Category Archives: Review

My Top 10 Musical Moments of EFMF

A lot happened over this past weekend at the Edmonton Folk Music Festival (EFMF). In no particular order, here are some of my top moments of the festival:

Pics by Twila

1. One of the Avett Brothers running out into the crowd to rock out with audience members up close.

2. David Francey’s honest and humble introductions to his songs like the perspective of teenage love in “Broken Glass.”

3. The Milk Carton Kids’ blunt inter-song banter.
E.g., Joey: “Kenneth’s daughter will be named Charlie… after the song…his child doesn’t have a due date yet… or a mother.”

4. Carolina Chocolate Drops’ ability to sing attitude-filled cover of Blu Cantrell’s “Hit Em Up Style” before leaving the stage early to jet-set to Regina.

5. Good for Grapes put out some serious energy on stage. Never before have I seen somebody rock out on accordion like Sean MacKeigan.

6. Tim Chaisson’s instrumental flexibility as he switched from guitar to fiddle in his sets.

7. The torrential thunderstorm that brought Loreena McKennitt’s set and EFMF to an epic end.

8. Shakey Graves tempo manipulation on stage.

9. In the process of getting the audience on their feet, Langhorne Slim jumped out into the crowd. He proceeded to shake off his sunglasses and hat in the heat of the jamming moment.

10. LP’s soaring “Tokyo Sunrise” vocals during the lantern parade on Gallagher Hill.

What were some of your top moments of EFMF?

Advertisements

LP Stuns at the Edmonton Folk Music Festival

Pics by misssable and twila

LP strides across the workshop stage with a cool sense of sureness and her ukulele in tow. Donning skinny black pants; a Rolling Stones t-shirt with the iconic red gaping mouth; and a grey blazer; she leans back comfortably, shaking out her curls that cascade upon her androgynous features. There is a touch of otherworldliness to her because she is so striking. However, as soon as LP takes a seat, a young girl walks to the front of the stage offering her a pink gerber daisy. LP casts her a wide smile and tucks the flower into the lapel of her blazer.

One would not automatically think of a ukulele as a rock instrument, but in the hands of LP, any preconceived notions of the ukulele being a breezy and juvenile toy are cast aside. The gentle flexibility in her ukulele lines and the whistling turbulence present throughout her songs is echoed in her pliable vocal melodies and vibrato use.

The beauty of LP is that she presents the unexpected. With her vocal range easily soaring in stratospheric soprano territories, she showcases the technical command of her entire vocal range. At the same time, her ethereal voice contrasts her masculine demeanor. LP unleashes every part of her being on stage. The audience cannot help but watch on, breathless, as LP ascends higher melodic lines, building tension, as she challenges the range of her voice or shiver at the ukulele strums accompanied by haunting whistle tones. The excitement lies in the fact that one can never anticipate what LP will do next.

LP’s Into the Wild EP is available for download.

What’s in the Water in Winnipeg?

Photography by Twila and Miss. Sable

Before heading to Winnipeg, I contemplated why there is such a strong Folk Arts community there. While the Arts community is thriving and well in Edmonton, I was always curious as to why Winnipeg is such a strong breeding ground for Artists. Is there something in the water?

Sound + Noise creator, Michael MacDonald, discusses in his PhD thesis how Western Folk Music Festivals are like a “series of festival-garden plots. Like any garden plot it is a piece of land that has a variety of connections with the land that surrounds it. But gardens only exist where there are gardeners to tend to them.” What is it about the gardeners in Winnipeg that make them different than the gardeners of other Folk Festivals in Western Canada?

After attending the Winnipeg Folk Festival (WFF), I have some hypotheses of my own on why there is such a strong Folk Arts Community in Winnipeg. I feel a large part of it is due to the creation of the WFF, which was made possible by the timing and presence of passionate individuals, Mitch Podolak, Colin Gorrie, and Ava Kobrinsky. In addition to becoming one of the premiere North American music festivals, there are Folk School education programs and Young Artist mentoring programs that help to educate and support up-and-coming local Folk Music Artists.

Another important factor is the environment and location of the festival itself. The process of going out in the “wilderness” has been reinforced by literature from “Hansel & Gretel” to Homer’s “Odyssey”. There is something about being in the metaphorical wild, whatever the wild may be, that promotes the process of self-discovery. Located in a Provincial Park, the WFF capitalizes on the isolation of the location to create a temporary community. There is a strong sense of inter-disciplinary artistic collaboration seen in the use of Art installations throughout the entire festival site. These are not static pieces of Art, but Art that is allowed to be touched and manipulated by its audience. This community energy does not dissipate once the Festival is over. The WFF serves as a retreat for the Winnipeg Arts community and they take this renewed sense of identity back to the city. The WFF also has The Folk Exchange where they host Open Mics, Concert Series, Workshops, Songwriting Circles etc. that run year-round. The summer festival is only one component of the organization.

