It's probably a bit too early to stage a comeback at age 34, but Kathleen Edwards was looking forward to rebounding from a series of setbacks with a couple of concert dates in the western United States this month.
That included the opening night of the 22nd annual Rocky Mountain Folks Festival in Lyons, Colorado on August 17. There were a number of excellent acts, including a solo set by Justin Townes Earle (who later received a goodbye hug from Edwards), an exhilarating 75 minutes from Los Angeles-based quartet Dawes and a charming finishing touch by Indie-folker-turned-funnyman Sam Beam (aka Iron & Wine) and his exceptional five-man band.
But it was a vulnerable Edwards who, after a rough start, eventually captured the hearts of a late-arriving crowd that apparently was still finishing dinner. With Dawes frontman Taylor Goldsmith and keyboardist Tay Strathairn in attendance, the Canadian singer-songwiter had every reason to take a poke at an audience that didn’t have her undivided attention as she and her bandmates made last-second preparations after the introduction.
"You guys got the lazy Fridays going on, I can tell,” she joked. “Look at all of you. That's the way it should be. It's the weekend."
With only two guitarists backing her, this was going to be a more intimate show than fans of hers in the area have witnessed previously. But the personal touch to Edwards’ latest work on Voyageur, the January 2012 release that she considers to be the best work of her career, has taken its toll on her physical and emotional well being in recent months.
Edwards discussed that inner turmoil at great length during our interview that appeared on No Depression earlier this month.
She also battled with her emotions, along with a few sound problems and the elements, during her 75-minute set that focused primarily on Voyageur material.
Playing violin and acoustic and electric guitars, Edwards was joined by Jim Bryson (a member of her band the last time she performed at this festival in 2006 who also plays keyboards) and Gordon Tough.
She stopped “Asking for Flowers,” the fourth song of the set, shortly after it began, saying, “Sorry, I can't play this (acoustic guitar) out of tune. Technical difficulties would be an understatement right now. So just bear with us for one second.
It's actually me. These guys are professionals. I'm just, you know, eye candy.”
About a half-hour through the set, Edwards nostalgically revisited her previous appearance in Lyons.
“The last time I was here I believe it was quite a few years ago and it’s funny ’cause it feels like yesterday. ... I use to play with a guy named Colin Cripps, who I married. A wonderful guy, a really incredible musician. But it’s funny because I feel a little bit like he’s here,” she said, starting to choke up.
“There are things that you really screw up in life. You kinda just have to keep going and forgive yourself for the things that you do badly. I read this great quote the other day: ‘Forgiveness is the thing that you can acknowledge when you finally realize that we’re all like each other.’ And it’s true.”
Edwards kept it together through “House Full of Empty Rooms,” referencing the home she used to share with Cripps. It was one of at least seven songs she performed from Voyageur, the album she co-produced with Justin Vernon of Bon Iver fame that also began a personal relationship that apparently no longer exists.
Trying to lighten the mood, Edwards went electric with “Sidecar,” then let Bryson and Tough effectively do the heavy lifting on one of her earlier rockers, “Back to Me.”
When a rain shower hit the area, perhaps it signaled more than a change in the weather. While introducing “A Soft Place to Land,” also off Voyageur, Edwards turned reflective.
“Every day that I get to play music, it feels like an honor and a privilege,” she said. “I went through a really, really dark few months in the last year and I didn’t really feel that way for quite a while and thought maybe I would quit music. And not ’cause like I wanted a pity party, but ’cause sometimes things change in your heart and your head and you don’t know why and you can’t get out of it. And it’s nice to be here again all these years later and feel like it’s OK to keep going.”
Calling it quits
You think this is easy?
I swear I heard you call in the jury
Call it a catch without any strings attached
It might not have been the show Edwards expected upon her return to Colorado six years later without Cripps, and who knows if the price to pay for such a genuine show of emotion will be ultimately worth it.
But with the fire and indomitable spirit of a hockey lover, don’t expect Edwards to give up any time soon. In fact, as a stiff wind blew the rain onto the stage during the song’s conclusion, leaving Bryson to say they were living a Guns N’ Roses video, the damaged soul who still admits she’s still an Ottawa Senators fan already seemed to be on the comeback trail again.
“I love playing in the rain,” Edwards said, moving on to “Change the Sheets” as raindrops thankfully outnumbered teardrops on her endless night. “I’ve always dreamed I would die by electrocution, so here we go.”
Concert photos by Michael Bialas. See more photos from Day 1 of the festival featuring Kathleen Edwards, Justin Townes Earle, Dawes and Iron & Wine's ....