Music to Fill a Heart: Folk Fest Thursday, July 27, 2017

I haven’t updated my blog for most of the summer.  Sometimes life just carries you to places you didn’t expect.  It’s been one of those types of summers.  I purchased my Early Bird Folk Festival tickets months in advance of the event.  It was probably a good thing because otherwise, I wouldn’t have treated myself with so much going on at the home front.  In the end, I attended the entire weekend, with the support of my family and with coverage for dog walking and other responsibilities.  Max is always a factor in my planning.

It was July 27.  It was my mother’s birthday.  I remember taking my mother down to the the island, many years ago.  We sat on a bench and shared an ice cream cone. I thought a lot about Mom that evening. I ended up closer to the entrance than any previous Thursday night and had some lovely conversation with my line mates as we waited for gates to open.  I chatted with a family group and also met a gentleman who is married to a lady from Souris, PEI, so we had some time to chat about the Cheveries, as she has her family of origin in that line.

Oh, yeah…and I found this guy, in line.  (and yes…we need to get the programs in place NOW, in regards to homeless Veterans.  I’m with you on that, readers.)

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My first and most favourite food of the weekend…a Mediterranean plate, paired with an ice cold lemonade.  Thursday evening entailed no fly sheets, a simple cozy blanket for sitting.

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Thursday night saw me plunking my butt down at the Main Stage the entire time.  I ended up very close to the music.  I felt breath and peace and music sink into me, as for the first time, this summer, I truly relaxed.  My favourite discovery was the 5:30 performance by Dawes!  Why haven’t I heard Dawes before?  What???

Immediately, the song writing touched me and I related to the music at a heart level.  I’m going to post, not one, but two videos, here.

Ripped off, directly from the Folk Festival website…this biography.

“California in the ‘70s saw the rise of the singer songwriter scene, where musicians threw off the yoke of ye olde folk songs to try their hands at new, more personal creations that melded the personal, the political and the heartfelt. California roots rock band Dawes ably carries that musical torch, even recording their first album live to analog tape in a studio in Laurel Canyon. If you need a recipe for Dawes’s sound, imagine poignant and melodic songs, heartfelt lyrics, sweet harmonies mixed together in a package that’s just a little rough around the edges.

The band’s founders are brothers Griffin and Taylor Goldsmith, so they come by the sweet sibling vocals honestly. Turns out the band’s name is part of their family roots. Dawes is Taylor’s middle name, inherited from his grandad who really liked the idea of keeping the connection and introduced them to two of their favourite artists, Bob Wills and Hank Williams. Dawes mines five albums worth of originals and occasionally serve as the backing band of their old friend and collaborator Bright Eyes (Connor Oberst). And they spread their modern take on ‘70s music, touring folk and rock festivals in the U.S., building a loyal audience for their distinct brand of indie California folk rock.
ER”

 

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A highlight for me was musician, Duane Betts, son of Dickey Betts, who joins Dawes with their touring band.  Mouth dropping guitar interludes absolutely blew me away!  A great experience in music!

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Choir! Choir! Choir!  was entertaining at 6:45, but honestly, Calgary, I would have liked to see more participation.  This makes me laugh, as I see the teacher-heart spring up.  We did a poor version of Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah.  It sounded nothing like the version I’ve posted, here.  I did move right up to the front and gave it my best effort, as you can all imagine.  We didn’t have Rufus Wainwright with us, but you get the idea.

 

An academic study into the effects of collective singing at one Mideast protest found that it helped the group vent negative emotions, strengthen solidarity, foster hope and experience spiritual transcendence. That’s also a typical review of a Choir! Choir! Choir! experience.

And it is an experience, more than a show or a gig. Choir! started as a weekly event at Clinton’s Tavern in Toronto, where anyone with $5 and any skill level could show up and sing along. As word and YouTube videos spread, they begin taking the experience on the road. The onstage setup is simple: usually, just an acoustic guitarist and somebody waving their arms (the conductor). The audience does the heavy lifting. No audition required: Choir! leaders hand out lyric sheets, divide the group into highs, middles and lows, teach the harmonies — and then a radio staple by Tragically Hip, Rihanna or a ’90s grunge band becomes a beautifully shared moment. Hope, solidarity and spiritual transcendence are often outcomes of a great Folk Fest stage, but never quite like this, where the magic emanates from all of you.

