By Mike Dunn, Willow Grier, Michael Grondin, Maximillian Krewiak, Arielle Lessard and Paul Rodgers
July 21, 2016
CALGARY — Day one of Calgary Folk Music Fest began Thursday afternoon in a flurry of excitement. The first day of a festival always feels hurried somehow, and this was no exception. There was the rush of the crowd into the ground to reserve prime blanket or chair space on the vast grassy expanse in front of the main stage. There was the rush of attendees in transit to Prince’s Island Park from work and school, coming from every corner of Calgary and beyond. There was a rush for ATMs, drink tickets, the drinks that followed, and rushes to find friends and make it to suitable viewing spots for favourite artists. Through it all, within the whirlwind of excitement, there were moments of pure bliss that made their way to the forefront. Moments where the sun began to set and light trickled down on crowds through leafy greenery. Moments where long-lost companions reunited under the refrain of sweet guitar and banjo, echoed harmonies, and sing-alongs. And moments where some of the best that the folk music genre has to offer (both locally and globally) were able to hypnotize Calgary’s eager masses on a hot summer day. (WG)
The music programming was fantastic right off the bat with highlights including The New Pornographers, and bouncing between the gently, serene sounds of The Tallest Man on Earth, who managed to get the seated crowd off their feet and dancing, making reference to the strange layout at Main Stage and a lively performance from Calgary’s own The Dudes at the National Stage. (PR)
There’s a thing you get used to as a Festival Human. It’s living by time, but beyond it. It’s when you spend two hours dancing to The New Pornographers, but they only played one. As the seemingly endless Abbott & Costello routine gets its motor running for the start of a long weekend, and you strive hourly to remind yourself, “It’s only Thursday.”
We’re here now, and we’re all going to be better off for the experience. While running late, and catching up with a buddy, I could hear Marty Stuart & The Fabulous Superlatives from a distance, inspiring a more determined gait. Stuart’s been playing huge gigs since he was a teenager at The Opry, a mandolin prodigy invited to play with Lester Flatt & Earl Scruggs, and later to tour with them for years before scoring hits of his own in the late ‘80s. Included in their excellent set was the 90 mile-an-hour train shuffle of “Country Boy Rock n’ Roll,” with its harmonized guitar lines blazing beyond the beat; the B-Bender Telecaster virtuosity of the instrumental “Hummingbird”, which was dedicated to the late Clarence White, a legendary figure in country music who played guitar with The Byrds while they pioneered country rock, and invented the B-Bender system with fellow Byrd Gene Parsons as a way for guitar players to emulate pedal steel licks. White died tragically, struck by a drunk driver while loading out after a gig.
Stuart strutted his stuff on the mandolin as well, laying down a burning solo version of the bluegrass standard “The Orange Blossom Special.” Country musicians show reverence for their forebears better than most other groups, and Stuart is no exception. He introduced that solo piece with the story of Irving Rouse, the man who wrote the song. Rouse spent years and years playing for nickels and quarters, while other players played his song throughout the land, in time making “The Orange Blossom Special” an absolute standard in the bluegrass canon.
Stuart has always walked through some pretty rarified air, and country music needs him out there, classing up the joint. He is a living connection to the homespun beginnings of country and bluegrass, and a very cool, yet gracious example to anyone who sees him play, of the possibility and virtuosity of country music going forward. (MD)
The Tallest Man On Earth made time stand still and captivated an eager audience. Sounding more flawless live than in his fantastic recordings, he proved alongside his carefully curated, perfectly synchronized band that it is so hard to package this kind of feeling. While photos were not permitted during his set, the emotional content of the band’s time on stage would burn itself deep into the memories of bystanders, enough to create a vast well of reminiscence to fuel stories all through the following day. TTMOE played a selection of newer tracks alongside some old favourites (“Where do my bluebirds fly?” and “the Gardener”) that got even the seated section of the festival standing, dancing, and singing along. Of his newer material, Kristian Matsson played “Time of the Blue” towards the end of the set, solo. Although singular on stage, the complexity of his guitar work filled the stage with sound, and gave the illusion of at least three sets of hands working together as one, completely mystifying an audience who would create totem poles of heads to better get a view. The last song of TTMOE’s set had his band take to stage around microphones alone and create a harmony so heavenly that gasped breaths were the only sound that could be heard offstage. When the 10pm curfew came, it was strongly protested by the hungry crowd, who would gladly have stood for several hours more to hear more of the magic that The Tallest Man On Earth had brought to the CFMF Main Stage. (WG)
July 22, 2016
Friday looked as though it might be a little damp, but the clouds spared the thousands of festival goers and provided a lovely atmosphere for day two.
Featuring standout main stage performances from Winnipeg’s Juno-winning The Bros. Landreth, Hamilton’s Whitehorse, Montreal blues act Cecile Doo-Kingué, and Los Angeles-based quartet Lord Huron, Friday’s program at the Calgary Folk Music Festival provided festival goers with energetic and inspired sets.
The afternoon workshop stages were a particular highlight. The National Stage played host to the Digital Download workshop, providing a bass-and-kick-heavy beat for the barefoot sunshine dancing crowd; the soundtrack laid down by Project Logic, Jerusalem In My Heart, Moulettes, and Yemen Blues with Ravid Kahalani was a trancey revelation, the bassoon and cello harmony of Moulettes blending beautifully with the propulsive groove and spacey percussion.
