Early Saturday folk festing provides calm, slap and funk before the storm

Posted by Mike Bell on 24 July 2015

CALGARY, AB.; JULY 25th, 2015 -- Keyboardist Liz Stevens of Calgary band Copperhead plays to the crowd on Stage 1 at Calgary's Folk Festival held annually at Prince's Island on July 25th, 2015. (Adrian Shellard/Calgary Herald) For Calgary Herald

By the time things started to get ugly, they had already been incredibly beautiful.

At about 3 p.m. on Saturday, a weather warning was on for Calgary, the word being spread by Calgary folk fest organizers from all of the six stages.

The wind was picking up, the sky was seven different shades of grey and then rain began to spit just a little.

How long it would last, how crapacious it would get and what it would do to the rest of the Saturday programming, if anything, was yet to be seen, but the good thing was it couldn’t, retroactively, dampen what had taken place in the early part of the day.

And, yes, by that time, there had already been a full four-plus hours of entertainment that was of the typically excellent and eclectic variety that day-festers have come to expect and appreciate.

Here’s a rundown of some of the more memorable workshops and moments that took place pre-storm:

—   Calgary’s JJ Shiplett and his band kicked things off nice and easy with a 10:30 a.m. concert, the musician a dark, strong cuppa roots-rock brew. His voice, apparently on the mend from a little extra singing strain, actually had a pretty great Richard Buckner-meets-Joe Cocker tone to it, one the worked wonders on his warm, gently rollicking songs.

—   The first shiver of the day — non-climate related — came via the voice of another local artist, Liz Stevens, frontwoman for blues-rock band Copperhead, who were one of the participating acts in the early On the Spectrum workshop. Stevens, and to a degree songwriting partner and monster guitarist Kirill Telichev, owned the stage they shared with Reuben Bullock, Aqua Alta and duo Scarlett Jane, with the Joplin-strong singer noting that Copperhead were there to “slap you in the face while Reuben is gonna hug you.” Apt description. And, yes, she left a mark.

—   It was a mini-dance party in front of Montreal musician Cecile Doo-Kingue’s quietly blistering blues set as noon struck and the adjacent beer garden slowly began to fill. Doo-Kingue and her band did some of their own slapping and tickling with their set that included a reverential and rocking tribute to the late B.B. King.

—   Probably one of the most memorable performances of the day was John Mann’s wonderful concert. It was poignant, funny, wistful and wonderful, with Mann and an accompanist delivering songs such as: These Are the Instructions, a slightly bawdy and hilarious tune that laid out what was to be done after his death; the song Thank You, which was dedicated to the work that nurses do; and a rousing version of the Spirit of the West fave Save This House. He sounded fantastic. It was a great set. And it was hard not to feel a little something more, give it all a little greater meaning knowing the battle the artist is currently engaged in with Alzheimer’s.

—   One of the more collaborative and interactive showcases of the day was the Give Up the Funk workshop, featuring local hip-hop duo Dragon Fli Empire, Friday night’s Mainstage opener Puerto Candelaria, and the man who is fast becoming one of this year’s festival stars Black Joe Lewis. Man, oh, man, it was just as advertised, with the fun and the funk doled out in great, greazy dollops. If you remained seated and able to resist movin’ and groovin’ along, by medical definition you are, in fact, dead.

—   A little quieter, a little cleaner and a whole lighter was the concert by West Coast old-timey country act Petunia and the Vipers. Style, skills and yodeling combined for a rather refreshing break from the rest of the day. Again, the fact that it was on the stage that allowed you, should you wish, to have a beer in which to put a tear, also made it that much more cooling and soothing, before the weather could take its turn.