I had a chat with Mitch Podolak, Co-Founder of WFF and Home Routes while at WFF. WFF is the Festival template of Western Canadian Folk Festivals like Edmonton Folk Music Festival (EFMF), Calgary Folk Music Festival, and Vancouver Folk Music Festival. He ventured a hypothesis at why the Winnipeg Arts scene is well and thriving:

“For the most part the population here is Eastern European. All those people brought their culture with them. In Winnipeg, there is an 80 year old Mandolin Orchestra. This is a blue collar working class culture here, combined with people holding onto a sense of tradition,” he states. “There’s something in the water I suppose. There’s something about the fusion of the cultures. There’s a certain sense of the fact that the working class people tend to hang onto that more than the middle class bourgeois…I believe in people’s power. I want to teach people they can run things. You don’t need politicians. You can just run them,” states Podolak in an inspiring tone.

The political fervour of Podolak is an important factor when considering the structure of the Western Canadian Folk Festivals. The Festivals are fueled by the volunteers, which symbolize the working class in order to promote a sense of individual ownership. There is a deconstruction of class divisions. The volunteers and artists eat in the same areas, socialize the the same backstage areas, and they are all invited to attend the same parties. Podolak believes “the festival is tied to the working class. The common peoples experience… all festivals, Edmonton, all of them, every one of them, they are going to have the next Bob Dylan’s on their stages in the next 3-4 years.” However, Podolak realizes that music festivals are prone to mutation depending on the needs at the time:

“The songwriters will become the anthem writers. That’s what this whole show is. And when this happens, [festivals] mutate because they have to. I think we’re in store for a lot of fun over the next ten years. I’m kinda hoping I’ll survive long enough to see it,” he says with a laugh.

While I have only tapped the surface of the WFF culture after being an Edmonton folkie over the past years, I have a greater sense of the historical lineage and ideology underlining the Western Canadian Festival experience. The main thing is to evaluate what unifies all of us in the Folk Festival experience. As different as some of the things at the WFF were from the EFMF, there was a sense of familiarity at the festival site. The familiarity is due to the Festival structure from the volunteer-powered initiative and collaborative workshops. The WFF is like a new friend that I have just met, but it feels like we have known each other longer. It is a friendship I intend to sustain.

Memorable Moments from WFF 2013

Twila (T), Sable (S)

Favorite Workshop Session

T: 1974 “It was amazing to see the music I grew up with there: Stringband, Sylvia Tyson, and seeing them interacting with each other.”

S: Songs I Wish I Wrote “I loved seeing artists like Lindi Ortega, Danny Michel, Bhi Bhiman, Robert Ellis, Sean Rowe covering songs by the Clash, Talking Heads, and Elvis Presley. It lets me hear their soloistic voice as they perform song covers.”

Favorite Concert

T: Nathan Rogers “It was such a beautiful venue at the Little Stage in the Forest, seeing his interaction with the audience and his daughter made you feel like you were a part of the performance. You weren’t just watching the concert.”

S: The Garifuna Collective with Danny Michel “I liked the workshop dynamic of this concert with both Artists taking turns to perform in each others songs. I am always a fan of hearing musical collaboration.”

Favorite Festival Moment

T: The Mary Ellen Carter Finale on Mainstage “The Mary Ellen Carter is one of my favorite songs. It’s was amazing.”

S: Lantern lighting at the Finale “Watching the first family of Folk Music, Nathan Rogers light the floating lantern at the end of the WFF finale with his daughter just reinforced the community strength of the Folk Fest community in Winnipeg.”

———-

This post is part of a series detailing the experiences of Edmonton folkies, Sable and Twila, heading to Winnipeg Folk Festival for the first time. See other posts here. Cross-posted on The Choir Girl Blog.

The Musical Storytelling of Danny Michel

“Any more questions?” Danny Michel says with a familiar ease as a few daring voices speak up between one of his songs. More of his sold-out audience members respond, eager to know more from Michel, such as if it was before or after New Years in Belize that he wrote “Wish Willy,” or what exactly he was drinking from his mug on-stage. By the way, he doesn’t remember whether if it was before or after New Year’s he wrote “Wish Willy” and he was drinking tea to soothe his sore throat from the tour. Michel’s comfortable stage presence makes inter-song banter witty and natural while maintaining an intimate atmosphere with his audience.

