Calgary folk fest overcomes flood damage to light up Prince's Island, Edmonton Journal July 26, 2005

Posted by on 10 August 2005

By Roger Levesque

EDMONTON - A trip down to Cowtown this past weekend found music fans out in force once again for the Calgary Folk Music Festival. After fine weather conditions for most of the visit, crowds lessened a bit on Sunday when the site's dusty pathways turned mucky from an extended midday downpour, but the 26th annual event was still an overall success. Mere weeks ago, following the June flooding of the Bow River, organizers were wondering if the festival would even happen at its regular site just off Calgary's downtown in Prince's Island Park. But city crews managed to rebuild a causeway bridge that was critical to transporting supplies to the site. It was my first visit in several years, and the first since the city of Calgary installed a huge, monolithic cement stage at the west end of Prince's Island, necessitating a whole new map for the area. Despite those changes, the smaller scale of the event and the site's big trees continue to offer a more intimate atmosphere than our own folk fest. While that big new cement mainstage tended to make almost any act seem puny by comparison, the Calgary fest also had expensive new video monitors on each side of the grassy field that offered incredible high-definition images of the show even in daylight. That's how Koko Taylor came across best, bellowing out Wang Dang Doodle and other hits to cap off the Friday night mainstage with her band in an amazing high-energy performance. Consider that this queen of the blues turns 70 in September. Her upcoming appearance at Edmonton's Labatt Blues Festival in August promises to be a real treat. Saturday night's mainstage finale featured an even more upbeat set from hip-hoppers Arrested Development that had the crowd on their feet bopping to the group's eclectic mix of genre-crossing groove-bound adaptations. By contrast, guitarist Bill Frisell's quartet offered a more subdued set earlier that evening, bound up in a mesh of string textures and timeless melodies that drew from varied corners of the American roots music tradition. It's probably more appropriate to their laid-back sound that the same mostly acoustic band will be featured at smaller stages during the Edmonton festival in August. The downside of the Calgary folk fest's smaller site is that there can be a greater degree of sound bleeding between the six workshop stages, but a little foresight in the scheduling department may have helped this year. I only encountered a couple of workshop sets where a quieter performance suffered from a louder neighbouring show. String fans had much to choose from with workshop sets that paired off Frisell with the likes of world music string master David Lindley, for instance, while another set I had to tear myself away from saw Frisell matching wits with J.P. Cormier, Martin Carthy and Oscar Lopez. Both Lindley and Calgary blues picker Tim Williams were at odds to compete with the hair-raising speeds of the Indian classical mandolin player Snehasish Mozumder and tabla drummer Vineet Vyas. The Indians blew away the crowd too, but it was great to witness the show of mutual respect between these musicians from disparate backgrounds. Chicago band Tortoise used vibraphone and a couple of drum sets to fill out a beyond-category all-instrumental sound that offered elements of rock, jazz and minimalist music, while groups like Denmark's Instinkt mixed jazzy improvisation into Nordic folk for a sound with similarities to British folk. As with any large folk fest, singer-songwriters abounded, but the guy who most impressed was Scotland's Jackie Leven, drawing from his amazing life story to conjure some fascinating musical tales. Don't be surprised if Leven hits Edmonton's folk fest