Review: Acts make opening day memorable at Folk Fest
Dave Simonett, with the band Trampled By Turtles, performs Thursday at the Calgary Folk Music Festival on Prince’s Island Park.
Photograph by: Stuart Gradon , Calgary Herald
“I turned the radio on, 25 years ago/They were playing your song.”
It was early into his marvellous Thursday evening set that Canadian ’70s country throwback Doug Paisley sang those words.
Wistful, with a sense of nostalgia dripping as sweet and thick as Saturday morning pancakes from the Scooby-Doo days. One that made you immediately recall that Radio Girl — any radio girl — of the song title as clearly as the man onstage strumming and humming so blithely, blissfully, beautifully.
Add a decade. Tack on 10 years. Make it 35 years ago. And then make it memories from a different medium.
Make it an event that has been a constant summer soundtrack in this city for as long as many can care to admit, but are more than happy to admit. A soundtrack that changes, evolves, expands and explores the parameters of what music is, with the names and faces and songs of those guys and girls changing from year to year, returning occasionally, but continuously creating nostalgic yearnings you can revisit whenever you so choose.
And there you have the Calgary Folk Music Festival as it kicked off its 35th year on a late July evening that recalled so many others but was something unto itself.
With a lineup that boasted few big names but can brag about all of them, Thursday night was something of a microcosm or a time capsule of that storied history unearthed and opened for all to enjoy. All the music, many of those styles that the folk umbrella (thankfully, despite persistent threats throughout the night, an actual bumbershoot wasn’t necessary) now covers were bouncing off both stages from the late afternoon until just after sundown.
Things got off to a smooth bluegrass beginning on the Mainstage with Minnesota boys Trampled By Turtles. As Ma Nature’s inconsiderate windiness whipped around the island, they provided a cool counter-breeze that calmed the early comers, or rather those early enough to avoid the abnormally long entry lines. The five-piece eased nicely into their set before showing off some of their punk roots with some serious strumming and string-breaking, hitting a high with the fan fave Wait So Long.
On the other end of the site, Stage 4, the Twilight Stage, was providing its own counter, the aforementioned Paisley, who put on an performance that could very well have closed things down and everyone would have gone home musically satiated, perfectly blessed and blissed. The Ontario singer-songwriter and his band were so easy and honest on the ears, as comfortable as those memories he sang of on Radio Girl and other Van Zandty tracks such as To and Fro, which he fondly dedicated to the town of High River, where he once lived.
If you missed his set — as the woefully sparse crowd indicated many unfortunately did — do yourself and your heart a favour and make sure to track him down at one of the weekend workshops.
And while his was a highlight, what followed was why we stay with the folk fest, through thick and thin, with other wildly divergent highlights piled on top of, but never overshadowing the last.
Canadian singer-songwriter-treasure Basia Bulat, who followed Paisley into and onto the Twilight, was, considering the dropping temps, fittingly autumnal, a spun-wool pullover, something that took the bones of folk and filled them with the meat and blood of something more alive. With her band, autoharp, natural charm and a set of lungs that puff out part smoke-signal, full-on flame-thrower, Bulat was an easy act to warm to, one to want to stay wrapped in.
Back on the Mainstage it was old-timey angel Valerie June putting on a solo showcase of Tennessee mountain music. Her gospel blues struck the right note between celebratory and mournful, with her own voice, one born of the earth but sung to the heavens where it was no doubt heard and all prayers were answered.
A flat-out pop band followed with Newfoundlanders Hey Rosetta! proving — like fellow acts Joel Plaskett, Sloan and Two Hours Traffic — that East Coasters have certainly mastered the hook. Their set, with singalongs and danceathons, stretched the definition of folk like it was wearing Lululemons but was one that will ensure the festival audience remains well-stocked.
And Chicago-based, closing headliner Andrew Bird and the Hands of Glory were equal parts familiar and exotic, marrying the best of both worlds from across the world for something entirely unique. Like the rest of the night, they were bluegrass, they were folk, they were pop, they were country, they were rock, and they were great.
The summed up the night, the entire night — whoever it was, they were playing our song.
And they will be, for the next three days and, hopefully, many more summers to come.