Some scenes from the final day of the 2017 Edmonton Folk Music Festival.
We had gorgeous weather for the Saturday of the 2017 Edmonton Folk Music Festival!
Friday signaled the start of workshop sessions at the 2017 Edmonton Folk Music Festival.
Even though Thursday night of the 2017 Edmonton Folk Music Festival was cut short due to an evacuation order based on the possibility of extreme winds we still got a sampler of the fantastic music we can expect over the next few days.
Not to jinx anything but spring has finally, maybe, almost certainly sprung in the city of champions and Brodie Dawson and Luke Blu Guthrie played to a packed house (literally) of exuberant Edmontonians finally free of the shackles of winter. Just as spring’s sudden arrival juxtaposes with the bleakness of an interminable winter, Dawson and Guthrie’s songs on Saturday played off of one another, switching between light and dark, heavy and light.
As the audience drifted into a basement space to hear the concert Guthrie jammed away on his guitar providing a musical underpinning to the sometimes awkward portion of a house concert, the in-between space where people are still searching for the drink they put down, grabbing that final snack and nabbing a seat in a room where the detritus of daily life has been moved aside for the evening. No longer a party and not yet quite a concert.
Once everyone had found a place Guthrie started with “Keep On Shuffling” which acted as a fantastic introduction to Dawson’s “I’m Moving On”. Throughout the night the two switched off on lead vocals (based on who wrote the song) but the contrast and similarities between the song pairings continued to be one of the most intriguing aspects of the show. With “Halfway There” Dawson allowed us a glimpse of her experience living and then leaving Yellowknife, while Guthrie’s “Canadian Clearly” (even with his quirky bigfoot references) struck a chord about tensions between and within Canadian culture(s).
Ending the first set was a cover of “Love Has No Pride” which Dawson knew from Bonnie Raitt’s version (Bonus Fact: it was written by Eric Kaz and Libby Titus) the crowd then dispersed up the stairs and around the house, refreshing drinks, refilling plates, and meeting the musicians in a kitchen filled with the scent of warm apples and cinnamon. Soon enough it was time for the second half, and again Guthrie bridged that transitory time between party and concert with guitar riffs. In the second half the audience was brought into the performance as back up singers for tunes like “Words/Divine Soul” and “Begin Again”. Guthrie illuminated the current housing crisis in BC and the recent great recession in the Southern US with the haunting and serious “Blood from a Stone”, which was paired with Dawson’s cheekily irreverent “Paycheque to Paycheque”.
The constant contrasts between two equally talent and yet very different musicians kept the concert entertaining and the show felt very balanced, somewhat surprisingly since they only started playing together around half a year ago. If you weren’t at Saturday’s gig and will be in southern Alberta or the interior of BC in the next few days you can catch them for a few shows on this tour, or you can find them on Facebook to find out the next time they are through town.
Maria Dunn has a knack for story-telling. She gets to the heart of an event or memory of a person and brings that narrative alive — her grandfather in “Shoes of a Man”, the workers of the Great Western Garment (GWG) clothing factory in “Speed Up”, senior citizens living in rooming houses during the 1980s in Edmonton’s downtown in “Flora” and “Hans’ Song”, or “When I Was Young” inspired by the stories of Dorothy McDonald-Hyde of the Fort McKay First Nation.
Last night the Northern Lights Folk Club (Dunn’s self-professed “home” folk club) hosted Dunn for a sold out celebration of her latest album Gathering, which won an Edmonton Music Prize and was nominated for a Juno Award. But Dunn, joined by Shannon Johnson on fiddle and Jeremiah McDade on a vast array of musical instruments, didn’t restrict herself to selections from that album, pulling from all six of her albums and her other projects (Packingtown, On The River, The Carol Project, GWG: Piece by Piece and Troublemakers) as well. She shuffled through the stories with mastery, moving between the connection between McDonald-Hyde, Alberta’s first elected female chief, and the Athabasca River to the labour history of Edmonton’s meatpacking North East to depression era trains. Dunn’s gift of exploring recollections and history is not limited by time or place as is evidenced by her award winning song “Malala” inspired by Canada’s most recent honourary citizen Malala Yousafzai. The song’s potent chorus:
Malala, where are you going?
I’ll walk beside you
I’ll meet you there
rang out for a final time with no musical accompaniment, just a joining of the musicians on stage and the audience’s voices, pulling the audience up into a standing ovation and heralding an encore of “God Bless Us Everyone” from The Carol Project.
Roddy Campbell of Penguin Eggs Magazine called Gathering as “essential listening” and I would argue that that description can be applied to all of Dunn’s work. Last night’s show concluded the 2016–17 Northern Lights Folk Club season, but until the fall there are still folk music events going on throughout Edmonton. PEI’s Lennie Gallant will be at Rio Terrace Church on May 19th see here for more details, and Maria Dunn has a local show earlier that week (details will be sent out to her mailing list so be sure to sign-up).
Songs, whether we are the performer or the audience, can help us to make sense of the world we live in. Last night a packed house at St. Albert’s Arden Theatre had perennial prairie favourites John Wort Hannam and The Small Glories (Cara Luft & JD Edwards) to help us unravel ours. When Wort Hannam described the imminent sense of home he felt when he saw the Dairy Queen in Claresholm while introducing “Good Night, Nova Scotia” I immediately was able to translate that to my own experience of cresting the Obed summit on the Yellowhead as I moved back home from a few years on the coast — I didn’t know the sight that Wort Hannam related but I certainly understood the feeling.
This deep sense of understanding permeated my experience of the evening at the Arden. When Edwards recounted introducing “Old Garage” to UK audiences including a heckler who apparently shouted that he had sheep that were older than Edwards’ garage, again I was transported to another time. A time which included me attempting to explain to my Welsh friends that back home there was a living history park (Fort Edmonton) that housed historical buildings — preserving things from the 1880s or 1920s — at which point inevitably someone would point at a building and say “oh, did you know that was built in the 11th century?”. Luft also stirred up memories when she described herself as a third generation Albertan (me too!) who got to share our beautiful province with the UK folk musician Bella Hardy a visit that resulted in the powerful “Time Wanders On“.
The evening addressed ideas of tradition and culture and was at times light and joyful, and by turns profound and dark. Wort Hannam’s musical reaction to Edmund Metatawabin’s memoir Up Ghost River cracked open not only the devastating history of residential schools in Canada, but the repercussions of them in an individual’s life. While The Small Glories take on Sacred Harp singing with “Wondrous Traveler” embodied the American tradition’s emphasis on exuberant participation (you can typically hear a “sing” from outside the building it is being housed in) even if it did stray from the strictly vocal nature of it.
The double bill of The Small Glories and John Wort Hannam reminded me about what it meant to live in Alberta and Canada at this time, and helped to refocused my understanding of the world.