners. Just a thought.
Next up was Texan Sam Baker, again accompanied by Gurf Morlix. I love his voice and approach to songwriting. He did a couple songs from the new album Cotton including the title track and “Moon.” I don’t mind his penchant for borrowing lyrics at all as he makes the traditional words fit his characters and their situations so effectively. He punctuates his singing with an oddly lively picking style that is appealing.
“Waves” is up there with “75 Septembers” for impactful songs of sustained commitment and aging. Baker has a way of singing that is unlike anyone I can think of off the top of my head. It is a hesitant yet melodic singing-speaking voice that is attractive. He’s top drawer, engaging, self-deprecating, insightful. I enjoyed the set immensely. And yet…
When Gurf Morlix gets a chance to do one of his songs- and Sam turned things over to him twice during the nine-song set- it is magic. He doesn’t blow Sam Baker off the stage- they are too different in approach for that to occur- but when he is finished a song like “Crossroads,” one thinks, “Damn, that’s how it is done.”
They are like two visual artists of very different styles. One is grounded in realism, texture, and details, the other is into poetic uses of colour within impressionistic murals. I’m not sure which is which, but I enjoy them both as they are completely compelling when sharing their music.
But note to Sam- don’t ask for requests from the audience when you can’t hear what they are yelling! Just play your songs.
So that was the day in the sun. Next up were the main stage acts, supper, and such. After having my fill of green onion cakes, we settled in on the hill for the main-stagers. I didn’t hear much of Johnny Flynn and the Sussex Wit, but we were ready for Patty Griffin.
According to my friends, I’ve seen and heard her at the folk fest before, but I don’t remember her. I don’t think I’ll recall much of this performance as well. I don’t find her music terribly appealing, although I am definitely outvoted in that regard within our small group. My ears perked up for a version of “Silver Wings”, but I would have a real hard time recalling any of her other songs. It wasn’t unpleasant by any means, but just more suitable to an audience that doesn’t include me, I suppose.
Iron & Wine was next. I have to be honest, I own several Iron & Wine albums and EPs but without liner notes I don’t know one Sam Beam song from the next. Strangely, I’m okay with that ignorance. I just like the sounds. And on the main stage, standing alone in a revolving spotlight, he alternately banged and strummed his guitar- making the bass notes count- and sang. And for an hour or so, the crying babies, squabbling couples, (loudly) reuniting friends, and other annoyances faded away. I’m told he sounds like Jethro Tull/Ian Anderson, and that was a good thing, I believe. I didn’t recognize a single song, and that has more to do with the way I listen to Iron & Wine than anything else. I just love the music. It was a great set, very enjoyable. The word ethereal is used a great deal when describing music that causes other words to be inadequate. I think I now know the meaning of the word.
Okay, that isn’t completely true. I didn’t fully enjoy the set. I had gone all day without having any conflicts with any other attendees. I had even mentioned this to my friends- the chatterers seemed to be missing this year. Well, all good things come to an end.
I hope you are reading this! If you want to gush about your friend’s knitting, discuss the dental crown you lost, compare and discuss the relative merits of hoodies and zippered sweaters, and….Why come and do it on a hill surrounded by folks who are actually trying to listen to the freakin’ music? I will never, ever understand it.
I do understand and embrace the social aspects of the folk festivals. Over the last twelve or so years, more often than not I’ve attended festivals with a small group of friends, and recently that group has included a great wee lad. We chat relatively quietly, we catch up, and then we listen. That is the part I don’t get- why would you pay money and ignore world class artists who are sharing their innermost thoughts and observations? A mystery.
Back to the hill.
When the lights go down, things do change. When the sun finally sets around 10 o’clock, and darkness engulfs the hill, it is really quite spectacular. I remember both of the Joans (Baez and Armatrading) marveling at the effect of the candle-covered hill. With the candles on our side, and the downtown skyline on the other, a better setting for a festival of this type is hard to imagine. And, amazingly, people tend to quiet down as well! Bonus.
Rodney Crowell was next, the act my group and I had been waiting for, and he was amazing. Fronting a three-piece band, including Cicadas compatriot Steuart Smith for the first time in nine years, Crowell focused largely on material from The Houston Kid and later albums. “The Rise and Fall of Intelligent Design” and “Moving Piece of Art” started the show, setting the tone for an evening of music played with maturity and good taste. “Still Learning How to Fly” seemed especially poignant, and “I Wish It Would Rain” seemed to capture the audience’s attention. I was especially pleased to hear “Closer to Heaven,” if only to howl “I love Guy Clark” along with Rodney.
More than halfway through the show, Crowell started reaching back into his extensive catalogue. “Leaving Louisiana” and “Til I Gain Control Again” got things going while an amped up take of “I Ain’t Living Long Like This” was blistering, and on this familiar tune Crowell and his band demonstrated that a country band can rock without resorting to recycled Van Halen riffs.
