A few thousand kilometres from his home province of PEI, Dylan Menzie, 22, arrives in Edmonton to play his largest Folk Music Festival to date. “The energy at this festival is unlike anything I’ve felt before. I’ve heard on the Sunday night finale, when all the candles come out and thousands singing along together, I’m excited to see that. I’ve never played to that many people before,” he reveals before continuing, “it is such a relaxing environment even though there is thousands of people.”
Edmonton Folk Music Festival is just around the corner and here are our picks of what we can’t wait to hear this festival.
Most Anticipated Artists
Sable: The Unthanks
I find it hard to resist the melodic and harmonic intertwining of treble voices. Their upcoming performances at EFMF is significant because its their only North American stop on their summer festival circuit with their other dates based in England, Scotland, and Finland. While their recent series of folk music symphonic collaborations demonstrate a progressive move to share their art, I am excited to see them in their raw vocal form.
Twila: The Jerry Cans
I’m about 95% sure I ran across The Jerry Cans at a folk fest a few years ago, and seem to remember enjoying what I heard immensely. However, surrounded now with old festival programs I can’t seem to put my finger on where & when exactly that crossing of paths might have taken place. Regardless of my own questionable memory, The Jerry Cans are my pick for most anticipated artist of EFMF 2017 … have you heard their cover of The Hip’s “Ahead by a Century”?
Most Anticipated Workshop
Sable: Talking About My Generation; Saturday, August 12, 11:00 AM – 12:20 PM; STAGE 6
I will be in the mood for some mellow vocals and heavy strums of the acoustic guitar at this Saturday morning session. I find the workshop title alluring since it’s always interesting to consider perspective through a distinct musical voice.
Twila: Ceili; Saturday August 12, 11:00 AM–12:30 PM; STAGE 5
On Saturday morning I’m anticipating requiring the high energy infusion that is an EFMF Ceili. Hopefully these talented artists blending, Irish, Scottish & Acadian trad music, will make up for me running on lots of coffee and very little sleep.
Sable: Birds of Chicago
The sweet tunes of Allison Russell and JT Nero last played to a sell-out crowd at New Moon Folk Club. That performance left YEG audiences with a desire for a return visit. I am so excited to listen to their tunes on the hill!
Combining two amazing Quebec trad bands = essentially one of the greatest ideas yet. It’ll be a powerful kick off to EFMF 2017.
Rose Cousins knows when and how to deliver a comedic zinger. She has the perfect onstage proportions of self-deprecation, modesty, confidence, vulnerability, and authenticity when sharing her lyrical perspective on the world. These traits are woven throughout the fabric of her show. Whether she is demonstrating her Islander accent and colloquial phrases, deciding which dog each one of her band members should own, or giving a heart-felt thanks to the audience for supporting live music and allowing her to continue her career as a singer-songwriter, her genuineness shines through and you don’t feel like your city was simply another in a long line of shows.
Audience emotions fluctuated between laughter and tears, while Cousins, with a smile, let us know that feelings were welcome. She is happy to assume the responsibility of providing a somber soundtrack for scenes of death in TV shows, a fact she expressed before she started into the heart-wrenching Go First. Introduced with the quip “We’ve just been through the ides of March, which is where Julius Caesar gets stabbed in the back by Brutus. This song isn’t about that, but is about getting stabbed in the back” My Friend aptly expressed the dichotomy between light and dark which was at the heart of Cousins’ performance.
The rapport between Cousins and her band members exuded a quiet strength. Their instrumental offerings supported Cousins acoustic music-making without every over-powering her. They also played peppy transition music as she moved between her acoustic guitar and the piano, lightening the mood between songs before we were plunged into emotional depths. She warned the audience that things only get sadder when she is at the piano. She was not wrong since, in fact, her piano works were the most trance-like moments of the show. The translucent stage fog was lit like a funnel of light from the overhead spotlights. It created an intimate atmosphere for songs such as White Flag, Tender is the Man, Like Trees, and her Donoughmore encore off of her Natural Conclusion album. As much as a Cousins show can be a bit of an emotional rollercoaster, the dark and somber songs are always accompanied by a bit of hope. Leonard Cohen’s oft-quoted “there is a crack in everything … that’s how the light gets in” line, seems an appropriate description of Cousins’ show.
