Folk fest a Great Big Sea of Fun

Posted by on 17 August 2004

Review, Heath McCoy, Saturday July 24, The Calgary Herald

<>Those squeals of party-hearty glee.  The clapping.  The dancing.  The singalongs.  Prince’s Island Park erupted into a 9,000-strong kitchen party Friday evening, courtesy of Newfoundland’s Great Big Sea.<>

The band was its usual bomb-blast of energetic, radio friendly pop meets traditional Maritime music.  There’s no denying the infectious vibes of the Great Big Sea’s live show.  They did get a big kick-start however.

Prior to the Great Big Sea’s appearance, the Calgary Folk music Festival received a welcome shock to the system; a full-on shot of rock ‘n’ roll straight to the main vein.

That came from the North Mississippi Allstars, a band that most certainly doesn’t hit like a “folkie.”  The hard rock trio came on with a blues-thunder stomp reminiscent of Led Zeppelin.  Guitarist Luther Dickinson, cooked up a southern-fried boogie that recalled the Allmann Brothers.

Those who grooved to the Allstars grooved hard.  It showed again, you don’t have to be a “folkie” to take in the Calgary Folk Music Festival.

Hippies.  Granolas.  Activists.  Judy (gag) Collins fans.  Oh, you’ll find them this weekend at the park, but you don’t have to be in their club to enjoy the annual event.  North Mississippi Allstars.  Michael Franti, the hip-hop rooted soul man who’s set to headline today (Saturday).  This is not your daddy’s folk music.

“To me there’s folk by style, like old-style acoustic music, and folk by soul,” says Les Siemieniuk, general manager of the Calgary folk fest.  “Michael Franti is a politically conscious artist.  He’s a folk singer at heart.  He’s folk by soul.  And if Peter Seeger was 18 today, the last thing he’d be playing is banjo, right?”

Rest assured, old school folk fans who prefer the kinder, gentler side of the sonic fence, had plenty to appreciate Friday.  Like Texas mama Ruthie Foster who served up an engagingly soulful, gospel-infused set of sweet acoustic blues.

Caitlin Cary, a former member of acclaimed Whiskeytown (where she played serene foil to the talented but troubled folk-rocker Ryan Adams, the poor girl) offered up a heavy, often depressed helping of heartbreaking country ballads.  The strength of Cary’s songwriting was never in question.  Certainly not during the gorgeous, decidedly Patsy Cline-ish Please Break My Heart.

Mississippi-born Olu Dara, father of hip-hop star Nas, picked up the tempo with a groovy, danceable, hodge-podge of rootsy styles.  Dara’s graceful trumpet lines were cool and jazzy.  His rhythmically dynamic band was funky.  The “jelly roll” riffing of his vocals were bluesy pure.  Dara would touch down on the earthiness of country at one moment, and the next he and his band would be tripping off on jazz odysseys that bordered on psychedelic.  Fine, fine stuff.

The real deal begins today when the concert site turns into a veritable village and the side stages become platforms where the musicals stars of the festival can hook up and jam.  You think you had fun on Friday?  

You ain’t seen nothing yet, folks.