PRINCE’S ISLAND PARK – JULY 26, 2013
Danny Michel with Garifuna Collective
Under a “will it or won’t it?” pink and hazy sky, Danny Michel with Garifuna Collective took to the stage, giving the crowd a shot an instant reminder of the multiculturalism that makes up the Calgary Folk Music Festival — that meaning a white kid from Kitchener-Waterloo hopped up on stage with the members of the Garifuna Collective and the Benque Players from Belize. Of course, there will be an obligatory Paul Simon Graceland collection from those who don’t buy new records, but Michel and his killer band had the crowd on their feet (or tarps) dancing to the irresistible (and so wonderfully cheery) rhythms they cranked out.
The famously shy M. Ward — no pictures or video, please (and I know this having been politely, but firmly, asked by his wife to not take pictures at a much smaller venue) — attacked the Folk Fest in that best of band formations, the power trio. With rock and roll volume levels and attitude, the whiskey-voiced, salt-and-pepper M. Ward took turns either rocking the crowd to dance or almost rocking them to sleep, depending on his mood. While an attempted sing-a-long could have met with more audible, enthusiastic results, the set was a barn burner. Towards the end, I was beginning to believe the reason that you can’t take pictures of M. Ward is because he was too much goddamn charisma for your camera to hold.
Underneath a quickly darkening sky, the Folk Fest’s first headliners, Alabama Shakes, took the stage to thunderous applause. Prince’s Island Park was packed with festival-goers despite, perhaps, the fest’s worries that the island would not be ready in time after the flood, but it had been a tame, gentle evening. Families strolled about and wandered among food vendors, while tarps blanketed the field in front of the main stage as M. Ward and Danny Michel and the Garifuna Collective played nice, low-key sets. When Alabama Shakes made their appearance, though, everyone stood up to dance, basking in the bluesy, rootsy rockers’ first Calgary appearance.
Frontwoman Brittany Howard’s vocals are one of the band’s strongest selling points on record, but they seem to transcend her body on stage — even tucked away on their own, raised, stage, set back from the main stage’s edge, she commanded the crowd with ease, drawing dedicated fans forward and winning over almost everyone within earshot.
With little fanfare, Alabama Shakes ran through their set, which included, not surprisingly, each of their hits from Boys & Girls, such as “Hold On,” “You Ain’t Alone” and “I Ain’t the Same.” Some new tracks made their way into the setlist, as well, previewing their sophomore studio album, hopefully due out next year. As they made their way through their songs and lightning lit up the eerily coloured sky, the band pressed on towards an encore, and set highlight, “Heavy Chevy,” and the island drank in the rain. Folk Fest 2013 is here!
By Team BeatRoute
Photos: Sebastian Buzzalino