Mike Bell, Calgary Herald: Folk Fest turns up the heat

Posted by Johanna on 26 July 2011

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The Calgary Folk Music Festival kicked off Thursday night with a sold-out show on Prince's Island.

all it cocky. Call it tempting fate. Call it Cgood ol' obliviousness. But there were, no doubt, a few people tossing salt over their shoulders, crossing themselves or whatever else the superstitious among us do when, early into his opening set at the Calgary Folk Music Festival, Reverend Peyton set into one of his songs titled Sure Feels Like Rain.

Then again, it would have taken more than a downpour to cool down the Indiana artist and the rest of the acts chosen to kick off this year's event on Thursday - a lineup that proved to be as eclectic, energetic, well-paced and, yes, firefuelled as any the fest has ever hosted.

As it was, the sun did shine and the four mainstage artists - as well as the three inbetweener acts - did much the same, beginning with the Reverend and his Big Damn Band, who may have only numbered three, but made a big, damn, wonderful racket.

The burly, bearded frontman, his wife Breezy and drummer Aaron Persinger put on a supercharged set of washboard, twang and tattoos, that was punk in its energy and old-school in its sound.

From songs such as a stomper Mama's Fried Potatoes to a backwoods version of When the Saints Go Marching In, the threepiece looked as if they were having as much fun as they were inducing in the slowly thawing, and quickly building crowd.

And if there was any doubt to the heat they were bringing, Breezy laid that to rest when she completed the metaphor by Hendrixing her washboard and setting it alight - thus assuring them huge repeat business for their workshop appearances later this weekend.

Second up in the evening was a little more baffling for the crowd - cleaving it pretty evenly down the middle - but Montreal oddball Socalled was an irreverent joy. With a sound that mixed klezmer with hip-hop and funk, the pajama-ed and afro-ed oddball was the ringleader for a pretty entertaining performance by him and his band.

Sharing vocals with the excellent Katie Moore, Socalled (a.k.a. Josh Dolgin) moved between keyboard and accordion, between traditional and contemporary, with remarkable ease. Even without the historical context of the music and some of the songs, the blending together of all of the styles fit, despite how it must have sounded to some western ears - and despite his Jewish Cowboy moniker and its use in his excellent song You Are Never Alone.

Up next was an act and a style that there was little to scratch one's head over - although perhaps a few fingers found their way inside some ear canals - and that was the inspired programming addition of East Coast native Joel Plaskett and his loud but uber pleasing pop.

It was, in a word, wow. Plaskett, former member of Thrush Hermit, is something of a favourite in these parts, and his set last night could only grow his legend.

It was a superb, hammerdown melodic rock show from the Haligonian songwriter and his bandmates, featuring material that, no matter how new to the listener has a familiarity and likability to it.

As does he as a frontman - Plaskett has a boyishness and niceness to him and most of his lyrics that's only undermined by how nasty he can get with his guitar.

Songs such Come On Teacher, Through and Through and Through, Extraordinary, and a brilliant monster-jam version of Work Out Fine were raucous slabs of electrified singalong fun that had the decidedly young Thursday night crowd bopping and rocking and hoping he'd stick around for longer than his allotted hour-long set.

Alas, with complainy neighbours in the hood and a schedule to keep, Plaskett had to cede the stage to City and Colour, the kinder, gentler project of Alexisonfire member Dallas Green.

While still on the rock side of the ledger, C&C were actually a pretty nice way to ease out of the evening, a slight comedown but a welcomingly calm way to close the first night of the fest.

To the squeals of the female contingent, Green and his band fed their love with a steady stream of loss and loneliness, by way of material such as Sleeping Sickness, As Much As I Ever Could and Day Old Hate.

But while introspective and earnest in words, in delivery the group had some punch, a little country rock that came out strong, even when they were balladeering.

No, it wasn't to the level of Peyton or Plaskett or with the quirky energy of Socalled, but there was definite heat onstage. Here's hoping we can build off that burning ember and make the rest of the weekend a bonfire to remember.


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