It's Calgary Folk Festival Time!

Posted by on 30 July 2008

A letter from Mike White, an audience member

So let me set this up. A co-worker returns from her vacation in Morocco a week ago. She tells me about the magnificent jazz festival in Tangiers and the even more entrancing festival of traditional Moroccan music she heard in the mountains the next weekend. "It's all about the drumming," she says and promises to lend me the CD. Another friend and I, shortly thereafter, have a conversation about spirituality and the journey towards it. Then the live music that combines these two conversations actually comes to me! The opening act of the Calgary Folk Festival was a band of master musicians from a mountain city in Morocco who are the heirs of a 4,000 year old music tradition which has now evolved into Sufi Trance Music. And I get it, the music that is. Most of us in the western musical culture have difficulty with this sound, but this band was so great the bridge was wide open to access it. We then had an indie band from Winnipeg, The Weakerthans, whose driving force is exploring life in a city that was important by an accident of history and geography but which has been in decline for a good 30 years. Some very beautiful rock ballads exploring images of the human condition in this environment. Heart and mind engaged entirely. In between sets, the festival gets an 'unknown to Calgary' but important musician(s) to play a short set while the main stage is reset. The first was a guitarist from Saskatchewan who was here all week conducting master classes at the Folk Boot Camp. Again, a guy and his guitar turn this massive field of 13,000 people into an intimate space. I am dedicated to following him around the workshops this weekend, and will certainly buy at least one of his CDs. Joel Fafard is his name. What can I say about Aimee Mann who was next? A Virginia Girl. A North American Chanteuse. The songs are of loss and the residual strength that preserves dignity. Think Joni Mitchell but with a trained voice. She announced that the Island site for the festival was almost certainly the most beautiful place she had ever played. I think that I haven't heard anything like her since the great folk divas of the 1960's. Next short set was from a couple of musicians from Great Lakes Swimmers. Think Peter, Paul and Mary meet the Ray Brown Trio. Deceptively simple tunes that are highly charged with energy. Lyrics with images as finely focused as Michael Franti's tunes. Again I will be following this group around this weekend and more CD purchases! Sam Roberts closed the evening. As fine as the entire group of musicians that preceded him and his band were, Sam and his band created one of the best rock sets that I ever expect to hear. My immediate reaction was this is classic rock. Then I thought - this rock sound has not really ever existed in this form before. Sure pieces of it have been around - some early Led Zepplin, Jefferson Airplane, some Stones sounds, the Eagles, etc. However this group's sound is very much its own and just a display of superb rock musicianship. The crowd was drawn irresistibly into it, getting up, moving toward the stage to dance. An amazing, amazing close to the first night. As Sam said to introduce his set: "If the music is played from the heart, it is folk music." Played from the heart we got. And he and his band got a tremendous response from all 13,000 of us on site. I am going out right now to buy the new CD. The experience at this festival has to replicate, in a modern way, the experience of the great medieval city fairs, part of which included the troubadours arriving from all over Europe to perform, share news and simply glory in still being alive. And to think, the weekend has only just begun! Glory!