While at an afternoon session (I’m told by an ecstatic Cheryl) Crowell dipped into the songbooks of George, Hank, and Merle, the only cover on this night was a spell-binding rendition of “Pancho and Lefty.” Introduced by Crowell as “one of the greatest songs ever written,” he launched into the song and made it sound new. I think this version may get Waylon and Willie playing dress-up out of my head, and perhaps I can enjoy the song now as others do.
As an encore, Crowell came back unaccompanied with quiet, gentle benediction that I just can’t identify although I know I’ve heard it before; it reminded me a little of “Forever Young,” but I couldn’t figure it out. (Edit: Two years later…”Earthbound,” I do believe.) He swung into “I Know Love Is All I Need” with the band rejoining him before the song’s conclusion.
A perfect performance, in my opinion. Too often I am disappointed in performances on large festival stages from my favourites, but not this time. Even lacking the Columbia hits and our being several hundred feet from the stage, Crowell kept me engrossed the entire performance.
My friends left after Rodney, and I decided to move to another location for Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings. I knew I wouldn’t stay long, no matter how good they were because of the two-hour commute home, but I wanted to be close to one of the video screens. I found a wonderful spot, and I think it may now be my favourite secret location, on a steep incline that no one else seems to sit on.
The tweener for this slot was Ashley MacIsaac accompanied by Quinn Bachand, a thirteen year-old guitar wizard. One could almost hear the hill collectively sigh, “Ashley, all is forgiven. Welcome back, lad!” The attention-seeking behavior of the past was forgotten as the duo electrified those remaining in attendance. They did three numbers, the middle of which was a dreamy, passionate fiddle tune that was lovely. Bookending this sensitive number that really showed off MacIsaac’s gifts were a pair of up-tempo leapers with which one more readily associates with the Nova Scotian. Seeing MacIsaac mouth the chord changes to Quinn was like watching the skills of one generation being passed down to the next, which I guess it was. I’ll be on the lookout for more music of this type from MacIsaac and I won’t be surprised to see him making a return visit soon.
The seven-piece Dap-Kings opened the show Wilson Pickett-style, with a horn rich instrumental, firing up the audience with an extended introduction to the revue while getting the lower bowl on their feet. By the time Jones joined the boys, the hill was rocking to the soul-fest. “How Do You Let A Good Man Down?” got things jumping, and “Nobody’s Baby” kept it going. A couple tunes later and I was making my way to the bus, wishing I could stay later. But, knowing it would be 2:00 AM before I got home kept me going toward the exit as midnight approached.
What a day! I can’t remember the last time I left a music festival so drained and satisfied. I was unable to catch several favourites, including Chuck Brodsky, Kimmie Rhodes, The Skydiggers, Spirit of the West, and Great Lake Swimmers, and I still haven’t caught up to Sierra Hull. Hot Tuna intrigued me, especially after I realized who was playing with them- Barry Mitterhoff. Dang! I even missed Dick Gaughan, something I never thought I would do. Too many choices. A friend suggested I hear The Wooden Sky, but I was unable to. I bought their disc instead, unheard and only on my pal’s advice. I must say, Ross has me figured out as I’ve quite enjoyed the album already.
A last thought- It was nice to see a mention of Gilbert Bouchard in the festival’s program guide. I won’t pretend Gilbert and I were friends, and certainly have no desire to overstate our relationship. But for several months from 1984 to 1986, Gilbert was a close acquaintence. He was the first person to give me a chance to write about music and was a brutal but supportive editor. His taste in sherry not withstanding, without his involvement, I likely wouldn’t have followed a path that has included writing.
As always, the Edmonton Folk Music Festival appeared to be excellently organized, and my experience was entirely pleasant, excepting a half-hour of chatter-chatter during Iron & Wine. For those of you not in the Edmonton area, consider putting this fest on your vacation planner; but get your tickets early, as the fest tends to sell out quickly. www.efmf.ab.ca
I was only able to attend one day of the Edmonton Folk Music Festival this year. As I get older, I do find that one day is enough for me! However, I would love to be able to attend for more days; maybe I need to move closer to Edmonton! In the past I’ve been fortunate to attend the festival for the duration- four days and nights- and have been exposed to some wonderful music. But, I really can’t stand the crowds, but more on that later. Forgive me on the lack of details in places; I hadn’t attended the festival with the intention of writing about it, so I didn’t take any notes. Oops.
I drove up to Edmonton on Saturday morning. I had initially planned on going up on Friday night to catch the Dan Tyminski Band, but didn’t make it. I was told that their performance was good, but not essential so I felt a little better. After parking and taking the bus to Gallagher Hill, I was on-site in time to spend a few minutes in the merchandise tent and buy a new release of a Tom Russell Band show from 1989 in Lyon, France; I’ll review that one someday soon.
