Mike Bell, Calgary Herald: Calgary Folk Music Festival serves tasty helping memorable moments Saturday
Perception. It affects everything. Take, for example, the fence surrounding Prince’s Island this weekend. Some might look at that and see the traditional idea of safety. Others might see it more as a symbol of crass commercialism or even economic elitism, a way of keeping those who haven’t — tickets or the means to acquire some — away from those who have and are having a pretty great time.
How you see it affects how you feel about it. Perhaps that’s why it might be wise to view it not as a fence at all, but rather, oh, I dunno, a sneeze guard — a barrier to contain and maintain the purity and freshness of what happens behind it during every folk festival weekend.
In other words, the buffet. A multi-faceted, many-itemed, endless course of nourishment and treats to sample or gorge upon.
On Saturday, the first full day of workshops and Mainstage shows, it was hard to know which end to start at and where to stop, with a remarkable helping of locally grown dominating the morning, and excellent showcase concerts by Rae Spoon, Joe Nolan, Lorrie Matheson, Leeroy Stagger and Reuben and the Dark ensuring there was no wrong decision. The latter, especially, was a serving that satisfied, with frontman Reuben Bullock testing the limits of smooth, with a voice and melodic roots songs that go down easy.
The rest of the day was a smorg of every sound and style imaginable, and probably best described as it was enjoyed and experienced — in bite-sized portions, sample tasters of memorable moments, as it were.
Take the Go ’Way Devil workshop, which featured a gorgeous gospel collaboration between guitarists Colin Linden and Jimmy LaFave, with vocalists Shakura S’Aida and Carrie Elkin — S’Aida coaxing God off his throne and Elkin, not to be outdone, wailing so hard it looked as if her head might pop.
Then there was a back-to-back cool cover offerings at the Tinder Dry ’shop, with Linden’s fellow Rodeo King Tom Wilson brightening everyone’s day with The Replacements’ I’ll Be You before the husband and wife duo of Luke Doucet and Melissa McLelland (a.k.a. Whitehorse) made country magic with Springsteen’s I’m On Fire.
Just around the corner from that was, seemingly, the baby-soothing stage, which featured Bullock and his Dark mates, lightening up and lulling the rest of the adult crowd with the help of fellow roots wranglers The Barr Brothers, Jim White and John Doe.
There was also Rae Spoon, offering their gender-twist take on the Hall & Oates classic Rich Girl, which made admitting you love the song an easier thing to do. And then there were full, delicious helpings of country darling Tift Merritt, punk legend Doe, North Carolina twang demons Chatham County Line. . . .
The meatiest offering of the lead-up courses was one of the tastiest, too, with local blues guitar king Tim Williams, leading a stage filled with the three most soulful female vocalists that the island has ever hosted: Bettye LaVette, Cold Specks and the afore-fawned upon S’Aida. Williams, who likened his appearance with the three women as being like, “A horse turd in a glass of milk,” was brilliant, as were S’Aida’s band, but it was the women and their golden throats who ruled.
LaVette, in the most complimentary use of the word, is an awesome broad, who, when she wasn’t joking about being old and hungover at this ungodly hour of the morning — it was 2:15 p.m.; “It’s still morning until 4,” she cackled — was putting an ownership stamp on standards such as Ain’t No Sunshine. Cold Specks literally brought out the sun with only an a cappella song after a brief, 10-minute rain shower.
And S’Aida? Well. Damn. The fact that the Toronto singer also kicked off the Mainstage performances later in the evening was a good thing, because she is a woman you simply can’t get enough of. Her and her powerhouse band — led by chipotle-smoking guitarist Donna Grantis — were something you’d lick the plate for and demand seconds. Whether she was bringing the blues with both barrels such as on That Ain’t Right or going a little softer on the soul with the Billie Holiday classic Tell Me More, it was a whole lotta “Oh, my.”
Besh o droM, the Hungarian act who followed, were more along the lines of, “Oh? My.” A wonderfully loopy world act, they were perfectly tweet-compared earlier this fest by colleague Elizabeth Chorney-Booth to the Star Wars cantina band (hey, recognize when you can’t do better), getting the crowd into things by snake-charming their arms into the air and spooning up a goulash of goofiness.
The rest of the Mainstage evening offered up country cooking and southern cuisine, with Serena Ryder and The Beauties being the exception to a lineup that included: superbly showy old-school guitarist Junior Brown, who straddled the historical sonics that birthed rock ’n’ roll with style and aplomb; the wonderful Gillian Welch and partner Dave Rawlings, who, despite soupy and unforgivably reverby sound as well as loud and frustrating bleed from the Twilight Stage, produced a beautiful broth of pure emotions in pristine material such as I Want to Sing That Rock and Roll; and Mary Chapin Carpenter, whose closing set promised to churn hearts and emotions like butter.
As for Ms. Ryder, you can see why she’s been taken under the wing of Melissa Etheridge, as her set was a similar flavour of Joplin-y blues rock, punched up by a voice that’s brighter, even more powerful, and a pop sense that makes her material such as All For Love a little more tantalizing to the palette.
One that by the end of Saturday was well tested, well challenged and well satiated.
And that’s how you should look at it. All you can eat. And then some.
The Calgary Folk Music Festival continues today at Prince’s Island. Visit calgaryfolkfest.com for details.