We left the second day of the Mountain View Music Festival a little early, although I’m not sure how early. See, the sky was doing strange things prior to Charlie Major’s set and while things seemed settled around Carstairs, we could see the north sky darkening significantly. As we had close to an hour’s drive in that direction to go, we decided to bail, and I’m glad we did. While the first many minutes of driving were uneventful, by the time we turned onto the #2 going north, the sky was dancing. We had quite the seat for the lightning with- at one point- the sky flashing bright on to the west, the east, and then the north in immediate succession. Then the sky opened and poured like nothing I’ve driven in for quite a while.
Since all this activity was occurring north of Carstairs, I hope that Charlie Major and the Polyjesters were able to bring their set to a satisfying conclusion. It certainly started out quite promising.
Country music was front and center today at the MVMF with no fewer than four of the main stage acts falling into that category. Best known in the US for providing Ricky Van Shelton with “Backroads” two decades ago, Major was in strong voice on this evening, ably demonstrating in his reserved manner why he had nine Canadian country #1s though the 90s as well as three Junos as Country Male Vocalist of the Year.
Starting off unaccompanied, Major balanced new songs with old, including “I’m Somebody” (his second #1) and the new single “Through God’s Eyes.” A ballad inspiring reflection serves as the title track of his new disc On the Evening Side and it was remarkable how attentive the audience was for a song that almost all were hearing for the first time.
There is a darkness inhabiting many of Major’s best songs, even the radio hits including “It Can’t Happen to Me.” The festival host band The Polyjesters joined Major for a loose but honest interpretation of the workingman anthem “I Do It for the Money.” We skedaddled after the five piece made their way through “Runaway Train” from 1996’s Lucky Man.
Of the most commercially popular Canadian country male vocalists of the 90s- George Fox, Paul Brandt, and Major- Charlie Major was always the one who seemed like he least belonged on the country stage. Tonight he demonstrated that there is a fine line between country, rock, and folk and it doesn’t really matter which side you fall on. A good song is a good song.
Earlier in the day, Matt Masters and Tim Hus both performed well-received sets. Masters delivered a solid set of cowboy and Western Canadian songs highlighted by “Centennial Swell,” the new “Saskatchewan,” and a couple songs from his Don Coyote musical. Accompanied by the lightning-fingered Pete Christian, Masters included in his set “I Can’t Go Nowhere” from which he borrows liberally from “I’ve Been Everywhere.”
Tim Hus and his band performed as a four-piece, and they were tight while running through their Stompin’ Tom meets Corb Lund cowboy rock ‘n’ roll. Hus went over well with a sizeable portion of the audience, but for some reason I can’t connect with him and his songs. I don’t know why. On the surface, his material is very good and he can sing. He sings about all the right stuff- the myth and mystery of the prairie and western experience, how there is hardly any western (or country, for that matter) in today’s country music- and I should love it but I can’t buy in, and I realize I’m was in the minority on this evening.
For me, the most impressive portion of the program was Billy MacInnis’s work on both fiddle and Tele. His guitar leads were hot and his fiddling on select tunes including the “Louis Riel Reel” was dazzling.
More to my tastes were a trio of folk-based artists who performed throughout the afternoon.
Ben Sures was in great voice as our afternoon of listening kicked off. He and his accompanists rolked (yes, I’ve just invented the word to describe rocking folk music) through a half-dozen pieces from this very terrific Gone to Boliva album of this spring. “High School Steps” was especially enjoyed by me, as was “Any Precious Girl,” one of his stronger catalogue tracks.
Appearing solo, Cara Luft performed a short main stage set previewing several songs from her
forthcoming new album; only a couple of these songs were about bedrooms she has visited. A charming performer, Luft hit her zenith while commanding her interpretation of “Black Water Side,” included on her previous and quite fabulous The Light Fantastic.
Cam Penner was probably the highlight for me of today’s (okay, we’re now into Sunday so yesterday’s) schedule. Delivering songs from the edge of town, Penner was positively ‘on,’ despite battling a broken string. He is a powerful vocalist although not overly loud in his delivery and has as much roots charisma as he has facial hair. This appeal was demonstrated throughout the set, including on the new “Hey My My My” and “Driftwood.” “Ghost Car” was another highlight. He has the songs. He has the delivery. And he has an audience.
Having followed Penner since his “& the Gravel Road” days, I’m quite pleased to see his continued progression. I’ve been listening to his new Gypsy Summer album for the first time this evening as I’m writing, and it is an excellent disc.
With rare exception, artists as well established as Sures (six albums; more?), Luft (two albums and a stint as a founding Wailin’ Jenny), and Penner (five albums), when playing at a festival such as this, are presenting themselves to listeners entirely unfamiliar with their music. With short sets of 30 to 40 minutes, the artists have about six songs to make a positive impression; without hesitation, a tough job. Along with Rob Szabo (three albums), I think the folkies did themselves proud on this occasion.
Traveling from Ontario for this gig, Szabo- whose album I continually misplace around Fervor Coulee headquarters- was quite enjoyable although, with all that was going on around me today, I recall his set less clearly than others. Not his fault, of course. What does stick out was the pair of lines that also pop out at me when I listen to his recent album, Rob Szabo.
I believe in songs they’re all I trust
There’s so much love in those same three chords.
Ain’t that the truth! He turned those into one of his sing-a-long bits today and they basically sum it all up.
Along with Cam Penner, Calgary’s Kinjo Brothers were Deana’s favourites of the day. This trio served up a lively sampling of ska-infused rock ‘n’ roll. To a degree it all sounded the same to me, but they had folks up and dancing so I’ll not over-analyze things. They closed their set with a couple covers that I appreciated: Old Crow Medicine Show’s (and Bob Dylan’s) “Wagon Wheel” and Stevie Wonder’s “Master Blaster (Jammin’).” They are a fun group, I’ll give them that.
Lynn Miles had the misfortune of taking the stage as the wildest cloud formations I’ve ever experienced began moving in, and moving in from, the west. I quite like Miles and am enjoying her music now more than ever before, but even I had trouble concentrating on her performance; she was behind the 8-ball from the start as all eyes and cameras were on the sky.
She sounded really good, maybe a bit tentative as she too was watching the sky. “Three Chords and the Truth” and “Love Doesn’t
Hurt” were enjoyed. “Black Flowers” stands out in my memory as the solo highlight. The set’s strongest moments came as a blazing version of “Unravel” on which she was joined by some of the Polyjesters. The lyrics were apt: “You can make a perfect plan and see it all unravel;” as the sky threatened, she beat a hasty retreat. Unfortunately and likely leaving a number of songs unperformed.
Caroline’s Micah Turchet turned in the ‘tweener of the weekend when he took the stage for a couple songs. Performing first an impressive masculine flamenco number, Turchet really shone when he turned to what he called the roots of flamenco by performing an original composition of Middle Eastern sounds. He held my attention as his fingers flew up and down the fret board. Captivating and beautiful sounds that challenge my belief that no one under the age of 18 should be allowed on a festival stage in my presence.
Deana didn’t enjoy today as much as yesterday- not as many of the performers appealed to her- but I had a great time at Day 2 of the 2011 edition of the Mountain View Music Fest. We’re bowing out of Sunday’s show, but there is a full slate going on two stages beginning at 11:00. Refer to http://www.mvmf.ca/MVMF/Home.html for details.
Thanks for visiting Fervor Coulee. Donald
(It’s late- forgive typos and poor/repeated word choices. It’s not like I’m getting paid for this!) Later.