I hadn’t been to the Folk Fest since 1990. Things were different then. The elder George Bush was in the White House and that ‘ol dog Brian Mulroney was king shit in Ottawa. I was a young, idealistic lad of eighteen – smitten with Dylan, The Byrds, and Motely Crue. Full of piss and vinegar. I attended the 1990 folk fest alone because nobody wanted to go with me. Solomon Burke closed out Saturday night, if I remember correctly. I went to everything back then – any touring act that stopped in our fair city. I went to see everyone from Roy Rogers to Metallica to k.d. lang. And I’ve got the ticket stubs to prove it. I’m 34 now and things are a little different. Still up with the Dylan and the Crue, but the Byrds have fallen off the radar for me. Live music in general has kinda fallen off the radar for me. I just don’t go to many live shows these days. Few acts catch my fancy enough to inspire a ticket purchase. But lately I was craving a good shot of live music. Something not quite as ridiculous and predictable as a rock concert, and not quite as snobbish as a classical performance. Thus, it was with great excitement that I attended folk fest 2006.
Thursday night was a bit of a bummer – it rained solid. Fortunately, Bedouin Soundclash lit up the main stage with some hot-ass dub-reggae-rock. They were smokin’. Linda Ronstadt took the stage a short while later and put on a moving and low key set, highlighted by a killer version of Dylan’s Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues. Dylan’s music reared its head thoughout the weekend. Indeed, a comprehensive list of Dylan covers could be penned. Justine and the kids and I left the hill waterlogged but happy as hell. A great start to the festival.
Friday’s lineup was super hot. Susan Tedeschi rocked the hill out with some killer blues/rock riffs. That lady is one helluva guitar player, and in some amazing moments, evoked the ghost of Saint Jimi. She wailed like a moaning dove and rocked like a brick punch. The Neville Brothers kicked out some New Orleans beats during a set that was a tad too long. And maybe too slick. I dunno. I guess I just didn’t “get” them. The night closed with Hawksley Workman – perhaps the classiest, most entertaining performer of the festival. Although he didn’t sing You, Me, and the Weather, which would have been perfect considering the lingering rain, he did kick out great versions of Jealous of Your Cigarette and Your Beauty Must Be Rubbing Off (the final song of the evening), and even went into mini versions of The Hip’s Blow at High Dough and Supertramp’s The Logical Song. Again, it was an amazing evening of music.
Saturday started off with some super-cool workshops. I took in performances by Hawksley (who, to close off his multi-artist workshop in a classy way, closed the event with a version of Paul Simon’s Mother and Child Reunion), Chumbawumba, Show of Hands, and the incredible klezmer antics of Geoff Berner. Berner was the highlight of the festival for me. The guy has got some serious chops on the accoridon and his songs are funny and scathing and intelligent. He’s playing The Blue Chair Cafe on September 17th and I highly recommend seeing the guy. Saturday night wound down with Bruce Cockburn. I’d never seen him live before. His version of Lovers in a Dangerous Time damn near brought a tear to my eye, and for some strange reason, When A Tree Falls choked me up. Bruce’s maturity, wisdom, conviction, and his devotion to his own vision shone through and spoke louder than his songs.
Hit the hill early on Sunday for some gospel. The Blind Boys of Alabama put on a helluva show on Stage 4. Went home for a nap after that and returned just in time to hear Greg Brown mumble his way through his Stage 7 set. He sure did a killer version of Dylan’s Not Dark Yet, though, complete with incomprehensible vocal delivery. The Blind Boys rocked the main stage later in the evening and had the whole lower half of the hill on their feet. Chumbawumba kicked out some deliciously cheeky political commentary and satire. The festival was capped by the gorgeous and strikingly talented Sarah Harmer, whose voice sounded downright angelic in the cool Sunday air with candles lighting up the festival hill.
At the end of it all, after spending four straight days with Justine and her daughter and a few other young ones, I realized that The Folk Festival is about far more than music. And I didn’t, or rather couldn’t, realize that back in 1990. I would go so far as to say that music is of secondary importance when attending the Folk Fest. Music is the rallying point for certain, but the truly beautiful and worthwhile aspect of the whole thing turns out to be something very simple, something that I knew nothing of in 1990: Community. People coming together to celebrate and acknowledge a common passion. It was a beautiful thing. I’m glad I’m at the point where I can truly appreciate it.
Mike Folking Out
StreetRag is an urban weblog and podcast about the city of Edmonton, which is located in the province of Alberta, Canada. It is authored by Edmonton-based writer, web advocate, and poet Michael Gravel and is updated frequently with written urban vignettes, amateurish photographs, deuteronomous audio material, barely coherent musings and rambling ecumenical treatises. StreetRag is a love letter to a lonely prairie burg struggling with its big city ambitions and small-town feel.
The city is Edmonton. It's a subject, not a passion. E-Town is almost universally derided by outsiders as an unlivable tundra wasteland populated by oil-hungry redneck conservatives who despise the arts. All of that is true. But it's not the whole story. There is beauty here. Dusty snowfalls. Brilliant summers. A stunning river valley. A diverse arts community that flourishes. It's a place that inspires a gray relationship - not all good, not all shitty. For that reason alone it is lovable, for what is life but a grayscale?