Edmonton 2004 – Friday

On Friday, the Edmonton Folk Festival offers sessions (at some other festivals these would be called workshops) on 4 stages from 6:00 to 9:00 PM and three acts on the mainstage. The weather was warm, but not hot in the late afternoon and it was cloudy. There was a forecast threat of evening rain, but it did not rain during the evening. It cooled gradually.

My first workshop choice was called Learn by Heart which was the only workshop appearance for Michael Franti and for Rodney Crowell. It also featured Ferron and Chip Taylor and Carrie Rodriguez. I think Ferron wrote a few good songs that have inspired other performers, but her career has largely been to be vocal about her sexual preference. Her work makes a personal statement and listening to it is personal statement for most of her fans. It’s not my statement.
I liked Crowell. He is a mature writer, with a sense of justice and compassion, and a deep appreciation of the rock and country traditions. He is touring with a very competent band, and presents a very good act. I heard Franti sing one song, and tell a long rambling story about travelling to Iraq. I didn’t get a good sample to report any impressions. Franti was to close the mainstage, but I left before his mainstage act.
I wasn’t impressed with Taylor & Rodriguez. In some ways their act resembles the duo of the late Dave Carter and Tracey Grammar, but Taylor isn’t the same kind of poetic songwriter that Carter was. He is still a commercial pop tune-smith. He is an experienced and smooth performer and Rodriguez is very good performer but the act doesn’t grab me.
I shifted to a different stage to see Serena Ryder’s solo concert. She had made a splash when she sang an interset on the mainstage and backed Hawksley Workman. Workman joined her for her session for the first several songs. Ryder has a good voice, but right now she is an indie flash. She sang some blues numbers ornamented by pop-diva warbling. I don’t expect a lot of life experience and maturity from a 20 year old, but that struck me as immature. She has a great talent but she still doesn’t really know what to do with it.
My last session had 3 legends from the British isles, the Strawbs, Ron Kavana and Dick Gaughan and Canadian artist Rae Spoon. I have heard Gaughan before, and I thought he was relaxed and in good form. I hadn’t heard Kavana, and I was reasonably impressed. Like Gaughan, he has political values and favours ballads and story songs. The Strawbs were a moving force in British folk but broke up and have only recently reformed. They may be running on sentiment. I have read praise for Spoon in Penguin Eggs Magazine, and I agree that she is talented but her material seemed out of place in this gathering.
The first main stage act was a South African Reggae ensemble named for its lead performer Lucky Dube. I enjoyed it. It was good reggae, with a good rhythm and a political and quasi religious message of liberation and redemption.
I left during Great Big Sea. The sound was muddy. They have become a big party band. They blast out a wall of sound with songs about parties and drinking. They worked hard to promote themselves years ago and to get their record contract, and their label promotes them well, but they aren’t that good. They were well received by the audience which tends to confirm that marketing, reputation and celebrity do affect and shape people’s tastes.


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