Edmonton is a city spoiled for choice when it comes to folk music, and at times that means a finite audience gets divided up into quite small segments—I’m guessing that unintentional subdivision of the usual folkie crowd is what happened last night when the Chris Ronald Trio and Sam Spades shared the bill at the Northern Lights Folk Club playing to an intimate audience.
While outside the evening began with a brilliant sunset it turned into a cool, damp October night, the same sort of startling contrast took place inside the hall. The evening began with Chris Ronald who has the ability (likely honed from time as both a busker and a schoolteacher) to hold attention whether he be telling you about touring via Via, or defining halcyon. Mike Sanyshyn and John Ellis joined Ronald on stage, and with dramatic melodic fiddle flourishes (Sanyshyn) and guitar/mandolin/banjo/vocal harmonies (Ellis) aided an already skilled storyteller in sharing tales. Ronald’s songs take inspiration from everything between (and including) a photograph of his brothers, busking, finding a lost wedding ring (8 years later in the back of a basement storage space), and even the heart-attack of a championship curler. The trio had the audience singing and clapping, and relaxing into the intricate sounds of Ronald’s latest album Fragments.
An intermission, set change-over and few minutes later the local Sam Spades—John Richards (bass), Greg Hann (drums), Trevor B McNeely (lead guitar), and Sam Heine (guitar & lead vocals)—took the stage with their brand of blues-soaked rock’n’roll noir. From the first chord, the difference was apparent, we were in for heartbreak accompanied by epic swathes of pedal steel and blisteringly fast (yet somehow twangy too) passages from the upright bass. The Sam Spades set felt like it would be at home in a dusty western bar (probably only found in my imagination) where the floorboards creak from age and, the scent of beer and whisky seem to permanently infuse the air.
The effect of the two sets was entirely different, providing both a cool contrast and demonstrating the fantastic range of styles found in folk music. This is just the starting leg of Ronald’s tour as he heads East to Ontario, Quebec and the Maritimes, if you can be sure to try to catch a show. Sam Spades plays frequently throughout the Edmonton area, including an upcoming (November) set of dates at Blues on Whyte, and Northern Lights is back with Hillsburn (whom we saw at the 2016 Jasper Folk Fest and thought were awesome) on October 21st.
The 2016 Jasper Folk Music Festival was the chillest folk fest I have ever been to. Unlike the Edmonton and Winnipeg folk fests where a chimerical community of folkies rise up out of the mosquito spray haze and find one another for a few days during the year, you don’t necessarily know your festival friends in “real life”, in Jasper everyone seemed to know one another. Jasper’s festival was a celebration of a year-round community of musicians and music lovers, making it unique as it wasn’t the imaginary city of the larger prairie folk fests. Although the weather was a bit rainy, and a tiny bit on the cold side (I was wearing enough wool that I could have been mistaken for a sheep and ALL of my Welsh rain gear) nothing seemed to dampen the Jasperite’s need to dance and sing. All and all it was a fantastic time, and I’m already rounding up friends for a return roadtrip next year.
Highlights from the weekend include:
Awesome MCs: I’ve never been at a folk fest where the MCs both sang – “Colors of the Wind” (Disney) and “For he is an Englishman” (Gilbert & Sullivan) – for the crowd. Both MCs were fantastic at keeping the audience informed of what was happening and providing a little bit of entertainment between sets. It’s a typically thankless job, so let me say a big thank you!
Local Talent: The number of Jasper musicians (or previous Jasperites) was great. The festival really supported the local acts, giving them a venue to showcase their awesome talents.
Sound Guys: Jasper had some of the best mixed live music at a folk fest that I’ve heard. It is something you notice when it is bad, but not necessarily when it is great – again, a huge thank you is deserved.
Roving Packs of Children: Jasper kids know how to party and were always at the hoola-hoops, jamming with Kiki the Eco Elf’s musical instruments, or dancing their hearts out. It seemed like it would be a great event to bring a family to.
Atmosphere: Can I state one more time how relaxed the festival was? Stress – what stress?