The Interstellar Rodeo Day One: Old Favourites Usher in a New One
It’s summertime, and that traditionally means its folk festival season. In Canada every major city has one. These festivals have been going on for years, and there’s one pretty much every weekend in July and August. As tradition goes, they rank high on the list of music fans lives: tickets are often bought well in advance. It’s a tough tradition to fight.
Toronto based Six Shooter Records has decided to mix it up a bit this summer by introducing a new festival in Edmonton. Held on the same weekend as the Calgary Folk Festival and immediately before the Edmonton Folk Festival, the inaugural Interstellar Rodeo created quite a buzz when it was announced. With a lineup featuring headliners such as Gillian Welch, Randy Newman and Blue Rodeo, how could it not?
When it was first announced the festival had Irish singer Sinead O’Connor scheduled for a Friday night headliner. Sinead cancelled her entire tour weeks after booking it and finding a suitable replacement presented a challenge for the new festival. Fortunately, organizers took Six Shooter’s slogan of Life’s Too Short to Listen to Shitty Music to heart and a new lineup for the Friday night was soon announced featuring not just one headliner but two. Americana music legends Gillian Welch and Alejandro Escovedo were added to the bill. Way to hit the ground running.
Held in Edmonton’s William Hawrelak Park, the festival was clearly well organized from the start. While the park has ample parking, shuttle buses brought many in from slightly farther out. Signage was good, the site was easy to find and Edmonton’s local food truck scene showed up to help feed participants with reasonably priced varied options. In a rare move in Canada festival attendees were allowed to roam the grounds freely with beer and wine instead of being confined to a single small area. Well done, Six Shooter. All of this made for an environment where people who are here to have a good time can come out and have a good time in a relaxed environment. Isn’t that the point of all this anyway?
Taking the stage to a good sized crowd, Alejandro Escovedo and his Sensitive Boys turned the volume up a bit from the night’s earlier warmup acts. With a set that included solid selections from his latest release Big Station as well as old favourites like Always a Friend the music was outstanding. Escovedo connected with the crowd well. If the bad was tired from months spent on the road–Escovedo described the Rodeo as the last gig of an extended tour for the band–it didn’t show. The band put on a phenomenal display of musicianship with Escovedo’s guitar work providing all the incentive the crowd needed to get up and fill the dane area in the immediate front of the stage. If this was only Escovedo’s second appearance in Edmonton as he said you can bet there’s a pretty solid crowd hoping for a third in the not too distant future.
Appropriately, twilight was just descending as Gillian Welch and her partner Dave Rawlings took the stage. Welch and Rawlings are a much quieter, more introverted act on stage in many ways but they were obviously having fun on this particularly night. “Well Edmonton, we really put the miles on for you. We drove all the way from Nashville” Welch announced. “Not in one night.”
The set opened with Orphan Girl and was quickly followed with Scarlet Town from The Harrow and the Harvest. That set the tone for the rest of the night, with Welch more or less playing what she felt like whether it was old or new. When Welch announced that they had “chucked the set list” a tribute to Doc Watson followed.
The crowd was quiet and focused at this point: the impressive display of talent on stage made sure of that. Digging back to 2001 for Revelator led to an impressive extended display of guitar work by both Welch and Rawlings that would have been satisfying all by itself as an end to the evening. Instead, a not quite content Welch turned the microphone over to Rawlings for a song that ended in a rendition of Woody Guthrie’s This Land is Your Land. It was a good tribute in this, the Summer of Woody.
With darkness finally coming, the first night of the Interstellar Rodeo ended. And how did it all go? Comments from the audience suggest that it was a resounding success on pretty much every front. On this particular end of July summer evening it was nice to have two of the Americana music scene’s oldest and most well respected acts come out in Edmonton to welcome in this new weekend addition.
As for that early cancellation by Sinead O’Connor? It didn’t seem like much of the audience much cared at this point. With two more days of live music to go, it’s not as if we were done yet either.
A more complete photo gallery from Day 1 of the Interstellar Rodeo is over on Flickr.