Alan Ranta, Exclaim! Calgary Folk Music Festival 2011
Proving legions of so-called 'tarpies' weren't crazy for waiting all night at the gate just to throw their blue space-savers down at the main stage, the Calgary Folk Music Festival outdid itself again this year in terms of artists and infrastructure. This is clearly one of the best-run festivals in North America, with an overly friendly crowd reaping the benefits of an eclectic yet accessible lineup that always runs smooth as clockwork.
Leading the way Friday, Polaris Music Prize winner Patrick Watson proved he has matured past the megaphone suits of lore, developing into a classy classic rock musician who commands a stage with such ease and honesty that such gimmickry is not necessary. Keeping the quality coming, London outfit the Herbaliser got the entire crowd on its feet in the Friday mud with their swank brand of hip-hop, rare groove, jazz, and funk. The founding duo of turntablist Ollie Teeba and bassist Jake Wherry reclaimed their compositions from their largely sampled origins to live performance with the help of a three-piece horn section, a drummer, and a keyboardist.
Come Saturday, accordion ace Geoff Berner and Israel-via-NYC's Yemen Blues presented two approaches to Jewish music, through the brain and the body. Berner played the role of the barroom prophet, apocalyptic poet and all-around drunken folker almost too comfortably, tapping hot-button social issues with only a hint of tact in his delivery, while the nine-piece Yemen Blues ensemble infected onlookers at all workshops, stages and after-parties with an insatiable need to dance through their melting pot of Middle Eastern, West African and Arabic rhythms.
Unofficial poet laureate of East Vancouver, C.R. Avery hit hard and often with his unique blend of beatboxing, slam poetry, harmonica, and old-time rock'n'roll. Avery spurred his band on every step of the way, worked the crowd into a frenzy of clapping, singing and stomping, and justifiably taunted passers-by for being at the wrong stage.
Cutest Kitten Ever lived up to their name with a sparse yet quirky sound care of a washboard, French horn and the syrupy-sweet, Chris Isaak-like charm of lead kitty Kris Demeanor. Nunavik-via-Newfoundland singer Elisapie Isaac came across very sweet and motherly, with a voice as pretty as her stunningly gorgeous, freckled face.
Doubtlessly, k.d. lang showed why she is one of the best singers in Canadian music history with her Saturday headlining set. While the news of Amy Winehouse's death and the Oslo massacre hung in the air, lang's performance of "Hallelujah" brought the bustling sell-out crowd to absolute silence. Buffy Sainte-Marie couldn't repeat quite the same magic on Sunday, but it was something to hear the 70-year-old perform classic selections from her vast and varied catalogue.