That's all, folkies

Posted by on 17 August 2004

Review - Mike Bell, Sunday, July 24, Calgary Sun

When celebrating 25 years of memories, it's always nice to add several more. Before July 25, the final and sold-out day of this year's Calgary Folk Music Festival, there were more than a half dozen golden ones stashed away, ready for a repeat showing any time you needed a reminder of how good it gets.

There was Fiamma Fumana, the opening act on opening night, heretofore referred to as Beauty and the Bagpipes.

How about the North Mississippi Allstars on July 23, laying down an electrifying set of blues on the rock tip that set the park on groove control.

Then there was the spectacle of a woman who was so inspired she was dancing — actually dancing — to the firecracker phonics of poet Saul Williams.

Or there was the sight of bluegrass artist Rhonda Vincent snapping a shot from beside the stage of the genre's legendary Earl Scruggs, who later in the night picked away on one of his most famous co-compositions, the Beverly Hillbillies theme, The Ballad of Jed Clampett.


There was Michael Franti, period, who only disappointed by leaving the island to catch a flight before his scheduled workshop July 25.

And finally, because space — on the page anyway — is short, there was one of the most touching and memorable moments this fest has ever seen: Oscar Lopez joining Spirit of the West during their warm, familiar set July 24, as the West Coast band sang Come Back Oscar, its song of encouragement to the Calgary-based Lopez, who has been going through troubled times of late.

If there was a dry eye in the house, it was glass. Or maybe just lazy.

So that's how we started the final day — with all of that to remember and the anticipation of much, much more.

We didn't have to wait long, as at 11 a.m. Calgary's Wil performed a solo concert on one of the six side stages. Wil, who the day before had etched another memory with his morning workshop with the North Mississippi Allstars, stole a fair number of souls and ears away from the always popular gospel workshop with his loud, John Fogarty-meets-Gomez blues rock songs such as, appropriately enough, Dance with the Devil and a mind-boggling instrumental encore.

Two standing ovations July 25 pretty much speak for themselves.

The rest of the day saw a number of other good-to-great workshops and concerts including the four-piece Nathan's lovely country side concert and, presumably, the workshop with Caitlin Cary, Corb Lund and Steve Earle.

Presumably, because if you could get within a city block of it, either you'd camped out since Thursday or been liposuctioned into a size somewhere in the negatives.

The major draw of that shop was Earle, who had already played a mid-afternoon solo main stage set. Not to be flippant, but it was pretty much a par-for-the-course performance by the roots songwriter whose light hasn't diminished a watt since he first started more than two decades ago.

Someone whose light is only getting brighter — despite the fact she's already a hardened veteran in the biz — is U.K. artist Thea Gilmore.

The haunting 24-year-old songstress kicked off the evening's main stage with a stunning set that featured a heartaching cover of Bad Mood Rising and her own heart-slicer Razor Valentine.

Bluesman Corey Harris' set was perfect for yesterday's slide down — cool, laidback and blissful.

Bliss doesn't even begin to describe what Youssou N'Dour did to the audience. The Senegalese superstar, performing with his incredible African pop act Super Etoile de Dakar, is a vocal marvel and a showman beyond reproach.

Musically, visually, spiritually — N'Dour was remarkable.


Oddly enough, Lucinda Williams' set was almost as much about the voice as N'Dour's.

Except, while his set was about bringing everyone on the island together through his universal voice, the country artist was about isolating everyone into an island of one by making you feel the pain, heartache and hurt in every word she sang.

Williams' appearance was the one thing many people were looking forward to above all this weekend. And her gorgeous and incredibly intimate honky-tonk performance — featuring bottle-draining songs such as I Think I Lost It, Reason To Cry, and Those Three Days — delivered more than it promised. Including, as an added bonus, the appearance of Earle, who joined Williams on several songs, notably the track Concrete and Barbed Wire from her seminal album Car Wheels on a Gravel Road.


The final set of the 25th Calgary folk fest fittingly went to a Calgary folk artist, James Keelaghan, who wrapped it up with his traditional, acoustic songs.

The memory bank is now closed.