JM”

Up next was Coeur de pirate.  She has the pipes!  I was watching her perform through the eyes of my friend, Denise and I thought a lot about our friendship throughout the performance.  A beautiful and animated performer, she blew us all away.  It was at this point that I connected with friend, Jane, who happened to be hanging with all three of her kids and families.  I feel so blessed to have joined them on their tarp for this set.

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Billy Bragg and Joe Henry performed next.  It was difficult to separate the opinions of others regarding Billy Bragg and my experience of this music.  He is looked at like authentic ranchers would view a Rhinestone Cowboy…a bit of a star who doesn’t suffer the actual realities of hard working people.  However, I have to tell you, I was really impressed by the music.  I am nostalgic when I think of trains and this was the general drift of this set.  Joe Henry and Billy Bragg have been collaborators on a project that, I think, archives a history of music as it relates to the American Train.  I guess one would argue that this is an appropriation, of sorts.  I say this, simply, because its a subject that comes up a lot.

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I enjoyed my first night of music listening minus some parking shenanigans….so began folk festival 2017.

The Stuff of Life: Musical Moments

I have every intention of writing a post here, but, no guarantees. (Three days after writing this introduction, I return to the keyboard.) It’s another ‘hot one’ outside. (As I sit to put the punctuation on this blog post, an entire month and more has gone by.  It is raining outside, with a night time temperature of 13 degrees. I invite my readers to just sit back and enjoy the ride!)  We’ve had a long string of beautiful days and after such a rough winter, is it any wonder that writers step away from their keyboards and artists abandon their studios?  It’s time to make discoveries and later, pull back into the world of studios when  the snow flies and the world is once more, asleep.

I thought I might report on the folk festival daily, but that also failed after Thursday’s reviews, so here I will attempt a sketchy recollection of summer moments and the recent ‘stuff’ of life.

Dad arrived safe and sound, completing another Trans-Canada drive from Ontario and this has been a joy for me; to be able to cook together, eat beautiful foods together and to kiss one another good night before heading for bed.  Our conversations can be interesting and charged with new awareness and revelation OR frustrating and awkward.  We’ve never seen eye-to-eye on several topics and everyone knows it, but I respect no one more than I respect my Dad, for his knowledge, his generosity and his huge conviction. My Dad and I are both religious people and we treasure those discussions.  He knows his scripture and when I share my thoughts about nature, the land and my feelings (both positive and negative), he comes from the same framework and so he inspires me.  Dad loves me and it’s so nice to be on the same red sofa, in the same rooms…the same house…with THAT love.  We are sharing beautiful times.  I love my Dad.

July 27th marked Mom’s second birthday without us, and us without her.  I happened to be down at the folk festival.  Dad was visiting our relations in southern Alberta.  Daughter, Cayley and I melted into the day.  I told her that I didn’t want to be rushing and so I had my first coffee on my back yard deck while watching the birds at the feeder and doing a bit of gardening.  My Mom would have enjoyed all of that.

Sharing a tarp with my children, first we enjoyed Sam Carter.

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I think that one of the most blessed moments of that day was when Matt Patershuk  was emcee at a workshop and decided to end the set with a participatory event that involved the improvisation of You Are My Sunshine, a tune that my mother led our family in singing on so many wonderful road trips.  Mom so enjoyed road trips AND sing songs.  This was a true gift.  There were several really magical moments shared during Folk Festival.

The first concert that I ever attended came after I left Great Falls, Montana and attended University in Lethbridge, Alberta.  The Yates Theater hosted an intimate concert featuring an up-and-comer, Bruce Cockburn.  A young, gangly man, he walked out to center stage, carrying his own wooden stool and an acoustic guitar.  Above him, was hung a mirror ball that came to life during his tune, All the Diamonds in the World.  It was such an amazing concert.  I routinely listened to his early albums on Mark Mehrer’s turn table in my residence.

