Cool music at hot Festival

Posted by on 17 August 2004

Review, Mike Bell, Saturday July 24 - Calgary Sun

Before noon, yesterday was setting up to be a scorcher. And it was bloody hot outside.

But most of the heat was coming from one of the folk festival side stages, which was hosting a workshop titled Free Your Mind….

It was early, the almost 10,000 were trickling through the gates just to the right of the stage, maybe a little tired, or maybe still a little hungover from the intoxicating hard stuff the North Mississippi Allstars served up so brilliantly July 23 on the main stage.

Nothing like a little hair of the dawg — with a wry chaser.

Hosted by Veda Hille, Free Your Mind … featured the Allstars, and local performers Urban Divide and Wil, and it was a phenomenal way to kickstart the day.

It was workshopping done right, with the musicians onstage playing together.

And the results were incredible — be it the gospel medley closer or the Tom Waits cover or even Sex Machine, everything came together.

Especially on Honey Pie.

It was one of those perfect festival moments.

The trio of Allstars were all grins as they grooved on — in awe, like the rest of those watching Wil play — the blues-tilted track, which the Calgary songwriter hammered out masterfully on his guitar and sang with such pure power and soul it could stop your heart and show.

Hille joined in on her keyboard. Urban Divide horned in on the action, too.

The standing “o” when Wil had bled his last note was mainly and deservedly sent towards him, but it was also in acknowledgment of the fact that those in attendance had seen something honest, real, pure and never to be repeated again.

There were a number of other workshops that broached that level of magic, but none attained it. Closest was the world music dance party featuring Afro-Canadian act Mighty Popo, Mexico’s Los de Abajo and American Michael Franti.

Then again, everything Franti touched turned to joy. The festival is rightly in love with the enigmatic, uplifting bundle of positivity, and he returns that in the form of musical goodwill.

The later workshop Regime Change Begins at Home with Franti, Dick Gaughan, D’Bi Young and poet Saul Williams was equally as entertaining.

It was good to see Williams in yet another setting — his earlier solo performance was powerful and provocative, eliciting a number of complaints from festival-goers who found his words and machine-gun delivery a little too strong for a family-friendly event.

Maybe the complainants would have had a case were there not another FIVE side stages scattered around Prince’s Island Park offering an incredible amount of diversity and, more importantly, non-confrontation.

There was everything from single-act concerts by everyone from sensationally engaging gender-neutral country artist Rae Spoon and Winnipeg western rock act The Weakerthans to other talent-packed workshops such as High & Lonesome.

Raylene Rankin, along with sisters Cookie and Heather, was the first act to grace the main stage, putting on a mid-afternoon pit-stop show between the hectic workshop schedule.

For all intents and purposes the Rankin Sisters’ show was a Rankin Family show, offering up many of the hits that made the East Coast sibling act one of this country’s most beloved.

When the main stage kicked off in earnest at 5:30, it was with a perfect act for the sun-soaked to ease into the evening.

Linda Tillery and the Cultural Heritage Choir were a quiet, light spiritual boost with their traditional African-American songs, sung to and for a higher purpose.

The first cool barefoot walk through the bluegrass came with Missouri native Rhonda Vincent and her act The Rage.

Complete with old-time mics, the old-time sounds were remarkably sweet — Vincent and her players are tight and proficient beyond belief, recalling last year’s hit Ricky Skaggs.

And Vincent’s voice? It was rather self-referencing when she prettily crooned “When the angels sing for you and me.”

Los de Abajo picked up where they left off in New World Order bouncing around the stage in a fiery fiesta mood.

It was modernized traditional Mexican music, with a half-dozen other styles thrown into the pepperpot — ska, reggae, etc. — to keep the party jalapeno hot.

Bluegrass pioneer Earl Scruggs brought the second helping of the music next with his still-nimble-at-80 fingers and a banjo as a conduit for those years and skill.

It was a thrill to see the livin’, pickin’ legend performing with a white-hot band that featured his son — a thrill that Rhonda Vincent couldn’t help but capture with her camera from the side of the stage.

Closing out the night were West Coast Canadian Celtic pop veterans Spirit of the West and the irrepressible Franti and his hip hop act Spearhead, who kept the island, despite the dipping of the sun into the horizon, absolutely scorching hot.