Fresh from his European tour to Germany, Holland, and Austria, Michel braved the flight disturbances caused by Hurricane Sandy to begin his cross-Canada tour in Courtenay, B.C. The tour is to promote Danny’s new album, “Black Birds are Dancing Over Me,” joined by his band comprised of Quique Escamilla (Michel’s amazing opening act), on percussion and guitar, Dave Tolly on drums, and Mark MacIntyre on bass and vocals. Although his most recent album was recorded entirely in Belize with the Garifuna Collective, who are not on this current tour, Michel was successful in channeling the South American spirit in live performance with his band trio. All band members were well positioned to create a sense of ensemble. By having the drums on stage right facing inward, it helped to maintain the focus on Michel while creating a collaborative musical pod on stage. While the strange geometric shaped lighting patterns were distracting, the solid backlighting that was dominant throughout the performance kept the attention focused on the music.

There is no mistaking Michel’s characteristic rough voice quality, pulsating guitar playing, and expressive physical presence. He is a musical storyteller. He embodies the characters in his tunes, from the boastful old man in “Whale of a Tale,” or the scorned lover in “Tennessee Tobacco.” No musical detail is missed, like the subtle vocal shiver on the word “touch” in “What Colour Are You?”, a song inspired by winning a mood ring from a toy dispenser while in Belize. The sound of gritty rock emerges with “Into the Light”, and Michel played a previously recorded vocal solo from Chi-Chi (a.k.a Rolando Mercelino) from the stage. The gentle plea for people to open their hearts to love was audible in “A Cold Road.” These three songs highlight the diverse range of his newest album.

The reason for Michel’s success is due to his solidly established musical identity. Michel transcends the need for musical genre labeling because, frankly, he can do whatever he wants because his distinctive voice remains present in all of his work. From the positive audience reception of Michel’s new album, “Black Birds Are Dancing Over Me,” Michel has the unwavering encouragement of his supporters for whatever musical direction he wishes to embrace next.

Stream Danny Michel’s new album on CBC Music

For more information on this artist, check out YegLive.ca, Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. You can catch Michel at other Canadian cities on his current tour.

The Heart of Folk Fest

The heart of the Edmonton Folk Music Festival isn’t the the evening candles on Gallagher Hill, the hillside dance parties, or the headlining artists on Mainstage—it is the workshop sessions. I remember when I was planning on attending my first Folk Fest a friend, who was a seasoned Folk Fester, told me that I had to buy a weekend pass so I could attend the workshop sessions. I took her word for it. I have not regretted it since.

The workshop sessions are constructed musician groupings by festival organizers. Prior to their time on stage, the musicians may have never even heard of each other. Some workshops may involve a very orderly presentation of songs by individual artists… but this defeats the point of a workshop session. To be a musician, one needs to be a musician within all contexts. Their musical skills should not only be isolated to performing their own personal music. However, when there is a consensus to unite the individual talents on stage, it is the ultimate aural showcase of musical synergy.

I witnessed the aformentioned musical chemistry in two Saturday sessions that I attended. One session featured Rose Cousins, Jim Lauderdale, Pokey LaFarge, and New Country Rehab. What does a folk-pop singer-songwriter, bluegrass singer-songwriter, American Roots trio from St. Louis, and alternative country group from Toronto have in common? They’re all great musicians. Upon introducing Chuck Berry’s “Thirty Days,” the artists reworked the musical themes with an organic flow of guitar, fiddle, harmonica and vocal solos to present a unique version of the song.

The same can be said for the session that included The Dunwells, who have recently arrived in Canada for the first time from Leeds, Royal Wood, and Bahamas. It took about two individual rounds of a very civil “battle of the bands” showcase before Bahamas frontman, Afie Jurvanen, invited Royal Wood and the Dunwells to play/sing as well. In my later interview with the Dunwells, they revealed they were uncertain of the workshop sessions improvisation etiquette, but they caught on soon enough with a canon of vocal harmonies. Joe Dunwell even happened to create his own lyrics at a midpoint in the song saying that he didn’t know the lyrics… and he sang this statement of fact with roaring passion. The Dunwell’s reciprocated the exchange by covering Imogen Heap’s “Hide and Seek,” and as soon as Joe Dunwell heard the ethereal female harmonies from the Bahamas singers, he couldn’t refrain from giving them a smile while continuing to sing. In both of these sessions, all the musicians contributed their voices to create a piece that only materialized at that one point in time. It is music-making with such transient beauty. This type of art cannot be prescribed. While it helps to arrange strategic pairings of artists, there is no way one can predict the musical outcome. All you can do is sit back and listen to the heart of the Folk Fest.

 

-miss. sable