GALLAGHER PARK, AUGUST 8 − 11, 2013
The 33rd annual Edmonton Folk Music Festival (EFMF), which is held at Gallagher Park, on the southern slope of the North Saskatchewan River valley, is always a weekend to remember. Some have attended this fest since they were in utero and it has become a strong tradition for many families.
Many arrive mighty early to strategically place a tarp on the hill. I’ve found you can still enjoy the festival by living in the moment and creating your own “nosebleed” section (viewing the main stage from an angle in front of stage two, or hanging out in the dance area all evening).
The festival is primarily volunteer run. There are multiple great food vendors and a great beer gardens, in which, thanks to sunny skies, I might have spent too much time this year.
Another plus side about the EFMF is that it is eco-friendly. For a two-dollar deposit, you receive a re-usable plate. If you return your plate, your money is returned. This has led to a phenomenon known as the plate kids: kids who earn some extra cash by offering to take your plate back for you.
Thursday, August 8
The most notable performance of the night was an hour and a half of Feist on the main stage. Hundreds of people lined up bright and early the first morning of the festival to plant tarps as close to the stage as possible. Feist is a big name that no doubt pulled a lot of Edmontonians to the festival on that first night.
I, however, was rather underwhelmed compared to her other performances. I’ve seen Feist before in Calgary, but somehow, her normally bubbly energy wasn’t present this night. She seemed to hide behind her guitar, moving very little across the massive stage that was her nest for the night.
Her voice, however, was as powerful as ever. Her 2011 album, Metals, was peppered with her old hits that the crowd just ate up in droves. (Jodi Egan)
If the overall mood of the 2013 Edmonton Folk Music festival main stage acts was a glass of ice cold soda, I would dub it Mello Yello this year. The highlight of my Thursday evening would be the explosive pop rocks that fell into that glass of soda: Florida-raised Charles Bradley and His Extraordinaires. The James Brown-inspired Bradley had the crowd in frenzy and fed off of that energy. And a side note: these guys performed and unplanned set at the Empress Ale House late into the night, which I did not attend due to responsibility. I know what regret feels like now. (Jenna Lee Williams)
Friday, August 9
After having a few round at the beer gardens, I headed to main stage for some main attractions!
Everyone was looking forward to Neko Case. Her gorgeous and piercing vocals did not cease to disappoint. Some classic tunes were played and the overall mood of her set was played down.
Instead of dreaming what I could do “if I had a million genres” within one band, I experienced Australia’s John Butler Trio. Their sound is a chunky stew of distinct flavours, including blues, rock, folk and funk. I especially enjoyed the extended jam during their performance of “Oceans.” The dirty blues slide guitar had me captivated and triggered some hip shaking. Their entertaining set closed with “Funky Tonight.” (Jenna Lee Williams)
Saturday, August 10
At a Folk Fest this packed, the place to be on a bustling Saturday is nestled into the smaller stages. Instead of seeing one artist or band sweating it out for an hour or two from a football field away, smaller crowds are welcome to observe multiple artists do a session, often spotting each other with rhythmic guitar or free-styling on a ukulele. There is no set list, just a handful of bands hanging out and jamming on stage.
The best performance of the day was the “Everybody Hurts” session with artists like John Wort Hannam, The Milk Carton Kids, Rayland Baxter and Scarlett Jane on Stage Six. While six different artists and a dozen back up artists squeezed onto a stage five times smaller than the main stage, the atmosphere was clear: this is a participatory concert with a healthy combination of laughing, joking and jamming.
The Milk Carton Kids, Joey Ryan and Kenneth Pettengale, dressed in suits and sang soulful indie-folk ballets in between jokes about their strange outfit choice for the day. Armed with two acoustic guitars and two tortured but harmonious voices, these California boys got big applause from the crowd — and even a laugh for their dry, deadpan humour.
Scarlett Jane, another duo of the female type, made waves with their country-folk songs. The balance between the two sister genres was well struck. The country twang was surprisingly digestible, probably because these two babes know how to hit a note and write a compelling song with an equally compelling back story.
Like The Milk Carton Kids, the two folk sirens also added a bit of humour into this informal set. Members Andrea Ramolo and Cindy Doire laughed and joked about their gloomy origin story: two girls that were dumped by their men seeking solace in song and folk.
My favourite character of the set, however, was the ever present Rayland Baxter who took up a chair in the front and strummed along with every song in between his own. (Jodi Egan)
Sunday, August 11
Sunday was smoking hot and, to beat the heat, I found refuge in small shady patches near smaller stages. Upon my arrival late in the afternoon, Cuba’s Havana d’Primera attracted me to the main stage. The thirteen-piece salsa extraordinaire had everyone moving. The designated dance area exploded to include the area in front of the stage (which is normally a designated tarp area) and dance anarchy ensured.
After that fun treat, I headed straight to stage three to see Grammy-winning gospel group Mighty Clouds of Joy. A vast majority of the crowd was up on their feet, swaying and raising their arms to classic tunes, such as “Amazing Grace,” even in the mid-day sun.
The rest of the day was a blur, as I stage hopped and caught bits of Elvis Perkins’ set.
I left the festival before it came to a close, as a nasty looking storm was rolling in. Due to lightning, the entire festival ended early and was evacuated. Mother Nature called an end to a wonderful four-day weekend. (Jenna Lee Williams).
by Jenna Lee Williams and Jodi Egan
Photos by Jodi Egan