Review: Look Out Kansas City
Some might argue that folk – that 1960s folk revival kind of folk – is dying. Folk festivals are hiring big mainstream acts; kids aren’t interested in pure forms of genres anymore, it’s all about fusion; what’s the point of singing about injustice when the world seems incurably corrupt. What relevance does folk music have anymore?
Those who present folk in its folk revival form bravely struggle against this way of thinking. Then there are others who shrug and forge ahead, figuring out new ways to stay on top of the trends. Among the latter group is Calgary’s Bow Valley Music Club, an association that has been presenting strong series of acoustic, folk, and roots concerts since the ’80.
There’s stiff competition for the folk audience in Calgary. On any given weekend, you can find at least three or four clubs putting on shows across the city, and there are seven that host regular series of acoustic music. This is in addition to all the bars and other live venues already putting on roots shows. Yet, the clubs all sell out season tickets shortly after they go on sale to a fiercely loyal audience.
Staying ahead of the curve might be in the clubs’ best interests, though, as the subscribers are largely an aging audience, boomers in (or close to) retirement, who might not be able to spend a lot of cash on concerts in the near future. So clubs like the Bow Valley are finding ways to draw in a younger audience, younger volunteers, and become more involved with the bigger roots scene of Calgary.
More importantly, the Bow Valley is responsible for other interesting initiatives, including taking a pile of Alberta roots artists to the annual Folk Alliance Convention, where they run two cozy, welcoming Alberta rooms nonstop through the week. To help the artists pay for travel costs, BVMC has started releasing compilation discs of the featured acts every year, using the proceeds towards their fundraising efforts.
This year’s is a great collection of Alberta acts both well-established (Tim Hus, Leeroy Stagger, Steve Pineo) and new (Lucas Chaisson, Milkwood Dreamers). At 17 tracks total, it features most of the artists that are heading down to Kansas this year, so if you want to hear a bit before you check out the rooms, it’s a nice sample.
Look forward to songwriters Pineo and Chaisson collaborating, as they did at last year’s FA; Chaisson is a Ron Sexsmith in the making, while Pineo’s facility on guitar (in many genres) compliments Chaisson’s songs. Chaisson’s “Songs I Think I Wrote’s” bluesy sweetness is matched by the harmonies in Milkwood Dreamers’s “Hellfire & Bone”, but they contrast the edgier tunes by Pineo (“Uneasy Rider”) and Alex Vissia (“Young Love”). Honky tonk’s got good representation in Tim Hus’s “Church” (watch for Hus’s new disc, Western Star, coming out on Stony Plain Records September 10). Meanwhile, “Simple” by Pear is a nod to contemporary country, and I love Leeroy Stagger’s voice on his contribution, “Carolina”. “How I Hate Goodbyes” is a sad note in the middle of the disc, set within the classically inspiring Canadian landscape; performers The Travelling Mabels are worth more than one listen, if for no other reason than the collective professional experience of the group. “Just the Two of Us” is a totally adorable song by Chris Gheran, backed only by ukulele. One of the more recent newcomers to the Alberta scene, one everyone is talking about, is Matt Patershuk; his song, “King of this Town” demonstrates that ever-expanding definition of folk being embraced by clubs like the Bow Valley. And rising star T. Buckley appears with a song that calls his girlfriend home in “Prairie Town”.
This compilation and the FA initiative is driven by some great people in the Calgary scene: Folk Routes DJ Tom Coxworth, BMVC directors Larry Taylor and Stewart Chyz, and musician Clea Roddick, who also appears on the disc with “Birds Come Back”.
To me, this is a great example of what can happen when a small community decides to support their musicians. Worth getting the CD just for a warm, fuzzy feeling.
*To purchase Look Out Kansas City, you can visit the following sites:
And if you’re in Kansas next year for FA, stop by the Alberta Rooms to hear some of these artists.
*Those interested in more info on the folk clubs and live scene in Calgary might want to read two books I have coming out next year:
My own, “Roots Music in Calgary, Alberta”.
And one I am co-editing with Geoff Whittall called, “Grassland Sounds: Popular and Folk Music of the Canadian Prairies”.