I had planned out my day at the Edmonton Folk Music Festival prior to arriving; with so many artists performing at the same time- and a bit of a walk between stages (minimum of eight or nine minutes between stages six and one)- time spent considering the options is usually well spent. However, like my plan to attend Friday evening, such plans need to have some flexibility built in. I ended up attending about two-thirds of the sessions I had planned on, with last minute decisions changing things up.
I headed over to Stage Six to listen in on the In Harmony session with Martyn Joseph, the Claire Lynch Band, and Moya Brennan (Clannad). However, as I neared Stage Four, I could hear Tom Russell singing, and decided to pop in for a listen. He had started his session several minutes early, and we were treated to a number (can’t remember what it was) before Tom introduced Dan Frechette and Ridley Bent in turn. Frechette was well matched with TR, and performed music of a similar fashion. Bent cuts across genres although he is more country than anything else; he performed a couple songs (“Buckles and Boots”) including one from his first album in his country-rap fashion; I think it was “Suicidewinder.” Russell told a couple stories, including one I hadn’t heard before about being in Switzerland with Johnny Cash; he did a little impression of Cash’s interpretation of “Veteran’s Day.” Russell also performed “Stealing Electricity” as well as a new song. By the way, I hate Stage Four; it seems to be the worst stage for sound bleed as Stage Three always seems loud here. I never did get to Stage Six.
After this session I walked next door and caught the end of Too Cool For School session at Stage Five. Luke Ducet and Melissa McClelland were performing the “I Wish I was An American” tune, and got lots of laughs from the appreciative mass. Good fun.
Next up were John Reischman & the Jaybirds, a well-respected bluegrass band that I hadn’t planned on sticking around for as I have seen them live many, many times and I really wanted to see Eliza Gilkyson. The Jaybirds are always brilliant, however, and so I got a good shaded seat in front of the sound board and listened to several Jaybirds songs. The set was fairly familiar with songs from each of their four albums. “Bravest Cowboy” started things off, as it often does, and then “Winter’s Come and Gone”, “North Shore”, “Blackberry Bramble”, “Travelin’ The Road West”, and other tunes. Greg Spatz played some really sweet fiddle during “North Shore” and Reischman was note perfect in a Monroe style. As much as I was enjoying the set, I sensed I wasn’t going to hear anything ‘new’, so I hustled over to Stage One for some Eliza, and am I ever glad I did.
Joined by Nina Gerber- who I’m told is a brilliant guitarist (to me, it just sounded like every other electric guitar player I’ve heard…sorry)- Eliza was in the midst of “Tender Mercies” as I walked up. The especially large audience was silent. A special moment. She also performed (if memory serves) “Emerald Street” before I got called away to talk to a friend.
I was sorry that I hadn’t spent more time with Eliza, but that is the way it goes sometimes; I did get the sense that I was falling into the trap of trying to see too many things, and did vow to slow down for the rest of the day.
Heading back to Stage Five to meet up with friends, I was able to listen to the entire set from Wales’ Martyn Joseph. I had circled this one in my program, and since my friends also wanted to hear it, I was excited to hear Joseph again. I think the last time I caught him was here in Red Deer in 2004 at a little show in a (fair) dive called the Vat; talk about a wierd gig for a ‘word-heavy’ singer-songwriter. Joseph did his usual thing, and he was in fine form. I do wonder what all the folkies will do next year when they don’t have George Bush to kick around, but it sure was fun to hear them do so this time out. He performed “Cardiff Bay” as well as the song where he mixes in Tracy Chapman’s “Talking About a Revolution.” I enjoyed the set, but it did have a bit of ‘same-ness’ to it. After about twenty-five minutes, my friend stated, “I think it was David Francey I liked” which was funny. I guess he wasn’t enjoying MJ as much as I was. [Addition: Since the fest., I've been listening to MJ almost non-stop. He just gets better with additional listening.]
By this time, it was 2:00, and the main stage afternoon set with Bellowhead was ready to start. I guess I’d describe them as Chumbawamba crossed with Great Big Sea with Rory McLeod sitting in. A few jigs and reel type instrumentals, a few sea shanty type songs. Good enough, but nothing that changed my life.
By this time, I was tired of walking, and decided to stay in one area. So I gave up on my initial choice of Redemption Song with Joseph, Eliza, Jon Brooks, and Karine Polwart and headed to Stage One for Above the 49th. It turned out to be the type of session I hate in that each of the sets of musicians would stand up, perform a song, sit down, and then the next would do a tune. Next to no interaction between them. Having said that…it turned out great.
