Magical mystery tour
FFWD Magazine

Posted by on 10 May 2004

Scouting the folk fest’s sidestage action

While many people turn out to hear the headliners in concert, true folk fest devotees know that the real action takes place on Saturday and Sunday in the sidestage sessions, when the musicians drop their prepared set lists to jam with one another. Last year, the lucky ones got to hear Pink Floyd songs covered by Robyn Hitchcock and The Sadies, while Sleepy LaBeef tore the proverbial roof off the tents in the beer garden. Who knows what sessions will hold the most excitement this year? We do, of course.

Not Your Grandmother's Folk
Chantal Vitalis, Kathleen Edwards, Ann Vriend & the Dropouts, Pieta Brown & Bo Ramsey
Saturday, 10:30 am
This session focuses on some of the amazing women featured at this year’s festival. All have taken folk and roots traditions in innovative new directions, and all have created a buzz in the process. While their folk roots may be showing, you can expect a bit of everything here, from Chantal Vitalis’s introspective lyrics and electric guitar, to the bluesy, melancholic tales of Pieta Brown and a whole lot more. It may not be their grandmothers’ folk music, but ya gotta know they’d be proud. ·

Rub a Dub Dub
Horace X, Slainte Mhath, Buck 65
Saturday, 11:40 am
Pete Seeger on peyote. Arlo Guthrie on acid. This is folk music turned on its head, spun around a bit, then left to roam freely onstage. The Calgary Folk Music Festival is known for shakin’ it up a little (or a lot), and the side stages are where this often happens. From the U.K., Horace X are an experience in themselves, featuring dozens of musical influences. Say their name fast. Get it? (Tee hee.) Cape Bretoners Slainte Mhath are also experts in bending genres. Rounding out the talent for this session is the increasingly popular hip-hop artist Buck 65. Prepare to be both rubbed and dubbed. ·

Can I Get a Witness?
Lee Boys, Ruthie Foster, Wilson, Lopushinsky and Burgess, Michelle Shocked
Sunday, 10:30 am
Can I get an "amen"?! Regardless of one’s religious persuasions, there’s something incredibly spiritual about lying on the grass on a (hopefully) sunny Sunday morning as a wonderfully diverse group of musicians give witness to whatever gets them going. As an extra bonus, there won’t be a collection plate going ’round. Get your day of folk festival action started with a bit of testifying!

Home Sweet Home
Ian Tyson, Al Stewart, Niamh Parsons, Amos Garrett Trio
Sunday, 2:30 p.m.
A well-known local musician once said "Ian Tyson’s been dead for years; it’s just that his ego doesn’t know it yet." But Tyson’s still in fine form at his gigs or when lending a voice to a local songwriters’ circle. The "dead/ego" statement could more aptly be applied to Al Stewart, whose weaselly voiced hits like "Time Passages" and "Year of the Cat" made him – shudder – a ’70s radio star in an era when FM stations were choking to death on their own black velvet paintings. While Tyson and Stewart will make for strange alchemy, the addition of Niamh Parsons’s mix of tradition and modern Irish tunes will pull this show in an uncharted direction. Add Garrett, a longtime member of Tyson’s Great Speckled Bird who always turns up with a sweet mixture of humour and musical mastery, and you wonder who’ll be standing when the dust settles. Whoever dreamed up this sure-to-entertain mix can resume taking their Prozac now. ·

Weapons of Fast Deduction
Jane Siberry, Buck 65, Kris Demeanor, Friends of Dean Martinez
Sunday, 2:30 p.m.
Twangy southwestern instrumental players Friends of Dean Martinez seem like the odd men out in this group of songwriters who don’t merely play with words but take them to an amusement park and make them ride the roller coaster. But the Friends’ licks are fresh enough to hold their own against the foot-in-cheek antics of Demeanor, Siberry and rapper Buck 65. Look for fun and tension if the musically flexible Demeanor chooses to dig into his pack of rap numbers for musical sparring with Buck 65. ·

Down to the Last Drop
Lorrie Matheson, Backstabbers, Bill Hilly Band, Glenn Milchem
Sunday, 4:30 p.m.
With a solo album full of songs that surpass some of those of his influences and a fresh band (The Yorkton Spokes) lighting stages on fire around the city, Lorrie Matheson’s on a musical hot streak where everything he touches turns to gold. Watch for his melodic yet gritty songs to click in beside The Bill Hilly Band, whose acoustic musical stylings are covered with airport stickers from Quebec, Brazil and Europe. A touch of fiddle-driven, straight-down-the-yellow-line country from Backstabbers will smooth out the texture of this musical mosaic. Blue Rodeo drummer Glenn Milchem will be the delightful wild card of this set – look to see him strapped to a guitar while performing his own compositions from his band The Swallows.

Soul Makossa
Alpha Yaya Diallo, Jolly Boys, Petrona Martinez
Sunday, 2:30 p.m.
This is the get-off-your-ass-and-jam session of the weekend. All the strongest world dance music traditions are here – the spicy Afro-blues guitarwork of Alpha Yaya Diallo, combined with the sunny Mento (first cousin to reggae and ska) sound of the Jolly Boys, the powerful Latin grooves of Mexico’s Son de Madera, and Petrona Martinez, one of the foremost performers of bullerengue, a highly percussive Afro-Colombian dance music. ·

Six Degrees of Separation
Kelly Joe Phelps, Lee Boys, Agnostic Mountain Gospel Choir
Sunday, 12:30 p.m.
The blues are alive, and here’s the proof. Kelly Joe Phelps plays slide guitar so sweet and sings songs so melancholy that it’s as if he’s channeling emotion from the belly of the blues. Add the foot-stomping, spine-shaking, testifying roar that is the Agnostic Mountain Gospel Choir – keep in mind that all of these boys love to jam – and you’d better prepare for some deep-down-in-the-gut, say-amen blues.

Cross Border Hopping
Abdullah Chhadeh & Nara, Son de Madera, Jolly Boys, Elisapie Isaac & Alain Auger (Taima Project)
Saturday, 4:10 p.m.
The world music workshops are always some of the most interesting – when you mix sounds that are rarely heard together, the result is often unexpected magic. In this case, we’ve got the master of the Arabic zither Abdullah Chhadeh and his band Nara, which plays eastern and western classical music. We’ve also got the Latin acoustic, polyrhythmic roots sound of Son de Madera, the reggae-ska-roots sound of Mento band The Jolly Boys and the ethereal sound of Quebec-Inuit electronica from the Taima Project. Can’t even imagine what all of that together might sound like? That’s the point. When musicians this diverse share a stage, the results can be unbelievably powerful.