Down On The Farm (Halden, Norway)
Down On The Farm has for many years been the most important event in Norway for music spanning the borders between rock and country. Now in its eleventh year, the festival has grown from little more than a party for friends and local bands to a festival with several thousand attending and a history of presenting artists such as Emmylou Harris, the Old 97’s, the Jayhawks, BR5-49 and Billy Joe Shaver.
But growth has also caused change: After a few years of less-than-satisfactory economic results, Down On The Farm has gone to town. In its first ten years, the festival was held on a farm outside the town of Halden, but this year all the shows were moved to a number of clubs and theaters in the downtown area of Halden.
The main event this year was supposed to be Buck Owens, who was scheduled to play at an outdoor arena near the Fredriksten fortress. But Owens had to cancel, and the headliner was instead Guy Clark, who played both Friday and Saturday night at the old theater in Halden. Accompanied only by his own acoustic guitar, he made the audience feel right at home. A lot of small problems (his guitar not being plugged in right or not staying in tune, drunks entering or leaving the theater, etc.) only added to the casual atmosphere of the performance.
Saturday night, he played almost every track from Old No. 1, including “Rita Ballou”, “Desperadoes Waiting For A Train”, “L.A. Freeway” (complete with the story about the grapefruit tree and the concrete patio), and “Like A Coat From The Cold”. Also in the set were “Boats To Build”, “Dublin Blues” and a knockout performance of “Randall Knife” that was totally unplugged and unmiked (and that unfortunately included a drunk slamming a door). In addition to rock-solid performances, Clark was constantly joking, making faces during guitar solos and generally having a good time. He introduced “She Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere” as “a song about ten seconds of a woman’s life.” When somebody in the audience made a sound, he quickly added “not that ten seconds.”
Another highlight of the festival was Robbie Fulks and his band, who were in killer shape, playing tight and loud. Among the songs in their set were “The Buck Stops Here”, “I Told Her Lies” and “She Took A Lot Of Pills (And Died)”. He closed his performance with “I Saw The Light”, inviting all the musicians who had played the same stage that night to come back. It started out great, and evolved into the chaos that kind of thing usually does.
In addition to Buck Owens, other cancellations included Damon Bramblett, Susanna Van Tassel and Roger Wallace, which left the honky-tonkin’ mantle mainly to be carried by New York band Li’l Mo & the Monicats. Her guitar player and drummer failed to show up in time, so Friday she was backed up by two of the Ex-Husbands as well as former Tom Russell Band bass player Bill Troiani. By Saturday night her own guitar player was there, and he was a mean picker indeed. He also had a knack for emulating steel guitar, which went well with the honky-tonk/rockabilly material. Li’l Mo herself has a big voice reminiscent of Wanda Jackson, Patsy Cline and Janis Martin, and her phrasing is impressive although sometimes maybe a tad overdone.
Opening for Li’l Mo was a surprisingly energetic and driving Cajun band from Norway, Arve Haaland’s Cajun Gumbo. Along with bands such as Bonkers and Tine Valand, they demonstrate that there are things going on in Norway worth paying attention to.
Whether the move to town will prove to have been a wise one for DOTF remains to be seen. The three-day event clearly suffered from the cancellations, and the shift to simultaneous shows at multiple venues necessitates better advertising than was offered this year. Artistically, however, there was no doubt that it was a success, one that will hopefully be repeated for many years yet.