It was cold and cloudy all day, but it did not rain. Claire and I arrived around 10:00 AM, a short time after the gates opened but well before the first sessions of the day. I had a good day, and enjoyed several acts. I wanted to see Ron Kavana and Brian McNeill, singer-songwriters from Ireland and Scotland. I have read about their music, but I haven’t seen them perform. McNeill’s discography is rather thin for such an accomplished and experienced writer and performer, and not very accessible in Canada.
I went first to a workshop which combined Welsh singer-songwriter Martyn Joseph with English folk legends the Strawbs and a Canadian First Nation drum troupe from Hobbema, Alberta, called Perfect Storm. To accomodate all the performers, the session was divided with Perfect Storm starting. Their performance might have been obscure or inaccessible but one of the troupe leaders provided a friendly and engaging commentary that explained the show. I listened to Martyn Joseph sing one song, and I left the site to meet a friend for lunch.
I returned as the sessions shut down for an afternoon main stage concert by Canadian roots-rockers, Blue Rodeo. This veteran band has played the Edmonton festival several times, and they were crowd favourites.
My next sessions were concerts by Irish singer and multi-instrumentalist Ron Kavana, and Scots singer, writer, and multi-instrumentalist Brian McNeill. McNeill came out and played with Kavana, and McNeill was joined by guitarist and singer Dick Gaughan.
All three performers are veteran performers, with large repertoires and confident and relaxed stage presences. They have played together before and joined in each other’s songs effortlessly. Kavana plays guitar and Irish bouzouki, McNeill plays guitar, fiddle and mando-cello. The emphasis was on historical ballads, and they each have written several, and know a number of traditional songs or songs by other writers.
I moved to another session stage and caught most of a session by Canadian alt-country singer-songwriter Lynn Miles. I hadn’t heard her before. Critics compare her to Lucinda Williams and Shawn Colvin and the comparisons are fair. She does the modern hurtin’ woman thing pretty well.
My last session was with the Vancouver Celtic/roots/rock group the Paperboys in session with Blue Rodeo’s drummer Glen Milchem, and Zimbabweyan vocal trio Insingizi. I have seen the Paperboys at other festivals, most recently in Canmore and I continue to be impressed with the overall quality of their material, and their ability to entertain in a live concert. Milchem wanted to show his talents as a singer-songwriter with some introspective material.
Insingizi sing in a style that is probably distinctive but generally similiar to Ladysmith Black Mambazo who are best known for their collaboration with Paul Simon on Homeless and Diamonds on the Souls of Her Shoes on the “Graceland” album. They sang some of their own songs and offered extemporaneous improvisations on the Paperboys tunes. They were a talented and entertaining part of the session.
The first mainstage performer in the evening was Jerry Douglas, a legendary slide guitar performer who has assembled a very nice country band around him. I don’t think that virtuousity is necessarily the key to an entertaining performance, and I found this show a little tiring.
The second performance was by the Oakland based Linda Tillery Cultural Heritage Choir. Tillery’s group features astonishing vocal performances and harmony singing on material that speaks about woman’s experiences and black women’s experiences. They were joined by Hans Theesink, a Dutch-born blues guitarist (who has recorded an album with them) and by Insingizi. It made for a entertaining, but relatively relaxed show.
The third mainstage act was by the legendary Earl Scruggs. His band did basically the same act I saw in the Winnipeg Folk Festival in July – and that’s not really a surprize. They played a pretty straight-up Grand Old Opry version of bluegrass. A good part of the audience recognized and appreciated “The Ballad of Jed Clampett,” written by Scruggs for the 60’s TV show “The Beverly Hillbillies”. The audience did not recognize “Foggy Mountain Breakdown” and other bluegrass standards the same way, but the songs were well received.
The celebrity show of the evening was Natalie Merchant who opened with songs from her recent roots album “The House Carpenter’s Daughter” and moved into other material from her solo career and her career with 10,000 Maniacs. She worked hard, her band was good and she gave the audience a good show, drawing multiple encores.
The last act of the night was the Irish band Four Men and a Dog. I passed on them due to being cold and tired. I heard they gave a good show, giving the required shots of Celtic energy for the dancers and the Ceilidh fans.