Serena Ryder was there with Hugh McLellan and did a few songs. The youngster with us was quite smitten with Ryder, and while she isn’t my favourite performer I do see what others like. She did a blistering version of the Band’s “This Wheel’s On Fire.” Reischman was hosting this one, and he and the Jaybirds did a few tunes including “Home Sweet Home” while Catherine MacLellan was also present. Things really picked up at the end when everyone finally got involved and Jim Nunally led them through a rendition of Gordon Lightfoot’s “Early Morning Rain”…at least that is what I hope it was- the memory, again. Whatever it was, it was terrific. You’d think I could remember! (added: Just confirmed with my friend that it was “EMR” that the workshop crew jammed on. The memory isn’t as bad as I thought, although it is bad enough to doubt.)
I then headed to the nearby Stage Seven to hear Colin Hay. The site for this stage is, unlike all the other stages at the EFMF, a bit limited, and the space was filled to overflowing. It was here that the crowd got to me. This lady sitting near me didn’t stop talking for the entire forty minute set. Not once. And she wasn’t talking about music or the festival, just visiting in a very loud voice. Her friends were right in there with her; no good neighbours here. I just don’t get it. If you want to visit, why sit at one of the side stages to do it; go to your tarp on the hill, go to the beer garden. What a pain…and that was enough to send me into a pout of negativity! I just hate the rudeness, especially when I really want to hear the artist.
Hay took awhile to get going- a bit of tech fiddling- but started out with “Who Will It Be Now” before heading into tunes like “Beautiful World” and “Are You Lookin’ at Me?” He told a few funny stories including about his family’s migration from Scotland to Australia; they had considered Canada, but why go to another place with bad weather! He also performed “Down Under” which I guess he pretty much has to. His accompanying female vocalist was very, ummm, strange. Lots of trippy hand movements and swaying. I didn’t quite get her. A very good set, though. Really regretting I didn’t buy his album “Are You Lookin’ At Me?” at the merch tent, especially as it isn’t on eMusic, like I was hoping it would be. Another time. [Addition: And that time is now! “Are You Talking to Me?” was just added to eMusic on August 13!)
The final session I was going to attend was supposed to be Tom Russell’s concert- even though I said I wasn’t going to walk again-, and I did walk back across the site for the beginning of his show. I stayed around for about four or five songs, and while it was okay, I wasn’t blown away. So I headed over to the other concert I had wanted to hear, which was Dar Williams. I love Dar, but after about four songs, I wasn’t able to tell the songs apart. However, I stayed around, and she did a few that were nice, including “The Ocean”, “When I Was A Boy”, and of course “The Christians and the Pagans.” She did a few new tunes as well. I love her sense of fun, how can you not, but- like Martyn Joseph (whom she mistakenly called Joseph Martyn) and Ron Sexsmith, the songs kind of run together.
The main stage started up again at six, and I wanted to hear Ron Sexsmith. I was able to sit with my friends again, and we did a little visiting- not noisy!- while letting Sexsmith’s easy breezy sounds float over us. He did real nice versions of “Gold in those Hills” and “Brandy Alexander.”
I used to think Carolyn Mark was my least favourite festival MC. She has been replaced by Al Simmons.
I had planned on heading home after Sexsmith, but decided to see what Abigail Washburn & the Sparrow Quartet with Bela Fleck would be like. I had enjoyed her disc of a couple years back- Song of the Traveling Daughter- and was intrigued. That didn’t last long. The reviews the next day were good, but I just found it boring. Excessivelly so. So, I headed out to make the long journey home.
It was a real good day, and I heard a lot of enjoyable stuff. Nothing really blew me away, and Tom Russell’s concert- for the first time ever- kind of disappointed me although I have nothing tangible to base that on. I wish I had found time to hear John Wort Hannam, who I always enjoy, and Moya Brennan, if even just for a song or two. The next morning they had her as well as Jon Brooks live on the radio, and I really liked his stuff. Missed him too. That’s the problem with the folk fest- too many choices. If only Terry Wickham would consult me on the sessions schedule, I’d be able to help him plan things a bit better! Start with what I want to hear, and plan around that.
The sessions offered on this day were okay, but not earthshattering. And definitely there wasn’t enough interaction between the participants, at least at the stages I was at. And the programmer missed a chance for a real banjo spectacular- with Bela Fleck, Alison Brown, Abigail Washburn, Craig Korth, Nick Harbuckle, and Jayme Stone all on site, we could have had a real good time with 5-string masters who play in very different styles.
It is likely good that I don’t go to the area folk and bluegrass festivals for the full weekend. I am tired of people who talk while I’m trying to listen. It happens everywhere- including concerts- and it drives me nuts. But the Edmonton Folk Music Festival- despite the presence of idiots- is always well organized, and nicely programmed. I wish I could have been there for more of it- for the Tyminski band, Brett Dennam, and others- but if I had to choose a day, and I did, I’m glad I chose this one. Well done EFMF and all the volunteers. Even the portapotties weren’t too gross. Nice.