Island hops with spirit

Posted by on 17 August 2004

Review, Mike Bell, Thursday July 22, Calgary Sun

That first waft of curry. The first mass raincoating. The first appearance by “Dancing Ophelia.”

There are so many firsts that signal the start of one of the best weekends the summer has to offer — all three of the above took place within the first hour — but perhaps the best is when the first act takes the stage of the Calgary Folk Music Festival on July 22.

Whatever note comes after that moment, whatever foreign or local vocal performance follows that particular mark on Prince’s Island Park, signals the start of four solid days of some of the most entertaining, challenging and interesting sounds collected together in one place, for one purpose: Pleasure.

That’s why 46-year-old Brian Volke was seated in his lawnchair half an hour before the sonic dam broke.

The former Regina native was taking in his fourth folk fest since relocating here six years ago, with an ear and an eye out for Spirit of the West, Great Big Sea and Steve Earle — three acts that weren’t scheduled to make an appearance for more than 24 hours.

“You never know,” Volke said of his early arrival. “You might look at the name of the band and think, ‘I don’t know who they are,’ but then you listen and think, ‘Wow, that’s not bad at all.’ So you’re always hoping for new things.”

That nicely sums up Italian act Fiamma Fumana, whose 40-minute opening set in front of about 5,000 was a combo of entertaining, challenging and interesting.

The quartet mix traditional roots from their country with electronica for an intriguing, often bafflingly beautiful sound.

(Though nowhere near as baffling as the folk festival-goer whose ensemble included a mint green dress, a long white slip, red Converse sneakers and woolen leg warmers. But I digress.)

The smorgasboard of instruments the stylish three-girl, one-guy group utilized for their ancestral trip hop included a synthesizer, flute, accordion and bagpipe. If you’ve ever thought the words “bagpipe” and “sexy” could never be used in the same sentence, Fiamma Fumana proved you wrong.

Next up was something a little more familiar to the prairie ears — the Corb Lund Band.

And not just because Lund and his trio are perilously close to oversaturating themselves in these parts — something that would be a shame, especially with how talented he is and the fact he’s readying to release a new album — but because the songwriter’s music is cool country, au natural. Even drenched with the thumping rain, Lund and Co. kept the cowboy sounds ambling out to the slickered crowd.

It was a nice island of easy between Fiamma Fumana and the Warsaw Village Band, who took the stage as the rain abated. The Polish sextet’s “hardcore folk” came off, as a friend commented, like Cirque du Soleil. Except without the contortionists.

Which might have added something more to the guttural, Gypsy-esque drone that caught your attention at first, but failed to hold it without some effort on the listener’s part.

Effort’s not really something luvable emcee Carolyn Mark requires to bring a smile to the face of anyone she encounters — even when it’s a group of 5,000 or so that are soaked to the core.

The folk fest fave grabbed the opportunity to give everyone a glow with her own brand of Value Village country croonin’ before bluesman Taj Mahal took the stage.

The legendary, Grammy-winning guitarist and his backup duo were an utterly charming ray of casually sent sunshine to catch hold of.

Finally, just when you thought the mood couldn’t get any cheerier, Stompin’ Tom Connors took the stage to close things out.

The icon kicked off with the classic Bud the Spud and kept his supply of one-of-a-kind Canadiana coming at a steady pace.

Gruff, prickly and a pure pleasure to watch, Stompin’ Tom had ’em hootin’ and a-hollerin’ until the very end.