By Jenna Lee Williams
August 4-7, 2016
EDMONTON — The Edmonton Folk Music Festival (EFMF) has become a tradition, and for many current and former Edmontonians it has become an institution. For many it is an annual affair; some have been coming since they were babies, and other festivalgoers are experiencing it for the first time. Regardless of the previous folk festival experience, it can be agreed that the EFMF that takes place in Gallagher Park always makes the city feel magical and, by putting music to the forefront puts the stresses of life on pause for four glorious days.
Thursday, August 4th
BeatRoute’s evening kicked off with Montreal’s blues quartet the Barr Brothers. It was beautiful having Sarah Page on harp – the delicate picks of the harp fed off the guitar. The band announced “we are going to do something we have never done before.” They noted that Barr is in fact a Scottish name and brought out Spencer Murray on bagpipes and played an extra twangy tune that the bagpipe fit right into. Perhaps Murray is their long lost brother?
Iceland’s Kaleo took the stage during the “sunset set.” The lead singer’s vocals are seductive and are not unlike a chameleon that bends genres. They really got the crowd’s attention after performing their rock and roll rendition of “Bang Bang (My Baby Shot Me Down)” by Nancy Sinatra. They closed their set with an upbeat blues infused track that had the crowd on their feet.
Friday, August 5th
Lisa Hannigan and Aaron Dessner have developed a growing fan base from their other projects (Hannigan being a member of Damien Rice’s band, and Dessner a member of popular indie rock band The National) but after playing together they will have likely gained some new fans of their collaboration together. Their harmonies both musically and vocally were gorgeous, especially when they sang “your heart, my heart” together. Hannigan has stellar chemistry with the microphone and you will not want to take your eyes off her every move. The two brought the banjo into the mix later on in their set that juxtaposed their mellow music and a high energy Friday night crowd.
After a bit of a delay Mary Chapin Carpenter took the stage. She told the crowd “you’re beautiful” and noted how excited she was to be back. Her vocals sound like no other, and are deep and soothing and somehow glistened in the darkening sky. Her set wasn’t the most upbeat considering her Friday night time shot, but things were spiced up a bit as she sang “Deep Deep Down Heart” while playing the piano.
Headliner of the evening, Jason Isbell, falls into a crack somewhere between country and folk. He played a set chock full of guitar solos and included the title track of his most recent album Something More Than Free on his set list. Isbell engaged the crowd up until the evening closed.
Saturday, August 6th
On Stage 1, BeatRoute caught Colin Linden’s set’s that embodied blues, roots, and a hint of old time rock and roll. He noted that he first played the festival 32 years ago, and that most of the audience was not yet born at that time. He provided the young audience with some wisdom in his lyrics “life is too short to drink no more cheap wine.” Linden is involved with the ABC television series Nashville as a performance consultant and coach, as well as a musician, with much of his content featured on the show. Later in the set he had friend and colleague Sam Palladio accompany him on stage.
BeatRoute stayed put under the only tree near stage one to catch Elvin Bishop and Charie Musselwhite. Their blues set made the crowd feel good. On “Blues Overtook Me” he sang “The Blues overtook me when I was a little child, you know fast women and whisky made this southern boy wild.”
On to main stage to catch Sweden’s singer-songwriter The Tallest Man on Earth. His unique and beautiful vocal style unexpectedly adds intonation on unexpected lyrics. The highlight of the show was his gorgeous performance of “Time of the Blue.”
The Staves went on to enchant the audience with breathtaking vocal harmonies before the U.K’s Passenger took the stage with his stomp box. He interacted with the crowd throughout his set suggesting the audience “sing along even if you don’t know the words!” His vocals are reminiscent of James Blunt and his intricate guitar strumming makes him one heck of a strummer boy. He tried to perk the crowd up, as he noted: “you sound a little bit sleepy.” He pulled his radio hit “Let Her Go” out of his sleeve, which did wake the crowd up and prime them for the next act.
