First time a charm for folkies, Calgary Herald July 23, 2005

Posted by on 9 August 2005

By Nick Lewis

You only get one chance to hear a good artist for the first time. Try as you might to record that sound or bring it back home on CD, the magic is never as charming.

There were a few of those sort of artists at the Calgary Folk Music Festival on Friday, from Australia's Xavier Rudd to Los Angeles's Ricardo Lemvo, artists who swooned people enough to raise them off the damp grass and make them dance and clap along.

On paper, Friday night's lineup seemed a challenging draw, one that would rely on heavy representation of niche fan bases to near the 10,000 person capacity.

But most regular attendees purchase weekend passes, somehow always ensuring a crowded park, even in dodgy, overcast weather.

Though it would intermittently spit rain throughout the evening, it was never enough to drive the 8,300 people in attendance to shelter.

Aussie multi-instrumentalist Xavier Rudd began his set with a deep warble off one of three didgiridoos near his face, and the effect was so cinematic you expected Uruk-hai to come storming down the hill.

Flanked by wooden instruments, the black-red-and-gold Aboriginal flag flying proudly behind him, he wasn't the sort of one-man band Julie Andrews movies lead you to believe.

He created warm, bluesy grooves on multiple indigenous instruments, stomping his bare feet to create a beat, then wrapping it in novel tribal sounds.

When he told the crowd his time was up, there was a collective groan before people peeled themselves off the damp grass and gave him a standing ovation. Within minutes, the record tent was crawling with new fans.

"Yeah, this is a Xavier Rudd CD," said Jane Homan, walking out of the tent. "I think that's what everyone in there is buying."

Toronto troubadour Ron Sexsmith followed, playing familiar tunes such as Summer Blowing Time off his debut album, and closing with Whatever It Takes. The singer-songwriter returned to the festival with a full band this time, unlike his solo gig a few years back, and though it was a gentle, lulling acoustic sound, he fared well.

Ricardo Lemvo and Makina Loca created a pleasant, uplifting blend of Congolese rumba and Cuban salsa, shuffling along to the music as people cheered them on.

Kate and Anna McGarrigle were unfortunately ill-timed for Friday evening music, and seemed even mellower in contrast to Lemvo's 10-member Afro-Cuban band. Though pleasant, it was music to put your infant to sleep to and was easy to tune out.

The highlight of the evening was Memphis blues queen Koko Taylor, whose red-hot band set the mood off right with Willie Dixon's I Just Want To Make Love To You.

With her deep, raspy, soulful voice against her band's smoking licks, classics such as Let The Good Times Roll and I'm A Woman got the crowd fired back up again.

"Aww, yeah," Taylor said. "When you makin' that noise, we don't mind workin' hard for ya."

Athens, Ga., duo The Indigo Girls took the stage too late for Herald press times.