By Mike Dunn
CALGARY – You can walk a hundred miles in the grass and sun and trees and still find a place that feels new yet familiar, where the smiles are easy to come by and the walks through new woods are decorated with the laughs that the forest has already heard over and over.
This is old land, with a young heart, beating as wild hearts do.
Parked the truck, and got some gear under a tarp in case of rain, while Mike shuttled the tractor and hayride back and forth to pick up everyone and their gear. We hitched up a tarp over the hayride when it started to pour, and headed down to get more buds for around the fire.
We got set up, seemed like everyone had a bit of time, a few of the the fellas tying their tarps twelve feet in the air with only their buddy’s shoulders as a ladder. We beat the next rain and dropped some picklebacks, all this time later, still somehow explaining the greatness of the salty puckerest of whiskey chasers to some uninitiated.
Down by the stage, with its waves and roses rushing across its wings, Seafoam started the night off, still in the daylight with some amphetamine White Heat, sort of Morby-ish in its laissez-faire. Pancake was as dream pop in execution as punk rock in conversation, space aliens with antennae on buzz for an early cosmos trip party.
Crooked Spies came next, and picked up a crowd eager to move faster, helping hands hauling fresh lumber to the growing town centre fire, and feet shaking to the badass boogie the band served up with tight riffs and fast forward rhythm.
And still, The Shiverettes’ closing set echoes in these ears. Tearing through a whole new set of songs in equal parts searing Stooges fiery destruction as it was hooky Le Tigre, with as much righteous venom as deserved to be heard when L7 and Babes On Toyland did it, in a perhaps more realized era. Shiverettes sounded like a thousand fuck yous all at once, to every dummy who thinks he’s entitled to interrupt a girl while she’s reading.
The hardest part about early morning/afternoon sets at sleepaway festivals is the distinct possibility that the audience may have indulged later into the night, and if finding your band in that position, what to do with your set. On both Saturday and Sunday, having been awake far too long on previous evenings, through the velvety smooth flow of dreamy pop floating through the pines from the early risers Nebular Wave, Laura Hickli, I Am The Mountain, Future Womb, and Tropic Harbour, I was able on both mornings to compose my senses, fire up coffee and burritos over the fire, and dip into the first cold beer of the day over laughs and conversation with the overhead tarp neighbourhood, and sit back and stare up into the trees and dream a little longer.
The flow of the lineup was fully dialled in on Saturday and Sunday, a continuity to the scheduling that remained energetic throughout, but always gave extra space to lay back, chill, and take everything in. Jeremy Gignoux played a lovely set of wandering Romani jazz with his quartet on the side stage, to universal praise. At times sombre and baroque, while jumpy and swinging Django, Gignoux’s set showed off peaks of musical dexterity. Landos brought a summery beach vibe that was on display through the lineup, and their cover of Supertramp’s “Breakfast In America” stood as the most unexpected cover of the weekend, for at least a full day (more on that to come). Saskatoon’s The Garrys played like a sockhop in space, a splashy early rock n’ roll feel that drifted across my mind like The Highest Order on a 5-6-7-8s kick. Squanto was a tight set, and their DeMarco-on-70s-AM-radio sound sets them apart with their chops and commitment to that groove. It’s a rare style around here, but when it’s played with skill and a small bit of humour, it’s really nicely done. Edmonton’s Pine Barrens closed the Saturday night gig with a heavier set that felt a bit like Florida-garage-Skynyrd on a Sweet Leaf buzz.
Late into Saturday night got a little wild, swaying and stumbling through the meandering, labyrinthine pathways, through wild art installations like the galaxy window, and the freaky balloon eyes. It’s this kind of effort that sets a festival apart. Often, it’s mostly only possible at a festival that attracts the initiated. Having seen Tuesday morning photos of the post-festival mess left at Dauphin, Manitoba’s Countryfest, there’s some solace to be taken in seeing a safe and inclusive community doing their best to leave a festival site as clean as it was when they arrived. For most of us in the wider folk community, it’s not a new lesson, but it’s one that other festivals would be wise to impart upon their attendees. These are special, natural places, and those festivals that take care of the land will see their efforts rewarded.
