The Sunday show – Vancouver Folk Music Festival
The Vancouver Folk Music Festival
Sunday, July 18, 2010
by Doug Heselgrave
By the festival’s third day, everything has changed. It’s as if an alternate universe has been created in Jericho Beach Park. People walk more slowly, laugh more easily, stop and talk with old and new friends.
As we entered the festival site, stilt walkers balancing impossible hula hoops twirled around to the improvised slide symphonies created by Bob Brozman, Debashish,Bhattacharya, Steve Dawson and Roberto Luti of Playing for Change. As Dawson called out ‘this one’s a sleep walk in D” to Bhattacharya, the group kicked in and Hawaiian music filtered through a raga blender ushered us into the park.
We decided to do a quick turn through the marketplace and ended up there for the better part of the morning as we were tempted by everything from hand woven felt scarves to suntan lotion and peyote extract that was for sale. (Don’t get me started on the weird Canadian drug laws. Many of my American friends were astounded by the casual attitude towards marijuana – amazed that police scolded people for smoking cigarettes in the park, but quietly ushered people smoking pot to an area where there were no children. True North strong and free to be certain) For old Deadheads who miss Shakedown Street, the Vancouver Folk Fest marketplace will certainly bring back memories – and I’m sure I recognize some of the vendors from old Dead tours.
I am a latecomer to DJ music and long held the preconception that people who used computers to write songs could not be considered musicians. I have recently had a change of heart as I have come to realize that music can come from anywhere. Instruments – whether hollowed gourds or laptop computers are simply vehicles to express melodic creativity. The ‘new frontiers in sound’ workshop I listened to on Sunday afternoon cemented this belief. On the face of it, the idea of Namgar, a traditional Mongolian throat singing band from the Russian frontier paired up with Brazil’s DJ Dolores and the Toronto techno outfit, Eccodeck should have been a disparate disaster, but instead their spontaneous improvised performance was – without a doubt – the most challenging hour of music I have heard this year. Dolores’ crunching beats paired with Eccodecks synth, bass and flute excursions formed the perfect soundtrack for Namgar’s otherworldly wailing. It shouldn’t have worked, but it was brilliant. I hope somewhere out there made a recording because some things just can’t be planned or repeated.
Namgar opens up
I stopped in to hear Catherine MacLellan play again at a workshop with Winnipeg’s Nathan and the Mississippi Sheiks Tribute band. Dawson and company were – of course – amazing as they delved deeper and deeper into the sonic possibilities of the Sheiks music, but Nathan and MacLellan made up for their lack of instrumental finesse with heartfelt songs that captured the sprawling crowd’s heart. Again, I urge any of you who haven’t heard Catherine’s music to check out her killer CD “Water in the Ground.”
Sarazino, the Ecuadorian ska/reggae/salsa group drew a huge audience as they pumped out an hour of high energy dance tunes during the peak of the afternoon sun. From there, I went to the shade of the twilight stage to hear Deep Dark Woods again. With ninety minutes at their disposal, the group dug deep into the jammy side of their music and stretched out their tunes sounding for all who heard like Tonight’s the Night era Neil Young sitting in with the band. These guys keep getting better.
I arrived back at the main stage in time to see Steven Seagal (yep that Steven Seagal) on the stage to introduce Ricky Skaggs. Don’t know what the connection is, but it was weird and – in light of Mr. Seagal’s recent sexual misadventures – his presence went over like a lead balloon. But, that wasn’t enough to prevent the audience from giving Skaggs and his Kentucky Thunder a rapturous welcome. I’d never heard Skaggs play live before and felt so lucky and blessed to hear a man of his vintage and skill play his heart out in front of the crowd as the sun went down over the water. With a bearing somewhere between Colonel Sanders and a Biblical Saint, Skaggs shared stories about Bill Monroe, Flatt and Scruggs before offering faithful versions of some of their best material. I realize that many American readers of Nodepression have probably had the opportunity to hear Skaggs many times, but for a bluegrass starved Canadian audience, every note he played was like manna from heaven. Simply gorgeous.
Boukman Eksperyans, the phenomenal trance band from Haiti finished the festival with a set of music made more poignant by the recent travails of the already devastated country the musicians hail from.
Over the years, I’ve attended many festivals in North America, Europe and Asia, but – even taking my home town prejudice into account – I’ve yet to go to a better weekend of music anywhere. The Vancouver Folk Music Festival takes over the huge expanse of Jericho Beach every year and creates an environment that is truly magical and – dare I say it – transformative. Today, I’m tired, yet recharged and ready for the next 51 weeks until me and 30,000 of my closest friends converge again for the next festival.
Mark it on your calendar.
This posting also appears at www.restlessandreal.blogspot.com
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