Port Cities opened the concert with their stripped back harmonies. Cousins’ jokingly described them as “young whipper-snappers” and the trio does exude a youthfulness although they have also achieved success on the CBC Radio 2 chart and co-written songs with the likes of Donovan Woods. Port Cities’ version of On the nights you stay home captured the darker edge of the Cape Breton phrase, while Sound of Your Voice demonstrated the complexity of the trio’s music. The opening set wasn’t their only contribution to the evening, as Cousins called them back out to act as the choir on Grace. The trio just released their first album, featuring their tight harmonies and it will be interesting to follow them wherever the future takes them.
The Arden’s eclectic schedule continues with groups like Delhi 2 Dublin, The Small Glories and John Wort Hannam please see their website for ticket details.
This article was co-written by Twila and Sable.
Joël Fafard kicked off the New Moon Folk Club’s double bill of Blues offerings with gritty vocals and punny intersong banter. Fafard’s Jitterbug Swing had an agile bluesy swing, Woodshed Blues vocals had a tone of lamentation, while the instrumental track Sweet Mosquito Buzz showcased his slide dexterity. He shared aural glimpses into his family when introducing tunes like If I had a Boat where he noted his son’s wish to be a hockey player which was later replaced with aspirations to be a pirate. He reasoned that any good pirate would need a ship for pillaging, but a good pirate captain would require excellent swordsmanship skills, thus, that is where fencing lessons settled as the current pursuit.
Michael Jerome Browne’s set had an ethnomusicological feel to it as he would provide a historical backstory before each one of his songs. He brought an array of instruments such as a guitar from the 1940s, mandolin, 12-string guitar, and a gourd banjo with which to showcase his encyclopedic musical knowledge. His set list contained tunes spanning back to content he recorded back in the early 1990s but they still sounded relevant in our modern times. He played the tracks such as Got your Summer Shoes On and Living in the Whitehouse with class calmly switching out different harmonicas, stringed instruments, and updating tuning between each of the songs to offer an accurate performance of his work. Browne ended his set with a the title track from his 2016 album Can’t Keep a Good Man Down and he dedicated a heartfelt encore of Sam Cooke’s That’s Where It’s At to all the lovers in the audience.
Spoken word Artists and Bassist, Pat Braden, from the New North Collective takes some time to speak with Folk on the Road while on are on tour.
What is the significance for you to live a traditional lifestyle but translate this for contemporary audiences?
In our understanding of a traditional lifestyle, we see ourselves as contemporary northern artists. We connect to traditions in our individual lives through language, community, our teachers and elders and living like most northerners do by connecting daily to the land. We interpret our northern lifestyle through our music, acknowledging and paying respect to the traditional cultures that have formed and influenced us. These traditional values as well as our own stories and experiences of living in today’s modern world are all subjects that we write about in the NNC.
Do you have any specific memories of living in the North that was formative in you becoming an Artist?
Pat: My Mother played organ in the church for as long as I can remember and my brothers would bring home LP records and Rolling Stone magazines which I consumed voraciously. As a boy in the mid 1960s, I had the opportunity to hear a few of the local musicians playing around town. In the basement of the Legion one Christmas, I was able to catch a glimpse of a guitar player on the stage and thought that was the coolest thing I had ever seen. Later on, I got to know that guitar player and after I started to play music in Yellowknife, many of the other musicians as well who played music through the 1960s and 1970s.
What does a collaborative session with the other Artists look like when you are rehearsing?
Our rehearsals or writing sessions have taken place in recording studios, performance spaces and in one of our sessions, in Burwash Landing in Kluane Park, YT at Diyet and Robert’s home where we were quite rudely interrupted by a visiting grizzly bear.
We set up our instruments and amplifiers in a circular or semicircular arrangement and jam and pitch ideas back and forth until we have the structure of a song. There are usually band member’s children around our sessions as the work/life balance can be demanding for all of us. This also helps to keep our work real with family close by. Meal times and downtimes are also an important part of our process as we take these times to reflect and discuss the work of the day.
It has been mentioned that there is a common goal in NNC to discard the stereotypes of the North, instead, what image do you wish to leave audiences with instead?
We hope that an audience will leave with a sense of having been invited into our lives and welcomed into our community. Leaving our concert with a small sense of freedom and leaving whatever assumptions of the north that came in the door of north behind. Maybe a spark for an adventure and desire to learn more about this incredible, diverse and humble part of the country.
Members of the NNC are passionate about a wide range of musical styles, including folk, rock, jazz, improvisation, classical, singer-songwriter, storytelling, etc. and we bring them together in the Collective.
