Seeing is believing. The Edmonton Folk Fest allows audiences to experience their favorite musicians in a venue that although accommodates 10,000+ music fans can be surprisingly intimate. Have a look and see!
Photos by Twila
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.
“Did you get it?” I ask tentatively as T. Nile takes a deft swing.
“Sorry buddy,” she says to the mosquito she just obliterated at the Media Tent on Gallagher Hill.
After her first EFMF appearance in 2007, T. Nile is enthused to be back at the Edmonton Folk Musical Festival this year: “There is something about the culture here…people are very openhearted, unpretentious, quick to offer help, quick to laugh, appreciative, and attentive to music… it doesn’t get any better than this,” she continues, “there are lots of great festivals but this one is really up there.” This time at the EFMF, T. Nile is taking the stage with Kim Beggs, both as separate artists but with some shared musicians between them. It was a collaborative pairing suggested by EFMF booker, Terry Wickham. Nile remarked that while working in collaboration with artists she values receptivity, openness, and creative thinking; Kim Beggs definitely has all of these attributes. As a result, the organic pairing of these two songstresses is audible.
Currently, T. Nile is working on her new record which will potentially be released in Spring 2013 to coincide with her UK and European tour. Her enthusiasm is apparent since this record has the potential to be a cross-over record for her as she develops her electro-folk sound. Following her passion to challenge herself as an artist, she states that she will always maintain the folk themes in her music but she is excited about exploring the realm of dance music. Current musical inspiration for her new album include Bat for Lashes, Fever Ray, and Chromeo: “I’m excited about synthesizers, drum machines, and the way that you can create any sound… it’s a new frontier of sound… there is this whole world that opens up to you.” T. Nile’s voice manages to penetrate the layers of socially constructed facade and into the very core of her listeners. While it is evident on her tracks from 2006 record, “At the Table” and her more recent 2009 EP release of “Cabin Song,” I definitely hear it on her song “Buddy.” Her most recent “Cabin Song” release is a series of aural vignettes which channel a back-woods energy from songs such as “Lake Irene” to “Sunrises.”
As Nile continues to explores her electro-folk sound, it will be exciting to hear the evolution of her folk roots sound fused with electronic music on her new record. However, regardless of musical genre she produces, Nile still has some hopes for audience members watching her perform: “I want them to feel like we had a connection,” she continues with a smile, “If people are dancing I feel like I’ve really done my job.”
Listen to the complete interview to hear T. Nile’s thought’s on her upcoming European tour, the Peak Performance Project she has been competing in, connecting with her fans through social media, things that she could do without as a touring musician, why her banjo is named Jolene, and what instrument she wishes she could play.
A fan-made video of her song, “Trees”