The Vancouver Island Music Festival comes of age – part one Alison Krauss and Union Station live
An appreciation by Doug Heselgrave
July 7 – 10, 2011
Thursday, July 7 – Alison Krauss and Union Station
The Comox Valley Fair grounds is only a two hour ferry trip and a ninety minute drive from Vancouver, BC, but for anyone who left the city to join the 8,000 people who crowded the site last weekend, it was like stepping into a different world.
I’ve been to festivals at Washington’s Gorge, Colorado’s Red Rocks and all through Canada, but it’s truly difficult to imagine a more picturesque place to enjoy music than Vancouver Island’s Comox Valley. With six stages situated in barns, farmer’s fields and along the banks of the Tsolum river, the Vancouver Island Music Festival would make a great weekend retreat – even without the music. But, thankfully, since the festival came under the artistic direction of Doug Cox, the award winning Canadian guitarist and performer, the roster has grown beyond its humble beginnings as a renaissance fair and local celebration into an event featuring high caliber Canadian and international artists.
The festival started on Thursday with an evening performance by Alison Krauss and Union Station. Taking the stage at sundown, the band seemed in very high spirits, saying they’d arrived in Comox the day before and had fallen in love with the region’s natural beauty. Krauss and her amazing band featuring Dan Tyminski, Jerry Douglas, Ron Block and Jerry Bales played a generous selection of songs from their new album ‘Paper Airplane’ and without exception each track sounded better live than on record. A few months on the road have given the band time to work out extended arrangements, complex harmonies and instrumental jams that gave added dimension and immediacy to the songs. Together, Alison and the members of Union Station cover a lot of musical ground. Sometimes, they played seamless country music as Krauss shared several of her top ten hits such as ‘Alabama’ Jimmy Rodgers’ ‘Any Old time’ and ‘Let Me Touch You for a While’ with the crowd. At other times, their fiery bluegrass veered into jazz and Grateful Dead territory as Douglas, Tyminski, Block and Bales used every opportunity to engage in musical conversations during transitions between songs and choruses. Richard Thompson’s ‘Dimming of the Day’ was even darker and more heartwrenching than on record and perfectly fit the drizzling rain and cold wind that started up part way through the band’s set.
Each member of Krauss’ outfit was given plenty of room to shine. Block, Bales and Tyminski each sang a few numbers – with the latter’s version of ‘Man of Constant Sorrow’ predictably bringing down the house as the regular set came to an end. For the many musicians in the crowd, the highlight of the show was when the rest of the band left the stage and Jerry Douglas and his dobro began to paint string symphonies as the sky went purple and the night came on. He is truly one of the greatest living guitarists and the music he played Thursday night raised the musical bar for the weekend so high that anything that followed threatened to be a letdown. (Thankfully that wasn’t the case as Albert Lee proved on Saturday night)
As often happens at a concert like this, things got really interesting when the encores began. Krauss and company were clearly relaxed, engaged and had nowhere else to go, so they treated the audience to an extended set of encores that emphasized the traditional side of their repertoire. Songs like ‘Down to the River to Pray’ and a harmony drenched version of ‘Your Long Journey’ sounded better than ever as Krauss and Union Station sent the audience out into the gathering gloom to bring the first night of the festival to an end.
Next: Red Horse, Jon Anderson, Corey Harris and the Rasta Blues Experience, Randy Newman and more.
This posting also appears at www.restlessandreal.blogspot.com