days of mud and glory: day three of Calgary Folk Fest 2011
The rain clouds cleared overnight, leaving behind soupy puddles and slick mud paths to remind us that you can throw a festival, but Nature is still in charge. The south end of the record tent resembled a swamp, causing us to barricade the entrance and retrofit the exit until the primordial ooze subsided. The guys spreading wood chips around the site became the most popular crew on the island.
But the sun shone brilliantly, smiles returned, and right on cue, I was treated to folk festival magic moment #2. The David Wax Museum, who had been participating in a sonically gorgeous workshop with Imaginary Cities and Lighting Dust, meandered off the stage and wove their way through the charmed crowd, singing and playing the donkey jaw bone and saxophone, which of course are a natural combination.
Later the same stage heard Socalled, Yohimbe Brothers, Cadence Weapon, and Bernie Worrell’s SociaLybrium attempt a rambling, shambodelic version of Amy Winehouse’s Rehab. No one really knew the lyrics beyond the chorus, and even after a woman ran up to the stage to hand over her iphone with which she had googled the lyrics, the rendition remained a fittingly loose and scattered affair.
Lightning Dust, Dark Dark Dark, Bonnie “Prince” Billy and Dick Gaughan (he of the lovely thick brogue) took over the aptly timed 4:20 workshop on stage 4, just as the sky was promising to remain friendly for the duration of the festival and festival goers let go their collectively held breaths and noticeably relaxed. The grass dried and people lounged under trees or luxuriated in the solar rays, chasing away any remnants of last night’s chill.
The ten-year-old hipster may have been the only exception to the fully relaxed vibe. Wearing a newsboy cap and a lovely patterned scarf arranged just so around his neck, he sat with his back pointedly toward the stage and read his Kindle. Voltaire, no doubt.
We dashed back to tarp central to grab for our suppers the giant bag of popcorn left over from the night before and headed back to the evening stage to hear Lightning Dust’s achingly beautiful and soul-fulfilling solo concert. Seeing Amber Webber perform with twin sister Ashley was a satisfyingly surreal experience, particularly hearing the similarities in their highly unusual voices.
The Head and the Heart, a large rambling seven piece band from Seattle, quite literally took over the stage when Lightning Dust finished their set. Evidently they also took over the hearts of everyone in the largest gathering I have ever seen at the Twilight Stage. Even though I had been very pumped to see this band, clearly I had only heard their slower and more restrained songs, and thus was completely unprepared for the lively, unfettered joy that burst forth from the stage.
The magical connection between band and audience was instantaneous. Before the first bar had finished, people leapt to their feet and started dancing and clapping and singing along word for word. The reaction from the members of The Head and the Heart was delightful and heart-warming; with genuine amazement and gratitude they thanked everyone, obviously gob-smacked, and kept on playing with giant grins on their faces.
We hemmed and hawed over wether we should stay at the Twilight Stage to see Yo La Tengo or head back to main-stage, where the Spousal Unit had been holding down the fort, to watch the Felice Brothers. There are no right answers in these Solomonesque situations, of course, but I am happy to report that the Felice Brothers performed a mesmerizingly atmospheric and simultaneously punchy show. Reminding me a little of Califone, in their experimentally cinematic approach to music and to their subject matters, the Felice Brothers entranced me with their songs of raw inventive Americana.
Balkan Beat Box, to whose music I had previously been introduced by the worldly Resident Offspring, were a fiercely funky, dub-stepping, brilliant blast of urban Gypsy soul. Chair dancing was rampant and for-real dancing even more so. Booties shook all over the island.
It struck me as odd to follow up such a high energy performance with the decidedly slow and smoky k.d. lang. But apparently I was one of the few people in the sold-out crowd who felt that way. I have a tremendous amount of respect for k.d. lang, for what she has accomplished and for the sheer power of her voice of liquid gold, but her music doesn’t really do it for me. Although I prefer her earlier cowpunk offerings, thousands of fans swooning all over Prince’s Island Park on Saturday night would have disagreed with me, had I dared to voice my opinion aloud. She did put on a helluva show, though, and I have to give props to k.d. lang for covering Talking Heads.
coming up: interviewing and coordinating