Friday Night Fans Soak up the Calm Before the Storm
Calgary Herald - Nick Lewis and Heath McCoy

Posted by on 10 May 2004

Friday evening seemed destined to be the quiet night at this year's Calgary Folk Music Festival. The mellow night. The night for kicking back on a blanket in front of the stage and drinking in the rich sounds. How could it be anything else?

Friday at the Calgary Folk Music Festival.

Performers included Daniel Lanois, Bill Hilly Band, Michelle Shocked, Alpha Yaya Diallo and Jane Siberry.
Attendance: About 8,600.

Friday evening seemed destined to be the quiet night at this year's Calgary Folk Music Festival. The mellow night. The night for kicking back on a blanket in front of the stage and drinking in the rich sounds. How could it be anything else? Thursday night was a near sellout, featuring the blazing bluegrass of Ricky Skaggs -- a country whoop-up if there ever was one. And of course, there was the original angry, not-so-young-man, Elvis Costello. There's still a fire in that belly, ballads or not.


And with Saturday and Sunday sold-out it's a safe bet those days are gonna' go off -- from the cult of near-rabid Ani DiFranco fans set to storm Prince's Island Park today, to the musical feasts served up both afternoons on the workshop stages.

In comparison, Friday felt more sedated from the get-go. Like the calm before the storm. Most of that had to do with the presence of headliner Daniel Lanois. Lanois -- who was once named the most important record producer of the '80s by Rolling Stone magazine (thanks to his work with U2, among others) -- is known for his soft, subtle touch. His artistry is epitomized by beautifully layered musical soundscapes. It's the stuff of a romantic evening. Not a party. Not that that's a bad thing. Not at all. But it did set a tone for the evening. There was, however, still some spark. With a respectable 8,600 people in the park, the Backstabbers kicked off the evening. The Toronto band picked up on the effervescent country/bluegrass vibe that Skaggs and his Kentucky Thunder Band laid down so well Thursday.A union of fiddle, banjo, upright bass, accordion and guitar, the sextet played a finger-snapping version of Please Don't Throw the Baby Out With the Bathwater. As for the band's take on I Wish I Was A Single Girl, singer Kristine Schmitt captured the song's essence wonderfully. If you think the Dixie Chicks invented honky-tonkin' feminist-sass, think again. This song is a country classic. All in all the Backstabber's fiddle stompers and country waltzes went over well with the early evening audience, who lazed in the sun and ate vendor food dinners to their mellow ditties.

Son de Madera from Vera Cruz featured a lovely dancer in a flowing white dress, gently swaying to the breeze of the band's light Latin rhythms. The outdoor Mexican party soon had a few in the flanks trying to imitate her effortless, sensual moves, as the musicians played handmade instruments in a mariachi-like style. As the set continued, their melodies got faster and more frenetic, and the people dancing got into it with greater urgency.

In contrast, Jane Siberry's set was lame. Painful. Oy vey, it was poor. From her spoken word poetry to her new-agey tunes everything about Siberry screamed flakey.She had her adoring fans to be sure, as in the girls who were doing ballet exercises at the side of the stage to Siberry's operatic-ballad-pop "movements," but for us, it was like watching wet wallpaper slip off the wall. And not the good wallpaper, the crap kind.

The mood shifted when Alpha Yaya Diallo took the stage. His thick, nasal, African chants were perfect accompaniment to the percussive, primal sound of his backing band, as they banged on drums, xylophones and bongos. When he asked, "How are you doing, Calgary?" the crowd responded like they were at a rock concert. The standing ovation they gave him for his too-short set was well-deserved. At press time the punky Texas born roots-rocker Michelle Shocked had just taken the stage. Daniel Lanois was scheduled for a 10:30 p.m. appearance.