Yates LethbridgeI enjoyed Bruce Cockburn at both a workshop and an evening concert.  Both experiences were moving as I felt so plugged into the music.

P1180216Nigerian, Seun Kuti, truly rocked the Main Stage on Saturday night.  Cayley and I moved right up to the front row for this…energy…drums…rhythm…voices that were strong and full of conviction.  This was mesmerizing!  Walking to the C Train that night, we felt pulled into the crowd…music connecting all.

Amazing dancers/back up singers!

Amazing dancers/back up singers!

As I continue to jot these musical moments, I am realizing that in no way am I capturing my delight and engagement in these acts.  In fact, I feel that there is no way that I can even list all of the musicians that I discovered this year at folk festival.  I’ll attempt some highlights, beginning with Leonard Sumner of Little Saskatchewan First Nation, Manitoba.  He has evolved to a style that combines a folk/country rhythm with a rap lyric.  I was touched by this young man’s connection to a unique narrative and was impressed by his song writing, a tool to reach others and to encourage healing.  For similar reasons, I enjoyed Nick Sherman of Sioux Lookout, Ontario.

New to me, as well, was The Provincial Archive of our own Edmonton, Alberta.  I enjoyed them at an early workshop on the final day as well as their own stage in the heat of the afternoon.  Nice thing was, they led us in a final tune, a Pete Seeger tribute.  We all joined in singing If I Had a Hammer, a tune that wound up the final performances of every stage all over the grounds that afternoon. Very cool for lots of reasons.

I waited, excited, to hear Matt Andersen on the Main Stage on Sunday Night.  I have enjoyed his music for years.  His guitar playing was fantasmic and his last tune of the night blew us all out of the water…a great ending to a highly successful 2014 Folk Festival.  I guess I’d have to say that I prefer to see Matt take a stage on his own…no back-up, but the Mellotones showed up and really owned the stage along side ‘the man’.

Music…a huge net that captures the stuff of our lives!  Universal. Powerful. Magic.

The Waltz We Were Born For
Walt McDonald, 1934

I never knew them all, just hummed
and thrummed my fingers with the radio,
driving five hundred miles to Austin.
Her arms held all the songs I needed.
Our boots kept time with fiddles
and the charming sobs of blondes,

the whine of steel guitars
sliding us down in deer-hide chairs
when jukebox music was over.
Sad music’s on my mind tonight
in a jet high over Dallas, earphones
on channel five. A lonely singer,

dead, comes back to beg me,
swearing in my ears she’s mine,
rhymes set to music that make
her lies seem true. She’s gone
and others like her, leaving their songs
to haunt us. Letting down through clouds

I know who I’ll find waiting at the gate,
the same woman faithful to my arms
as she was those nights in Austin
when the world seemed like a jukebox,
our boots able to dance forever,
our pockets full of coins.

Thursday Night at Folk Festival 2014

There are a whole number of rituals tied in with attending folk festival.  First of all, the required objects are pulled out from where they were stored last year; folk festival chair, tarp and cozy blanket.  Then for the practical stuff, another layer of clothes, a hat and an extra pair of socks.  I stopped at the corner store and picked up a booklet of 10 transit tickets because I park and then ride the train down to the core.  The walk to Princes Island Park each day doesn’t hold as much magic as the return trip after each night’s events. The ‘collective’ feels like a huge mass moving upstream at eleven o’clock; many groups, singing songs, laughing, chatting and comparing stages and stories…it’s a hoot.

Line up to pick up four day pass bracelets was long, but very fast-moving.  My daughter and I are not fond of the new plastic bands because they are not so forgiving as the paper bands.  I’m guessing that there is a good and very functional reason for the change.

Thursday night always takes some sorting as far as the fine-tuning of sound quality.  Last night, both the National and the Mainstage had their struggles.   Basia Bulat was first on our list and while nothing could match her enthusiasm, there were some serious glitches at the National Stage at this point.  Generally, the poor sound as related to the keyboard and percussion distracted from Basia’s vocals.  This lady is a definite ‘must hear’.

