Calgary Folk Music Festival: Bobby Bare Jr. back in Calgary for can't-miss set

Posted by Mike Bell on 20 July 2016

It’s a message that Bobby Bare Jr. wants known.

He delivers it at the end of interview to promote a pair of appearances in Calgary: the first being his triumphant performance as guitarist for Guided By Voices during their spectacular Sled Island set last month; and the second being his upcoming dates this weekend performing his own alt country tunes at the Calgary Folk Music Festival

And it is heartfelt.

“I’d like to thank the Canadian government for letting me back in your country,” the amiable Bare Jr. says down the line from his home in Nashville.

He had apparently been turned back at the border on a number of occasions over the past decade or so for, as he terms it, “a bunch of DUIs.”

In fact, he was all set to appear at the folk fest several years ago with Justin Townes Earle, thought he had all of the proper paperwork, but was refused entry because he didn’t have one particular document.

“I think it’s called ‘criminal rehabilitation,’ I think is what it’s called,” the artist says with a laboured guess.

Actually, ‘young criminal rehabilitation’ would be a more appropriately named form — and not because of his age, as Bare Jr. is a 50-year-old veteran of the music wars.

No, it’s because one of the singer-songwriter’s many amazing projects over the years has been releasing albums with a revolving cast of players under the umbrella of Bobby Bare Jr.’s Young Criminals Starvation League.

But, again, that’s just one part of Bobby’s rich world that has produced some of the best, most under-appreciated songs in the contemporary North American canon over the past two decades, including the perfect, perfect song that should be a required listening for any man or woman who even thinks about picking up a guitar, Dig Down.

There was his stint fronting the close-to-brilliant, ramshackle rock band Bare Jr. in the ’90s — before the GBV date, his last time in the city was with them, during a memorable show at late, legendary venue The Night Gallery — as well as his own ongoing solo endeavours, which is what he’ll be bringing to town in trio form, with his longtime keyboard player and roommate Kai Welch and drummer Ken Coomer, former drummer for Uncle Tupelo and Wilco.

It should, nay, will be one of the highlights of this year’s festival, with the threesome performing a full mid-afternoon set on Sunday that should soothe or unsober any soul.

Bare Jr. is also making the most of his access to our nation, arriving on the Thursday night, taking in a couple of days before he settles in and fills his Saturday and Sunday morning with some workshops.

Unfortunately, one of those won’t be what he’d originally hoped for, which was a side-stage show featuring the music of American genius Shel Silverstein, the man known for everything from the classic children’s book The Giving Tree to penning most of Dr. Hook and The Medicine Show’s songs including The Cover of Rolling Stone as well as Johnny Cash’s trademark A Boy Named Sue. 

Silverstein is an artist near and dear to Bare Jr.’s heart and has been for most of his life — one which has been spent largely in showbiz thanks to his family name. He and his father, country legend Bobby Bare, earned a Grammy nomination in 1974 for a timeless version of the songwriter’s Daddy What If, when Bare Jr. was only eight years old. 

He continues to be influenced by the late artist and inspired to pay him tribute whenever he can.

“We did a Shel Silverstein day on Shel’s birthday in Chicago about six years ago, and it was amazing,” Bare Jr. says.

“Somebody from Saturday Night Live would read a couple of poems and then we’d have Will Oldham do a couple of songs or Jon Langford.

“They did an amazing (collaboration), just singing together. It was just like a buddy movie, it was awesome.”

And while both Oldham and Langford will be appearing at the fest this year, apparently schedules didn’t allow for a workshop tribute on the island.

Sadly, neither will he be bringing to town his daughter Isabella, who recreated the duet with her father for the Bare and Bare Jr.-produced 2010 Silverstein tribute album Twistable, Turnable Man, which also featured contributions from John Prine, Lucinda Williams, Kris Kristofferson, Pixies’ Black Francis and Joey Santiago, and My Morning Jacket, who Bare Jr. has worked with on a number of occasions.

It, like the father-son version of the song, is purely heart-wrenching in its beauty, simplicity and innocence.

Watch it and not shed a tear. I dare you. 

“It is sweet, I agree,” the proud poppa says. “It makes me cry, too. S—t, I love her a lot.

“We just spent most of yesterday at a water park here in Nashville — me and the three Bares going at it: ’Bella Bare, Beckham Bare and Booker Bare,” he says, before going off on a wonderful tangent about the previous day spent with his children.

“You get excited about those water parks and then you realize every single slide you have to climb a six-story building. You have to climb six stories of stairs to go down any one of those slides that you’ve already paid for. They should have elevators or escalators if they’re going to charge you and then say, ‘OK, welcome. Here you go: walk, climb.’

“So my calves are sore, which is what I’m sayin’.”

As long as they strong enough get him across the border again, that’s all that really matters.

Bobby Bare Jr. performs Saturday and Sunday at the Calgary Folk Music Festival.