Giant Sandbox – Calgary Folk Festival (Calgary, Alberta)
From left to right, the stage looked like this: Joe Eddy Hines, Alejandro Escovedo, Razz Russell, David Perales, John Convertino, Brian Standefer, Joey Burns, Victoria Williams, Mark Olson, Richard Buckner and Howe Gelb. Not your average 11-piece band.
Much of the beauty of the Calgary Folk Festival is in the various workshop performances such as this one, which allow like-minded artists a rare opportunity to collaborate and experiment in front of an audience. A couple hundred listeners gathered around one of the festival’s five sidestages for this Saturday afternoon adventure, less than 24 hours after most of the participating musicians had performed in front of a few thousand fans on the mainstage in various separate incarnations.
Basically, the format was a round-robin of songs alternately selected by Gelb, Buckner, Olson & Williams, and Escovedo. Nothing had been rehearsed, which meant not everything worked as a collaborative piece; but there were moments of inspired beauty, such as Williams’ wailing “One Eyed Black Dog Moses”, Escovedo’s haunting new tune “Follow You Around”, Buckner’s choice cover of Willie Nelson’s “Bloody Mary Morning”, and Gelb’s “Blue Marble Girl”, which asked the rhetorical question, “Have you ever had one of those lives/Where you’ve lived around here forever?”
Instrumentation included, at one point or another, electric and acoustic guitars, a couple fiddles, cello, bass, keyboards, marimba, harmonica, banjo, and various percussion instruments (one of which Williams was particularly fond of striking with her elbow). The aggregation closed things out with a rendition of Neil Young’s “Powderfinger” that began rather ragged but came together as it went along, only to fall apart wonderfully at the end as Gelb attempted to play some seriously funky feedback tricks with a hand-held tape recorder.
“We’re weeding out the sensitive,” Gelb explained, before adding, in attempted reconciliation, “It’s all just folk music up here.” Fortunately, the folks at the Calgary Folk Festival understand.