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Greek food was on the evening’s dinner menu.  Yummy!

I headed over to the Mainstage to hear Hey Rosetta! and a couple of numbers from Old Man Luedecke.  This went much better.  While I had heard that sound needed some tweeking with Valerie June’s set, the kinks seemed to be worked out.

I thought Hey Rosetta! created an elegant and many-layered sound.  From Wikipedia, Hey Rosetta! is a Canadian six-piece indie rock band from St. John’s, Newfoundland and Labrador and led by singer/songwriter Tim Baker. Known for its intimate songwriting and energized live shows, the band creates a massive, layered sound by incorporating piano, violin and cello into the traditional four-piece rock setup.

The best was yet to come for me.  I highly recommend Andrew Bird & the Hands of Glory.  Excellent!

The fam jam and friends gathered on our tarps for this set and had a ton of fun.  Little toddler, Zoe, pretend-fed us jugs of beer and strawberries, with a hand full of sticks.  We cuddled in and kept time to the music.  It was a beautiful night.  Friend, Dave, just arrived from London, England, was a tad cold and will come tonight, I’m certain, wearing layers.  Sorry, buddy.

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The Better Part of the Afternoon

This is what I’m talkin’ about!

Alright…so, I spent the better part of the afternoon writing brief accounts of only some of the artists I had the opportunity to hear this past weekend…but, what I failed to capture was the ‘experience’ of the Calgary Folk Festival.  I’m not certain that words or photographs can ever bring the experience of heading for ‘the island’ to life. Spending a hot and sunny July weekend with friends and family, chilling, is an experience that warms the heart in all of its corners.

The volunteers are remarkable…the enthusiasm can be felt everywhere.  Good food smells permeate the venue!  On Saturday, I had a plate of Indian food, a tradition in our family on one of our folk fest days. From Steven Hunt’s

Opposing world views find harmony at folk fest
Calgary Herald, July 25, 2010

“For more than a decade, the Nagpals, Saroj and husband Ashwani, who operate the India Palace food vendor, have been loading up their trailer and making the drive from Winnipeg to sell their popular butter chicken and other Indian dishes.

It’s the first stop of an India Palace Alberta tour that also includes the Edmonton Folk Festival and that city’s fringe fest.

While the Nagpals spend a large chunk of their summer at hip music festivals, that doesn’t necessarily translate into seeing much of any of them.

For one thing, none of India Palace’s food is prepared ahead of time.

“Everything we have to do (prepare) on the site, and it takes a little bit of time,” says Ashwani.

For the Nagpals, a division of labour helps keep the epic lineups outside their trailer moving steadily. As Saroj supervises serving meals, Ashwani trains and supervises food preparation. “He trains all the chefs and cooks, and then he walks around,” says Saroj.

While there isn’t much opportunity for the Nagpals to hear much music, one year did produce a pleasant surprise: an Indian band.

“They were here from Rajistan, from India,” says Ashwani. “They were playing right in front of our booth when it was the opening ceremony and we just know that because my wife studied in Rajistan.

“We look after them,” he adds, “because when they’re from the same country … and you meet them in a country far away (from home), you feel so good.””

I enjoyed my ritual of a lemonade slushie during the heat of the afternoon and then later,  I drank a beer with a former student in the beer gardens, sharing stories and lots of laughs.  Much like squatters,  my daughters and I spread our tarp on a piece of property and, this year, had only one occasion of racing to cover up our ‘stuff’ because of a quick thunder storm that blew through.  The folk festival ‘fashions’, the hula hoops, the  beach balls and location markers, two-dollar plate rentals…these are all part of the crazy ambience that IS Calgary Folk Festival.  It is a wonderful time!

The C-Train’s rocking movement lulled most of its riders to a quiet hush as we headed south and away from Prince’s Island for another year.  Another successful folk fest!

