Stars shine on opening night
Calgary Herald - Nick Lewis and Heath McCoy

Posted by on 10 May 2004

Elvis Costello sings himself into frenzy

Thursday at the Calgary Folk Music Festival.
Performers included Elvis Costello, Ricky Skaggs, Sondre Lerche, Petrona Martinez and Kris Demeanor.
Attendance: About 9,300.

It's quite a sight. Hundreds of people running with folded chairs, padded seats, water bottles and backpacks, trying to overcome their sandals-on-gravel footing, trying not to lose anything on the way. They rush to get prime real estate in front of the main stage at the Calgary Folk Music Festival. With a spectacular opening day lineup that featured Elvis Costello and Ricky Skaggs, it was understandable when the crowd bottlenecked through the park entrance as soon as the gates opened.

"I was among them, running with the tarps and chairs," said Joanne Bachynski, who was parked up front. "It's amazing, the gates opened 15 minutes ago and look at it now. It's filled with all us fogeys running in."

Now in it's 24th year, the folk festival has emerged as one the highlights of the Calgary summer. Opening day of the four-day event drew 9,300 fans to Prince's Island Park, just 700 short of a sellout. And like that other summer highlight, the Calgary Stampede, it's not just about Calgarians. Two friends from Chicago were camped at the front of the stage Thursday, waiting to see their hero, Costello. Rozy Stevens, 50, and Mary Gear, 40, met and bonded over their mutual love of Costello in 1996, but the two have been following the singer individually for the past couple of decades, travelling as far as London and Hamburg to see him. Thursday night's folk festival gig marked the ninth time they've seen Costello this year.

"His current show is more for hard core fans than casual fans," said Stevens, referring to Costello's penchant for focusing on obscure and unreleased tunes on this tour. "That's what we like about it."

Local favourite Kris Demeanor kicked off the event appropriately with an upbeat set of folk-pop originals. Demeanor's Crack Band, featuring fellow Calgarians Chantal Vitalis and Diane Kooch, were in fine form during the set.

Colombia's Petrona Martinez followed with her six-piece band, giving the festival its first taste of the rich world music for which it has become famous. The 66-year-old Martinez played an infectious, rhythmically dynamic set that had a crowd of folkies up on their feet and dancing.

Eight-time Grammy Award winner Skaggs was up next, he and his bluegrass band Kentucky Thunder playing a strikingly honest set that alternated between fiery 'n' boot-stompin' and tear-in-your-beer tender.

In the lead-up to the much anticipated Elvis, Norway's Sondre Lerche (who was hand-picked by Costello for the gig) performed a short opening set. The 20-year-old Lerche played solo with only his acoustic guitar, his set matching the prettiness of his debut album Faces Down, even if he lost that CD's rich Bacharach-ish pop layering.