Eric Volmers, Calgary Herald: Eclectic mix of performers entertains sold-out crowd as sun sets on Calgary Folk Music Festival

Posted by Johanna on 26 July 2011

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It was as good an end as you could have hoped for.

As 2011's Calgary Folk Music Festival rolled to a close Sunday night after a full day of sunshine, it was before a sold-out crowd of roughly 13,000 gently swaying to the agreeable strains of that sturdy Canuck institution, Blue Rodeo.

Throughout the weekend, there was only one spot of unco-operative weather.

There was only one day that didn't sell out. (Friday had 500 leftover tickets, perhaps because of the aforementioned apocalyptic downpour or perhaps because there was no main headliner.) There were no epic battles between tarpies, dancers and hula-hoopers, no musician egos run amok.

"Sometimes the high maintenance ones are really fun to talk about after," Clarke said late Sunday afternoon. "But we didn't have very much of that." 

What there was plenty of was eclectic music. Even before Quebec singer Coeur de Pirate opened the main stage, there was plenty to keep the sunsoaked folkies occupied.

Side-stage concerts were offered by Vancouver's exceptional slam poet and songwriter C.R. Avery and brooding American indie stalwart Joseph Arthur, who played a mesmerizing one-band-band attack of moody atmospherics and emotional songwriting. Those looking for true-blue folkiness would certainly have found comfort in British singer Jim Moray, who dutifully explained the earnest, folklore origins of songs such as Jenny of the Moor before threatening to indulge in a 20-verse tune backed by violin and melodeon. 

Minneapolis band Dark Dark Dark - sounding nothing like the punk-rock brethren their city is famous for - offered a lovely, mournful set of piano-pop reminiscent of Winnipeg singer Christine Fellows, while Haitian act Ti-Coca & Wanga-Neges did a subtle set of groove-oriented, accordion-fuelled, smileinducing traditional folk from their country.

All of this was a good primer for the headliners.

Sunday night mainstage shows are known for offering a gentler hue. And Coeur de Pirate, a.k.a. Beatrice Martin, was appropriately mellow, with songs that rarely sped beyond a sprightly shuffle. Thanks to some stellar workshop appearances, the Quebec singer seemed to share this year's "buzz act" status with Seattle's The Head and the Heart and Calgary-born Braids. And the chanteuse, who sings only in French, is certainly a charmer. Her songs mixed strains of pop, country and hints of Quebecois folk. If Coeur de Pirate was perky and direct, followup act Carl Hancock Rux was slow smouldering and dramatic. With his repetitive and sparse backing, the New York singer and poet was perhaps lost on some of Sunday' sleepy crowd. Rux was helped out by Living Colour guitarist Vernon Reid, who was a ubiquitous presence throughout the weekend, and greatly bolstered by the ample pipes of singer Marcelle Lashley.

At 70, Buffy Sainte-Marie certainly has the right to rest on her laurels as a performer. But if the Cree native was supposed to keep her Sunday set mellow, she apparently did not get the memo. An expert at mixing strains of native language and music with popular music, she was in fine form and voice Sunday night. By the time she and her band danced offstage to powerful Powwow strains, she had earned her standing ovation.

Which left Blue Rodeo to close out folk fest 2011. Like Sainte-Marie, this iconic roots band isn't often given credit for its ability to rock, despite origins as an energetic live act on Toronto's Queen Street in the mid1980s.

But if Greg Keelor and Jim Cuddy offer less urgent performances these days, it hasn't affected their ability to please crowds.

Opening with Keelor's signature dreamy singalong ballad Hasn't Hit Me Yet and the slow-burning Five Days in May, the act's early set drew strongly from Blue Rodeo's 1993 classic Five Days in July.

But by the time they broke out the hit, Til I Am Myself Again, the fans were on their feet.

It all promised to send the sun-baked crowd home both exhausted and in a mellow mood.

JULY 25, 2011evolmers@calgaryherald.com

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