By David Kenney
Kevin Welch got it. During a Saturday workshop at the Calgary Folk Music Festival, the astute singer/songwriter said in awe what many thought.
“Are you okay?” he questioned the crowd. “I am too, this is cool.”
That’s for sure. One week after the so-called greatest show on earth stampeded town, the 2000 Calgary Folk Music Festival treated locals to music both heavier than belt buckles and lighter than hay–with no pretense.
Over four days, a variety of artists from Calgary to India made heads bob, wondering about things like what country crooner Neko Case meant when she pledged to show the crowd her “beave.”
Absurdity aside, here’s a diary sketch of this year’s festival.
Day 1: Where did all the hippie chicks go?
Fewer hippie chicks than expected. So much for mainstage distractions. As for the main attractions, Ireland’s Danu started the fest off with plenty of jigging music, but most people weren’t ready to get their sandals worn in just yet.
Linda Tillery and Cultural Heritage changed that. Their boisterous accapella filled with African chanting and James Brown grooving gave the crowd the boogie bug. Even an ultra-pregnant woman got a groove on. Wow.
U.K. legend Richard Thompson enchanted the audience with smart songs Elvis Costello would be jealous of. Blue Rodeo, who seemed a little more excited than the audience, topped off the night. What no “Try?” “Five Days in May” and “Rose Coloured Glasses” highlighted an otherwise good set.
Day 2: Why is there a Rock 97 banner ?
Plot to remove the Rock 97 banner began. Now that would have been classic. No, an amazing Martin Sexton set would be classic. The facial-hair-friendly American bopped around the mainstage with equal parts charm and talent. More on him later.
Folk icon Jesse Winchester’s endearing sweetness and well-weathered vocals had the crowd breathing a collective “ahhhhhhh.” Beausoleil avec Michael Doucet gave the crowd the first francophone gem of the fest with a spicy Cajun sound.
But no one matched Great Big Sea’s energy. The Newfoundlanders sailed through a tight set of Celtic favourites for a crowd of human trampolines. Mary Chapin Carpenter ended the night crooning and captivating with tales of love’s labours and self trials.
Day 3: Must-See-Martin
Multitudes of workshops abounded with intimate performances in front of pint-sized crowds. The best part of the festival began. Linda Tillery wowed again, as did Kelly Joe Phelps and Richie Havens. Again, Martin Sexton floored everyone with his set of soul blues/be-bop and dynamic vocal range. Even pre-set, Sexton played with full abandon just jamming alone. Jeff Buckley may be gone, but his spirit lives on in Martin Sexton.
On the mainstage, Neko Case taunted the crowd for laughter and energy to compliment her set–to little avail. Unscathed, Case still banged out her country repertoire in a highlight-filled night. Brazilian trio Comadre Florzinha and local guitar virtuoso Oscar Lopez shone with fast and furious world music. Woodstock ’69 alumnus Richie Havens turned back the clock playing “All Along the Watchtower,” a speedy “Here Comes the Sun” and his signature track “Freedom.” By far the best day of the festival.
Day 4: They Still Call Him Bruce!
As we fought off heat exhaustion and sleep deprivation, day four started. Innovative bluegrass bandits Bad Livers entertained with loads of humour and great music. Banjoist Edward D. Barnes prowled the stage with tongue tucked on his left cheek, almost farcing his performance. Workshop Fiesta Latina packed in a crowd that drooled at the Latin/Brazil jam between Oscar Lopez, Los Morenos and Comadre Florzinha. Lopez charismatically headed up the jam playing guitar at light speed, blowing away both the crowd and fellow performers.
The mainstage featured the sweeping and enchanting Natalie MacMaster who gave folkies one last chance to dance. Ashley MacIssac: take a lesson from her. Concluding the fest was Bruce Cockburn and his gentle tales of lions, relationships and the earth. Cockburn inspired a trip to the beer garden to end the fest in style, drinking beer out of Tim Hortons mugs. Yum, who needs coffee?