Posted by on 17 August 2004

Review, Mike Bell, Friday July 23, Calgary Sun

Several years ago I referred to the Calgary Folk Music Festival as the city’s annual salute to rain.

It was in light jest, of course, but the humour was lost on the organizers.

Weather is and always has been a touchy subject with the fest, or any outdoor event for that matter.

Sometimes it can make or break things, change people’s minds and be the difference between the colour of the ink on the bottom line.

You would think that after a couple of incredibly successful years, though, with the local populace finally getting a handle on the folk fest’s entertainment value — rain or shine — that it wouldn’t be such a big deal, that everyone would relax and leave it to fate.

Guess not.

On July 23’s opening act Ruthie Foster showed that organizers weren’t above doing a little sucking up to a higher power for some sunshine.

The Texas gospel blues artist has a voice that put a halo around the whole island and blew the blue sky into its centre.

A fest fave last year, Foster — who was joined, as always, by percussionist Cyd Cassone — really is an easy-to-consume artist, bringing the spiritual and humanistic elements together in song and style for something everyone can relate to.

The only real complaint about Foster’s set was that maybe its impact would have benefitted from a year between appearances.

On the flipside, one year, 10, 25 — no amount of time in between festival spots could really help last night’s emcees Bowser and Blue, who offered up some of their fare between sets.

The Quebec-based musical “comedy” duo make the Royal Canadian Air Farce seem cutting edge and contemporary.

And funny.

An impressive feat, for sure, and perfect for the average CBC listener, hospital patient or shut-in, but the polite, clean elderly gentlemen aren’t something that should be foisted on an audience out for a good time on a Friday night.

The mood improved considerably when American Caitlin Cary took the stage with her backup duo.

Like a lemonade pitcher perspiring in the hot summer sun, Cary and her brand of light, sweet alt country pop couldn’t possibly be more enticing or more refreshing.

The former Whiskeytown violinist danced through material from her two gorgeous solo discs, showcasing her honeycombed vocals — like an earthier Natalie Merchant — and a sense of pretty melody that reaches all the right places.

From one island to another, New York-based jazz blues artist Olu Dara got the collective groove going in the park last night.

Slow extended jams, randy “jelly roll” references, the cool trumpeter-cornetist-vocalist and his band showcased their impressive musicianship without being too showy, indulgent or out-there about it.

It was a great laidback vibe to lead into the set by Scottish act Shooglenifty.

The electro-Celtic pop band gradually built the energy in the open-air room, mixing old world with new age for something that was more pleasant than spectacular, but nonetheless entertaining.

Before the North Mississppi Allstars took the stage, some local talent got the chance to shine.

Fort McLeod’s John Wort Hannam and local band the Cape May were given the chance to play their winning songs in the folk fest’s songwriting contest. Expect to hear both names a great deal in coming months.

After that brief Alberta break, it was time for some blistering groove rock from the good ol’ U.S. of A.

The Allstars turned in a smoking set — the best of the best thus far — cooking up a strong, meaty blues-based barbecue.

So tasty, you didn’t want it to end.

Finally, East Coast Canadian favourites Great Big Sea put a close to the evening with their keg-party Celtic rock sounds.