What is the personal significance for you to be a part of the NNC?
Pat: It is important to be a part of a group of northern based musicians who have similar values, lifestyles, life experience that we all wish to express in our music. It is also significant in that this is based on first and foremost, the creation and performance of collective / collaborative created music. Each of us have our own solo careers but the NNC gives us a chance to contribute new ideas to a collective process and to gather new ideas for our own personal creative works.
New North Collective will be performing at the Arden Theatre on Saturday January 28, 2017.
I’m constantly amazed by the diversity of musicians in Edmonton and the range of genres that they perform. At the Northern Lights Folk Club last night, locals Jim & Penny Malmberg showed off their quirkiness in song lyrics like Muffin Tops in Love or when they drew comparisons between courtship and fishing in I Took the Bait. Even throwing in a good o’le bluegrass murder ballad with Urban Coyote.
But it wasn’t all hilarious stage banter and eccentric songs, when Penny announced that she was at the Women’s March earlier that day at the Alberta Legislature, she brought the focus to the fight for women’s rights. She excused herself for screaming herself hoarse earlier that day, disregarding texts from Jim to save her voice for the gig, and it was evident her passion for this issue could not be silenced. For the conclusion of their half of the show, the Malmbergs sang a cover of the Rolling Stone’s You Can’t Always Get What You Want echoing their sentiments.
The ethos of the first half of the evening transferred seamlessly to Rosie & The Riveters who added a refreshing dose of colour therapy with their stylized charm from the 1940s. Without a synchronized snap or a foot tap out of place, their dense harmonies wove throughout each of their tunes with a comedic sparkle while singing about their Red Dress or Dancing ‘Cause of My Joy. With A Million Little Things they reminded us that sometimes we can all benefit from a change in perspective, especially in the dark of January.
Rosie & The Riveters made it was easy for us not to take ourselves too seriously, by teaching us how to dance with moves such as “petting the horse’s head” and “touch the sky” — sidenote: if you feel ridiculous and awkward, you are doing these moves right — and somehow it felt inherently right when the kazoos came out for a song battle or the beat box app played the underlying beat as they rapped Johnny Cash on top of it.
It was a power packed evening full of good humour and quirkiness — if you didn’t show up with a smile on your face, you certainly left with one.
Women of Folkways is up next at the Northern Lights Folk Club on Saturday, February 4, 2017 with Dana Wylie, Linda McRae, and Shawna Caspi.
Drawn by the warmth of St. Basil’s Edmonton folkies shuffled their feet across icy surfaces in search of the secure grip of gravel into the venue. As incongruous as it might seem the grittiness of Edmonton’s January streets was matched by the stories and sounds of New Moon Folk Club’s two headliners, Tim Isberg and Ben Rogers, who played full sets to the cozy audience of 300. It wasn’t simply an evening of pleasant entertainment, as both Isberg and Rogers brought provocative subjects to the foreground and challenged the audience to consider their roles in the world.
Isberg’s service in the Canadian military has taken him to conflict torn areas such as Rwanda and Afghanistan. Readily admitting that he left a piece of his soul overseas as he bore witness to the devastation in those areas he also notes that he has gained a lot of perspective. Yet the turmoil that one might expect to manifest from witnessing such extremes of human behaviour does not surface on Isberg’s face, instead, he displays his emotions in his music. An energy of contemplation is present in Isberg’s music even when his lyrics grapple with challenging subject matter. He suggests that his listeners self-evaluate the types of physical and emotional walls they create in order to separate people and consider their disassembly in The Walls, “Does freedom bring peace or the other way around?”
If you close your eyes and listen to Ben Rogers, you hear a gritty bass voice of that might make you think of an ancient character, sipping whiskey that is borderline poisonous, perched on a stool at the end of a weathered bar in a dusty old western town. Rogers shares stories of all types through his songs, especially those that might otherwise be unspoken and forgotten. His gift, even stronger than his voice, is helping us to remember—whether it is songs of missing and murdered Indigenous women in Highway of Tears or the tragedy of interracial love in his encore, Cowboys and Indians—and challenging us, as individuals, to do better. When you open your eyes, you may be perplexed by how a voice like Roger’s has chosen such a young vessel. However, it doesn’t matter what physical form his voice is contained in. His voice speaks for the marginalized.
This post is co-written by Twila and Sable.
Next up at New Moon Folk Club is Catherine MacLellan on Friday, February 3, 2017.