Meltdown Festival – Day 2 – A Tribute to Kate McGarrigle
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Day 2 of Richard Thompson’s Meltdown Festival was head lined with the all star Tribute to Kate McGarrigle. It was scheduled early in the day, since there was UK vs US World Cup that evening. Filing into the Royal Festival Hall, I came upon the Shifting Sands project again. This time, the players I’d heard on the bandstand stage the night before had spent the day workshopping with local musicians in creating three separate world music creations, taking traditional eastern songs and embroidering them with their own instruments and ideas. The bandstand stage is a free venue and is surrounded by beach chairs, astroturf, picnic blankets, and plump pillows. Families, friends and community filled the atrium, clapping and stomping familiar rhythms along with the performers. I loved seeing and hearing the results of such a vibrant and diverse musical community.
A once in a lifetime performance by the friends and family of the late Kate McGarrigle was an emotional tribute to one of folk’s beloved stalwarts. The performance was anchored by Kate’s talented and well known family, including her sisters Anna and Jane McGarrigle, and her children Rufus and Martha Wainwright. The stage was also filled with Thompsons and peppered with long time friends and colleagues from Nick Cave to Neil Tennant to Michael Ondaatje. A tribute is always a meditation on life, mortality, and legacy. I was moved early on and wondered how all her loved ones were navigating so expertly through what must have been an intense program. Rufus Wainwright introduced Lisa Hannigan and referenced being gutted by her performance in rehearsal, but it took the big group sing of Kate’s last song Proserpina to bring out the tears in earnest on stage. Martha lead the vocals and soon lead the crying with her peers picking it up – touching and lovely and heart breaking. Later Rufus sat at his piano. “Oh God, I knew this would happen.” He rubbed his eyes, heaved a heavy sigh, hit the first note, and sighed again. The process of grief in song on stage in front of thousands.
It was a night of love and courage in the face of loss, a great reflection of the folk tradition and its role in personal and public life. I thank them all for sharing it with us. I was saddened to note that the performance was not being filmed. But, maybe that is appropriate to a program born of loss and our own ephemeral nature.