Fans treated to magic touch - Workshops heart and soul of gorgeous day
Review, Heath McCoy, Sunday July 25, The Calgary Herald
Chemistry? Voodoo? Nature taking its course? What is it about the workshops at the Calgary Folk Music Festival that makes them so special? What is the magic ingredient? Why are they, in so many ways, the heart and soul of this annual event?
As is the ritual, weekend afternoons at the folk fest are
dominated by the workshops: six stages spread across the park where the
artists, the stars of the event, share the spotlight and play together.
Theyre reflective of as Bob Marley put it the lets get together
and feel all right vibes the festival strives for.
As is sometimes the case with such love-ins, theres not always
a connection. Some of the workshops can be downright awkward. But when
the artists bond and the sparks fly , its a beautiful thing.
That uncertainty, the spontaneity of the whole thing is part of the fun.
Of course, when a summer day is as gorgeous as it was on
Saturday, it makes these musical discoveries particularly enjoyable.
Soulful hip-hop artist and political activist Michael Franti was
the king of the island on this day. Not only was he the headliner on
the mainstage he was soul brother No. 1 on the workshop stages. From
the heated beats of the New world Order stage , where he and his band
Spearhead jammed with Mexicos Los de Abaho, to the politically charged
session with the powerful slam poets Saul Williams and DBi Young,
Franti brought an infectious spirit wherever he went.
In the later workshop, Spearheads funky dance grooves
accentuated the sharp spoken-word jabs of Williams, who spat his
graphic verses, rapid-fire, in riveting blasts.
It was tough pulling ones self away from this one, but it was
worth it to have attended the This land is Our Land workshop where a
group of Albertas finest roots-country musicians, Corb Lund, Rae
Spoon, Steve Coffey and John Wort Hannam, jammed on each others songs.
Technical difficulties frustrated the musicians, but the quality of
their songs shined through the bumpy spots.
There were a few disappointments. Your Folk Fetish workshop with
Spirit of the West, the Rankin Sisters and Celtic guitarist Tony
McManus moved along sluggishly. And it was a shame the North
Mississippi Allstars, who stole the show Friday night, couldnt add
their blues-rock stomp to the Mule Bone set, with Corey Harris, Ruthie
Foster and a member of Linda Tillerys Cultural Heritage Choir. Even
without the Allstars, though, the workshop was a bluesy, gospel
The Mainstage, meanwhile, wasnt without its charms.
The Rankin Sisters offered up a set of maritimes-flavoured folk
in the afternoon, rich with the pretty three-part harmonies of the
As for the evenings Mainstage acts, Rhonda Vincent and the Rage
brought the hickory-smoked taste of bluegrass to the days dish. That
flavour became more potent still when 80-year-old banjo demon Earle
Scruggs played his set, his lightening fingers burning up the frets.
Los de Abajo (translation: the Underdogs) were outstanding,
revving up the crowd with a burning mix of latino rythmes, modern dance
beats and general Mariachi-flavoured madness. The bands showmanship
proved to be impressive too, as, at one point, they donned colourful
masks and Calgary Flames shirts and danced wildly.
The popular Vancouver group Spirit of the West played second to
last. Spirits set had its moments to be sure, the rowdy Home For A
Rest was a highlight, as ever and bringing Calgarys Oscar Lopez on
stage for a hot slice of guitar was a nice touch. But overall, the
bands usual energy supply seemed to be a little low.
Perhaps they were saving their energy for Michael Franti and Spearhead. At press time, Franti had just taken the stage, but if the workshops were any indication, the crowd was in for one grande finale to its festival day.