working through my wish list at the Calgary Folk Festival
One of the biggest joys I get from immersing myself in the Calgary Folk Festival is stumbling across a musician or a band whose very existence is a revelation to me and whose music immediately strikes a chord in my heart. I inevitably wonder how on earth I survived this long without their music.
Conversely, there is always one act at every Calgary Folk Festival who is high up on my wish list of bands to see before I die. The neighbours can always tell from the jubilant, if somewhat startling, whoops emanating from my house that one of my must-see bands has just been announced for the folk festival line-up.
This past year it was the Decemberists.
It was the first time in my history of attending the Calgary folk festival that I made my way up to one of the dancing/standing areas located in front of the main-stage. I figured if I couldn’t see anything I could always head back to the tarp at zombie central and watch on one of the jumbotrons, but as luck would have it, I was only about four people (and not overly tall people either) away from the front and I had a better view of the stage than I have had at many a concert.
There was a palpable buzz in the standing crowd as we watched the stage crew set up the instruments and saw the stage lights dim. And then, without benefit of any introduction, the Decemberists silently took their positions and we heard the first organ notes of the prelude to their new album, The Hazards of Love. They played the album in its entirety, the way it is meant to be played. And they played it without song breaks, but with costumes and lighting and plenty of drama. It was glorious, it was a spectacle, it was an honest to god rock opera!
For a mosh pit, people were awfully polite; it was still a folk festival, after all. Even the guy behind me, resting his long-lens camera on my head, stopped when he realized what he was doing. We did however all give ample room (presumably to avoid the fumes) to that one really drunk guy who didn’t appear to know exactly which concert he was at, since he kept loudly calling out for Thurston Moore. Even after he fell down, almost taking a few people with him, the folk festival camaraderie did not flag and a couple of sympathetic strangers gently helped him back to his feet. He did keep quiet after that though.
Naturally, we all went nuts at the conclusion of the performance, and, as hoped, the Decemberists came back for an encore of Sons and Daughters, which was an inspired choice for a folk festival, being a singalong round, as it is. Of course, before launching into the song, Colin Meloy absolutely charmed the hell out of each and every one of us with his little tale of flying from Calgary to Dusseldorf on a $200 flight while attempting to get from Montana to Paris for an ill-fated romantic encounter.
Upon Colin’s instructions to “the denizens of this island”, we all sang loudly and lustily and long to the final chorus, with Colin conducting, in addition to jumping up and down and shredding and finally ending with a dramatic rock star leap off the speaker. My mind was suitably blown.
Then with hear all the bombs, they fade away still echoing in our ears and pounding in our chests, as our new best friend Colin promised they would if we sang loudly enough, we shuffled en masse off the island of which we had all been denizens of Decemberists’ mythology.