This counted as one of my better days, among many good days at summer folk festivals. It was sunny warm day, with moderate winds and I was able to leave the cold weather gear in the dry sack.
We started with the Canmore Pancake breakfast – pancakes and sausages served outdoors in front of the Legion Hall, no charge, donations for the Bow Valley Food Bank taken with thanks, with local amateur musicians playing rock and blues standards. We went to line up at the main gate to buy our day pass, and we had a spot of luck. The main gate wasn’t supposed to open until 10:00 AM and meanwhile people with weekend passes would be admitted through the other gate at 9:30. However the ticket sellers at the main gate came out and sold passes at 9:15 and we were able to enter and to get a spot in the first ring of trees by the main stage. We had warm sunshine during the first part of the morning and shade during most of the afternoon.
I stayed at the mainstage for most of the workshops during the day. Some of them were merely background music as I read and thought, and some engaged my attention. The first workshop was a Celtic workshop with the Paperboys and Beolach. I have commented on both groups already. I enjoy the Paperboys, a versatile and hardworking group.
The second set was a Texas Jam with Ruthie Foster, Brave Combo and Carrie Rodriguez. The music tended to gospel and swing, and it was pleasant. The third workshop was interesting. Dutch bluesman Hans Theesink is touring with a South African (Bulawayo) group and they were matched with Malagasy guitarist D’Gary. It was an interesting hour, musically strong, with interesting rhythm and tunings. The fourth workshop was a wonderful collaboration between the Paperboys and the Waybacks. They tested each other, and each group was able to play with the other. The Paperboys have recorded a cover of All along the Watchtower, and Wayback’s guitarist James Nash joined with a guitar solo worthy of Hendrix’s celebrated version.
I had been thinking about musical epiphanies and peak experiences during a workshop the day before and I had started to outline some posts to explore that, when the Paperboys started a number called Perfect Stillness, and the Waybacks came back with a song of their own. I am going to have to spend a little more time on that and come back to that moment in another post.
The next workshop was Canmore specialty – a workshop of songs about coal mining which promoted a local museum and promoted the book and CD “Coal Dust Grins.” I have this CD and some of the performers and songs were familiar – Bill Werthmann, Tom Wilson. Nathan Rogers joined this workshop and sang a song about the iron mines of Hibbing, Minnesota.
The first act of the evening concert was Brava, a female vocal collaboration of Cindy Church, Laura Smith and Susan Crowe. I was not really caught by this. I like the singing but the material seemed to be taken from their solo acts and a lot of it was just not of interest to me.
The rest of the evening was a delight. I hadn’t heard the Manitoba alt-country group Nathan before, and I was taken by their clever and darkly witty lyrics, their energy, their light bluegrass/swing sound, and their poise and maturity on stage. The McDades were also a treat. From recordings and past exposure I had expected a fairly traditional Celtic concert. What I heard was a lesson in fusion. A Celtic melody would transform into a jazz sound. They had a tabla player for percussion, and Jeremiah McDade’s tenor sax and Solon McDade’s double bass gave the whole act a jazzy sound.
D’Gary, the guitarist from Madagascar was on next. He has developed a set of guitar tunings to allow him to play tunes based on traditional music on traditional instruments with the guitar. His performance as impressive, although perhaps the act appeals to more specialized tastes than mine.
John Reischman and the The Jaybirds delivered a very polished set. It’s a good thing that musicians like Reischman never believed that bluegrass was dying before “O Brother” and “Down from the Mountain” and maintained that tradition.
Martin Simpson performed solo. His voice and singing are not his strong point, but he gets the job done. His strength is his playing – he is simply one of the best. He is also a strong interpreter and arranger. He opened and closed his set with Dylan. He opened with his interpretation of Boots of Spanish Leather, and closed with Masters of War – dedicated ironically to Bush Jr. and Blair.
The closing act was the Paperboys. I was impressed with them when they began to tour a few years ago, and I think they are on the edge of stardom. Tom Landa is a great writer and a dynamic performer, and whole band is strong. Geoff Kelly has been splitting his time between the Paperboys and his old band, Spirit of the West and his presence seems to have added a little maturity and credibility that has taken the act further. They had the audience shouting and singing along and dancing. A very entertaining act, with a great deal of depth.
The day ended with the usual Canmore finale – The Mary Ellen Carter, led by Nathan Rogers, and Four Strong Winds led by Cindy Church.
My car held up for another trip back up the highway to the campground, and I counted it as a day well spent.
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