Dan Mangan

Photo Credit Derek Branscombecrop

Photo Credit: Derek Branscombecrop and found on brag.com.

I sought out Dan Mangan’s performances at several stages on Saturday and Sunday and they were awesome!  I’d have to say that my favourite though, was when he shared Stage 6 with Ian Tamblyn, Joe Nolan and Leeroy Stagger.  What an awesome workshop!  I think that Dan Mangan has an awesome website and I link to it in the hopes that my readers will explore some of his tunes and hook up with his music live when you can.

Out of Vancouver, Dan respectfully honours the music of others.  What extraordinary writing and wondrous musicality.

If the writing is honest it cannot be separated from the man who wrote it. Tennessee Williams

Serena Ryder

Photo credit to Atlantic Records.

Daughter Erin and I had opportunity to hear Serena Ryder, along with the Beauties, twice: once at a workshop and once at the Main Stage.  I liked Serena’s honesty and her ability to transcend the performer/audience relationship to entertain and to relate, both.  I treasured her new song, Merry-go-round, contributing to her authenticity as a performer.  She shared that music literally pulls her out of great sadness, having suffered depression at different times in her life.  She also told us a story about being lost at a fair and once again finding that the music of the merry-go-round soothed her anxiety.  A great performer!

Summer Explodes With Blitz the Ambassador

What a stage! Melvin Gibbs, Wazimbo, Marc Ribat y Los Cubanos Postizos and Blitz the Ambassador!  This is where things exploded at the Calgary Folk Festival!  The brass and percussion were stunning!

Melvin Gibbs

Stage 4 on Sunday afternoon was alive with beats and an explosion of dancing in sunshine and blue skies.  Melvin Gibbs is a phenomenal bass guitar player.  I’ve never heard anything like it and I was really pleased to have the chance to shake his hand and exchange some words.  If you have an artist’s soul, may I recommend that you pour a cold glass of water or a nice mug of coffee and sit back and watch this three part interview.  It is so inspiring!

Find the complete 3 part interview by clicking HERE!

Justin Townes Earle: Rooted

We took in a workshop and a Main Stage performance with Justin Townes Earle.  His work smacks of memory as I recall times spent listening to Guthrie.  After some time with his lyrics and with his melodies, one becomes deeply connected with his story.  It creeps into everything.  He doesn’t have to narrate anything.  The music is raw.  I think he’s a brave musician.

When he did say something, it evoked a huge response inside of me, particularly when he introduced the song, Mama’s Eyes.  To paraphrase,  he said that it was his Mama who raised him as a young boy.  It was his Mama who raised him as a young man.  He explained that she didn’t do such a great job.  And then he said, “But, you see, it wasn’t her job.”

I am my father’s son
I’ve never known when to shut up
I ain’t fooling no one
I am my father’s son

We don’t see eye to eye
And I’ll be the first to admit
I’ve never tried It sure hurts me,
it should hurt sometime

We don’t see eye to eye
I was a young man when
I first found my pleasure in the [Incomprehensible]
And I went down the same road as my old man

Yeah, I was younger then
Now it’s 3 a.m. and I’m standing in the kitchen
Holding my last cigarette
Strike a match and I see my reflection in the mirror in the hall

And I say to myself
I’ve got my mama’s eyes
Her long thin frame and her smile
And I still see wrong from right

‘Cause I’ve got my mama’s eyes
Yeah, I’ve got my mama’s eyes

 

Sam Baker

Of all of the acts at the folk festival this year,  Sam Baker was the performer who most spoke to my heart, with his simple narratives and his powerful messages.   I left the Sunday afternoon workshop in tears, after hearing his song, Broken Fingers and then Angels…both powerful and meant for me!  Please click on the hyperlink contained here, in order to read his story and the other, to sit and listen quietly to the song, Broken Fingers.  Given my journey this year, with a single broken finger on my dominant hand, I can only imagine what Sam’s efforts were in order to feel ‘whole’ again.  A powerful story!

I love the feeling of community that is a part of the annual Calgary Folk Festival…this was definitely another highlight to summer for me!