Digital Download warmed up the stage for Wave Pool, a workshop featuring Canadian alt-country group The Sadies, with Whitehorse, The New Pornographers, and Irish singer-songwriter Foy Vance. Vance played with unbridled enthusiasm, with his soulful voice cutting through the reverb soaked wall of rock n’ roll guitar being laid down by Dallas and Travis Good of The Sadies, and Whitehorse’s Luke Doucet. (MD)
On Stage 3 Adia Victoria threw around her wispy voice to fill a full beer garden of loungers. Her full white garb and dark hair made her a sinewy vision on a muggy Friday afternoon. For one song, she was simply accompanied by Gregory Alan Isakov on guitar, which made her all the more striking. Carolyn Mark also grooved up the session by singing the first love song she ever wrote, “Don’t Come Over Baby,” which landed perfectly and was well introduced with a catching laugh. The group had some interesting chemistry, with the talented Pepita Emmerichs from Oh Pep! standing out as a counterpoint on mandolin and fiddle. She created unexpected high lines and ended the set with a sharp, well-timed high note.
Shortly after on Stage 5, the fun and spirited Les Hay Babies provided all the energy and off-centre humour that a crowd could expect out of the high flying east Acadians. With their killer late ‘70s style and their synched dance moves, they had the evenly split French and English crowd swinging. These beauties had lots of great background to share with an entertained audience that included small jabs about Acadians being best at leaving and needing a “little New Brunswick” in Alberta.
Their set was filled with relatable stories that spoke of long distance relationships hanging on a telephone cord and having to sell your shitty car because it cost too much. For the especially robust song “Rick On Fire,” Les Hay Babies asked their audience to out themselves as liars, to which only one man ‘fessed up to – making him the only honest audience member at Stage 5.
Barring some technical difficulties that were hard to listen to, Project Logic organized some layered chaos on Stage 4 for a surprisingly small, mismatched, family-peppered, laid back crowd. The backbeats were feverish and layered with drawn out echoing vocals.
On the festival’s main stage, the irresistible, charming Cécile Doo-Kingué was fire on Friday night. Anyone who comes on stage and has the gall and humor to announce that they’re the best act, better be able to back it up and did she ever. Doo-Kingué made Prince’s Island Park hers for the duration of her set. Her iconic, smooth, velvet voice carried old school charm all the way to the beer gardens and her pure madness on guitar made for a thrilling, authentic performance that had babies and couples alike dancing uncontrollably.
Doo-Kingue churned out a high-quality performance that has clearly been harnessed over a lifetime. Her appeal was contagious and her set included both light and heavy moments never without grace. From introducing a song for anyone that appreciates a good backside – sure to be the most poetic and lovely way most people have heard “shorty got ass” – she also spent time explaining the so-called “rhythmn of ass,” and proudly spoke about watching people walk around and being happy to that a lot of Calgarians have “pretty melodious walks.”
Mixed into this were some powerful comments in regards to ending racial violence, the Black Lives Matter movement, as well as some “fuck Trump” sentiments before getting down to brass tax with solos by Anthony Pageot (drums) and Pierre Desmarais (bass) who are solid heavyweight performers in their own right. The Kingue trio ended the whole performance on a lighter brighter note by getting main stage to sing You Are My Sunshine together, just in time for the beginning of sunset.
In between sets on the main stage, Oh Pep! played with the ease with which they set up in between official sets on main stage. The four piece flowed perfectly from mandolin, bass, guitar and drums. Emmerichs’ strumming on mandolin made for a fine anticipatory trill feeling as the sun was going down. Oh Pep! kept their performance at the edge of its toes while Olivia Hally’s delicate voice fluttered sweetly from one thing to the next.
Whitehorse, unsurprisingly, drew a hefty happy crowd ready for some drama. Melissa McClelland was dressed to kill and sang with gusto into an old telephone receiver strapped up to her mic. Though Luke Doucet transitioned somewhat fluidly from guitar to drums and back again, it seemed to be a somewhat clumsy switch,
with one song featuring recorded drums as well.* Overall, the crowd was wrapped up in a good mix of traditional southern goodness and oh so bad and hefty lyricism. “One day you’re going to miss me” was sang with a special type of retribution by the duo… on the same mic no less, for a powerhouse performance that got thousands to clap in unison. (AL)
CORRECTION: *Whitehorse has since clarified with us that one song our reviewer said they played using pre-recorded drums was in fact not the case. “We have never and will never play to pre recorded drums. Loops happen live,” they told us.AB, Adia Victoria, Alberta, Calgary Folk Music Festival, Calgary Folk Music Festival 2016, Carolyn Mark, Cécile Doo-Kingué, Foy Vance, Gregory Alan Isakov, Jerusalem in my Heart, Les Hay Babies, Lord Huron, Marty Stuart & The Fabulous Superlatives, Moulettes, Oh Pep!, Project Logic, The Bros. Landreth, The Dudes, The New Pornographers, The Sadies, The Tallest Man on Earth, Whitehorse, Yemen Blues