A change of pace occurred when Mike Farris and the Roseland Rhythm Review took the stage. The mellow demeanour of Main Stage got taken up a few notches. Farris went from performing an interlude set last year to headlining Saturday night. Farris and his multi-instrumentalist band turned up the volume and got the crowd dancing to their funk and soul infused rhythms.
Sunday, August 7th
BeatRoute made sure to hit the festival grounds early to catch Calexico, as it was disappointing to miss The Cat Empire’s early afternoon performance yesterday. Calexico performed “Trigger” early on during their set, which got the audience’s hips swiveling. The band informed the crowd that “you guys are doing well for some early birds. They then went on to perform “Two Silver Trees,” a song that begins with some lovely piano, and contains electronics, reverb and unique accordion playing, and a song that sounds extremely dynamic when performed live. The crowd continued to dance, and Calexico continued to address the audience and get them cheering. When trying to get the crowd to play louder, one member of the band pointed out that he was born in Canada, and he needed to impress his friends on stage with the loudest cheers of the audience. This got the crowd going even more.
Next up was Sarah Harmer’s performance. Her set would be the perfect background music for a bike ride in the clouds. Many can identify with her songs, and that becomes apparent when you listen to the lyrics for “Almost.” Her clever poetic lyrics also came to the forefront when she performed “One Match,” which goes “If I only had one match left would I try to light a fire under you? If I could only say one thing would it be what I’ve been wanting to?” She then went on to play some brand new material, but before she did she asked the audience to imagine themselves in the following scenario: “It is winter, you are skating on the North Saskatchewan River. It is night time and you have just left your most passionate relationship.” She went on to perform that dark and stormy tune along with a few more.
Some stage hopping was in the cards. It was rumored that Rachel Notley was spotted in the stage 6 dance area. BeatRoute could not spot her, but did catch a few minutes the beautiful strings and high pitched vocals and packed crowd that was in attendance for the Lessons Learned session, which included Nathaniel Rateliff (solo), Rose Cousins, The Head and the Heart, and The Staves. This session was a wonderful sneak peek into what was to come on Main Stage later in the evening.
After a trip to the beer gardens, BeatRoute headed to stage 5 to catch Curtis Harding’s dynamic set. His vocals and style are reminiscent of Otis Redding. His performance of “Heaven’s On the Other Side” got the audience’s attention and drew them in. His music is extremely danceable, and little pockets of dancers popped up all over the hill. The chanting style of his songs got them stuck in your head, even if you had never heard them before.
Off to Main Stage to catch LP, who intrigued the audience as it was mentioned in her biography that she had written songs for pop superstars Rhianna and Christina Aguilera. For a tiny individual, her vocal range covered a full spectrum. Her vocal style was similar to Gwen Stefani back in the No Doubt days. Her set produced a lot of activity in the dance area. “I love my little troublemakers,” LP noted, as she pointed to the dance areas to the sides of the stage. Since she was last in Edmonton, she went through a breakup and wrote a record about it, and performed “Up Against Me” off that album.
Nathaniel Rateliff & the Night Sweats closed the evening and the festival, and prompted many to stand on their tarps and dance. Rateliff explained that it was always such a pleasure to be at this festival. The audience felt a similar sentiment as it was an incredible weekend of music, dancing, food, drinks and time spent with loved ones.AB, Alberta, Barr Brothers, Calexico, Colin Linden, Curtis Harding, Edmonton Folk Music Festival, Edmonton Folk Music Festival 2016, Elvin Bishop and Charie Musselwhite, Jason Isbell, Kaleo, Lisa Hannigan and Aaron Dessner, LP, Mary Chapin Carpenter, Mike Farris and the Roseland Rhythm Review, Nathaniel Rateliff & the Night Sweats, Passenger, Rose Cousins, Sarah Hermer, The Cat Empire, The Head and the Heart, The Staves, The Tallest Man on Earth