Rich, diverse flavours at day 2 of Folk Fest, Heath McCoy, Calgary Herald, July 25, 2009

Posted by on 26 July 2009

Arrested Development is what sold it for me, ultimately.

The Grammy Award winning hip hop band turned Prince's Island Park into a soulful, gospel-raving dance party Friday night at the Calgary Folk Music Festival and it made the event something that 12,000 fans (that's a sell out) were glad, maybe even giddy to be a part of.

On the other end of the spectrum entirely – and we're talking the dark side of the moon here – was Portland's The Decemberists.

Pastoral folk concept rock with a baroque bent.

It's not something one comes across, well, almost ever, but that's just what The Decemberists served up as headliners of the 30th annual festival.

Looking like the house band at a funeral parlour the band unloaded its somber, dark and frankly bizarre concept album The Hazzards of Love on folks that were thoroughly stoked after Arrested Development. It could have been an anti-climactic downer but, at press time at least, it wasn't at all.

It was highly theatrical visually and arresting musically as the band moved from gothic folk balladry to heavy rock dirges.

Flavours. Rich, diverse flavours. You couldn't get more diverse than The Decemberists and Arrested Development and it's that exact daring and diversity that the Calgary Folk Music Festival has come to be known for.

Day two of the festival was full of such variety.

Opening on the mainstage was Lee Harvey Osmond, the latest gritty offering from Tom Wilson of roots trio Blackie & The Rodeo Kings.

Looking like a mountain-dwelling hermit who had been adopted by a good family, with his shaggy visage and dapper, dressy duds, Wilson indulged the darker, trippier side of his muse with Osmond.

Meanwhile, on a smaller stage at the far end of the park, scenester favourite Chad VanGaalen attracted a sizable crowd with a set that was both sweet and dissonant. With that very delivery, and his quivery voice, Calgary's VanGaalen brings to mind Neil Young – that is, if ol' Shakey had opted for a life of insulation and disconnect, like Brian Wilson.

Back on the mainstage, acclaimed UK indie rockers Gomez got the first notable rise of the evening with a groovy, nicely driving set.

Folk-punk pioneers The Mekons were another hit. Led by the revered Jon Langford and Sally Timms the band fully vented its rootsy side with a raw and poignant set of hillbilly folk that coursed with the left wing piss and vinegar of their punk beginnings.

But the group that really notched up the night's fun-factor – to a degree of all out glee – was Arrested Development.

Their incredibly energetic set – which included gospel tunes, hip hop beats, Sly Stone covers and instantly recognizable hits – inspired hundreds, nay thousands of fans down on the grass to get up and dance. If they didn't get you shaking your rump just a little, you have no funk in your bones.

Follow that up with the artsy, gothic-rock oddity that is The Decemberists and you'd think the perfect vibe might have been spoiled. Somehow it wasn't. Somehow that weird science worked.

It's a delicate balance that not many events can pull off, but 30 years in, the folk fest can.