Once again on Sunday, having let a course of cigarettes, coffee, fruit, and campfire burritos make its way through my system while I relaxed and enjoyed the waves of echoing music through the trees, I eventually made my way down to the stages in time to see new pals the Mountain Sound Brigade dive in to a big band run though of 70s rock n’ roll sounds. Definitely a Faces vibe to the band, with the fully loaded instrumental backup to go along with it.
Making a quick run back to the cooler for more beers, along came the start of Calgary’s favourite freaky and fun country band, The Bitterweed Draw. And from the tent, I heard what quickly became the most unexpected cover of the weekend, as The Draw eschewed their more well-known instrumental sound in favour of a full dad-rock lineup to bust out a party-ready version of Van Halen’s “Runnin’ With The Devil”. It once again brought up the campfire debate among those of us who were around for the early Halen years, that there IS NO VAN HALEN WITHOUT DAVID LEE ROTH, don’t @ me, Dads. Clad in the weirdest possible outfits, with a mermaid, a Burger King, alien gold-lamé-suited Elvis, a British Solicitor, and a Leprechaun-Dragon, Calgary’s lovable country freaks brought it back to their “normal” and were as good-natured and fun as fans of the band have come to expect. The River Jacks played an amped up folk punk set afterward, tight and revved up from the first downbeat, and Alex Ginella’s band was as close as Sunday got to church, with a three-part harmony choir and a large, musically dedicated ensemble.
Having missed several Copperhead shows in the past year or so, the addition of the baritone saxophone to the bands sweeping and sultry soul vibe made a nice impact sonically, and Liquor Mountain brought a sunny, Burritos/Poco/New Riders Of The Purple Sage, 70s California country feel to the stage. Ashley Hundred played an energetic brand of indie pop, with cool changes in both rhythm, structure, and tempo, and solid vocal harmonies. Later on, Tequila Mockingbird Orchestra was an excellent choice for the near-close of the main stage, and were so pumped to be there, they were found still jamming around the fire the following morning, blissed out and wide-eyed. FrogFest concluded, as is tradition, with a surprise wild mashup from members of a number of groups, including The Rumble, God Wayne Satan (The Rhythm Babies), and The Wheel running through the catalogue of Ween, which is a perfectly beautiful and absurd set of songs to be played at a festival that boast both at a high degree.
For a few years, having burned out on the business of trying to make good on potential in music, I hit a real tough spot mentally and emotionally. If you know me, you know about it intimately, and if we’ve only hung out in passing, maybe you’ve noticed it. It was a dark spot, but in looking back at the last two weekends, and how similar the vibe of FrogFest is to my hometown festival, The North Country Fair, it gave me a chance to see things more clearly, and with a perhaps renewed perspective. Whether it was the work that went into preparing the land, with its mulch covered trails for twisting barefoot walking paths, the fifty-foot pines and birches soaring into the air creating a natural canopy, the smiles on the trails as old pals and new buds sashayed and staggered back and forth from their coolers and tents to the two very intimate stages, or the musically diverse lineup that leaned heavily on sunshine garage pop that was more about loving, caring fun than it was about any other grander message than just that, FrogFest opened my eyes to an underground vibe in Calgary that I’d missed for a long time, and it couldn’t have come at a better time.Ashley Hundred, Babes On Toyland, Copperhead, Crooked Spies, Dispatch From The Lilypad, Django, Future Womb, Gignoux, God Wayne Satan (The Rhythm Babies), I Am the Mountain, Jeremy Gignoux, L7, Landos, Laura Hickli, Le Tigre, Liquor Mountain, Nebular Wave, Pancake, Pine Barrens, Stooges, Tequila Mockingbird Orchestra, The Bitterweed Draw, The Draw, The Highest Order, The Lilypad, The North Country Fair, The Rumble, The Shiverettes, The Wheel, Tropic Harbour, Ween, White Heat