Gerry Krochak, Calgary Sun: Folk Fest goes out on high note

Posted by on 30 July 2012


The 2012 edition of The Calgary Folk Music Festival is in the books and who could have asked for anything more? 

Four straight days of uncharacteristic near-perfect Calgary weather, headliners who delivered numerous pleasant surprises and endless opportunities to discover your new favourite band made the weekend at Prince’s Island Park an enjoyable one.

Sunday headliners Iron & Wine, Randy Newman, Justin Townes Earle and Mark Ribot Y Los Cubanos Postizos were in tough following a Saturday evening’s slate, which included Mary Chapin Carpenter, a jaw-dropping performance from Gillian Welch, Serena Ryder & The Beauties, Junior Brown and several attendees’ new favourite soul and R&B diva, Shakura S’Aida.

Iron & Wine (Samuel Beam) was hotly anticipated since being announced as a headliner several months back and the South Carolina-bred, Austin-based singer-songwriter would ensure a significant Calgary fan base would not go home disappointed.

His clear, throaty delivery brought a few solo acoustic numbers such as Each Coming Night and The Trapeze Swinger to life, and to raucous applause from the weary crowd enjoying the last act on the fourth night.

After being joined by a three-piece band, bringing some added textures to his sparse soundscapes, Iron & Wine maintained the chill vibe with On Your Wings, Naked As We Come and a Lefty Frizell-inspired cover of Long Black Veil as part of an about perfect festival close.

In recent years, Randy Newman might be better known for his Oscar-winning film scores and work with Pixar than the veteran singer-songwriter he is.

It was kind of difficult to understand the fit but, let’s face it ... folk is just another word for eclectic. Seated behind a baby grand piano, the 68-year-old entertainer spent the hour joking, telling stories and singing songs — often at the same time.

Make no mistake, there were people at Prince’s Island Park specifically to see Newman and he did his thing through Laugh And Be Happy (“I think I wrote that for Shirley Temple during the depression,” he quipped), Bad News From Home, Birmingham, Marie and You Can Leave Your Hat On. All received hoots and hollers from the packed front-of-house. But the biggest cheers were for the Toy Story nugget You’ve Got A Friend In Me and his 1977 novelty hit Short People, during which a few short people stood on lawn chairs. Cute.

There’s likely added pressure when you’re Steve Earle’s kid and your middle name is Townes, but Justin Townes Earle has proven to be a prolific and consistent singer-songwriter in his own right.

Five records in five years on the Bloodshot label have built an impressive repertoire from which to draw.

His sparse set of country, roots, folk and Americana was highlighted by near-naked interpretations of They Killed John Henry, Wanderin’, Memphis In The Rain and Look The Other Way (a pair from last year’s Nothing’s Going To Change The Way You Feel About Me Now album) 

The tarps were occupied from front to back and the sides were packed with gawkers rather than dancers. Rightly or wrongly, the 30-year-old tunesmith gets instant respect when he walks on a concert stage.

Mark Ribot Y Los Cubanos Postizos opened Sunday’s main stage entertainment with a dazzling display of musicianship and traditional dance and Cuban party vibes.

Best known for collaborations with Tom Waits and Elvis Costello, Ribot’s blistering fretwork and the rhythmic beats of the “prosthetic Cubans” set the tone for 40 minutes of frantic side stage dancing. Just as on Saturday, some of the best entertainment of the weekend could be found on any number of the festival’s six side stages on Sunday.

Jon Langford and Skull Orchard, Earle, Reuben and the Dark and Eve Hell and the Razors traded tunes during a segment called Waiting For My Man, while Joy Kills Sorrow, Junior Brown, Sarah Jarosz and Abigail Washburn did the same during No Country For Bold Men.

Side stage concerts with Lindi Ortega, Jim White, Jeff Stuart and the Hearts and Pokey Lafarge & The South City Three also drew terrific crowds under sunny skies.


It would be nearly impossible to single out just a few must-see moments during this year’s edition of The Calgary Folk Music Festival, but soul and R&B actually trumped tradition this year. Electrifying main and side stage performances from Bettye LaVette, S’Aida and Charles Bradley contributed greatly to this year’s line-up. CD and vinyl sales at the Heritage Posters & Music tent are proof in the pudding.

Chris Issak did what he does and no one was disappointed, while Brown, Blackie & the Rodeo Kings, Beirut and the incomparable Gillian Welch and David Rawlings pairing were performances people will be talking about for weeks to come. 

Some would call Dan Mangan the weekend’s most overrated act. And they wouldn’t be wrong, even though being “precious” isn’t a crime. Mangan’s attitude might be better suited to X-Fest.

See you in 2013!