The forecast for Saturday night and Sunday had been for rain. It didn’t rain. It was a cloudy, cool day but the sun came out and it warmed up enough for me to put my fleece away during the afternoon.
I started my day with a session that I will remember for a long time. The session leader was Brian McNeill, and the other participants were the new Quebecois group Genticorum, and John Reischman and the Jaybirds.
The title for that session was “Easy Like Sunday Morning.” McNeill had recruited a bagpiper to join him for the first song and accompanied her on his fiddle. McNeill used to be with a Scots group called the Battlefield Band which featured pipes in its music, and one of his interests is traditional Scots music, and he is the Head of Scottish Music at the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama in Glasgow. In this workshop, he played traditional music on fiddle and mando-cello.
After the bagpipe and fiddle opening, McNeill invited the other groups to play in turn. He began to join in himself, and then to invite the other performers to join, and for the later part of the session basically everyone played together on every song. The Jaybirds are a pretty solid bluegrass emsemble and the members of Genticorum had a good command of their instruments. At one point there were two guitars, three fiddles (Scots style, bluegrass style and Quebecois) mandolin, flute, double bass and banjo trading leads and playing harmonies. It was an exceptional show. The musicians were superb, improvising on a Quebecois tune that McNeill and the Jaybirds had probably never played.
There are similiarities between traditional Scots music, and bluegrass, and the tradional music of Quebec and Acadia, and McNeill delivered an impromtu and painless lesson in musicology too.
After that I caught the second half of Dick Gaughan’s solo concert. Gaughan played longer story songs, including McNeill’s song about the pioneer environmental activist, John Muir of the Sierra club.
After that I moved to a workshop called Influences with Ron Kavana, Hans Theesink and Canadian singer Arlene Bishop. Kavana and Theesink traded stories about discovering American rock and roll and blues in Ireland and Holland respectively, and playing clubs, and learning songs from Americans touring or living in Europe. Arlene Bishop is a different kind of performer – a very good folk/indie singer-songwriter, mature but edgy.
In the afternoon, Canadian Celtic rock veterans Spirit of the West had a mainstage show. They played a range of songs from several albums, going back to their early days. They haven’t recorded or toured as a band for a few years, and they are touring again and road-testing new material. They were pioneers when they started and they still lead the pack in Canada, and they compare well to leading UK acts.
I took a little time in the merchandise tent before going back to the music for an extended workshop with Gaughan, McNeill, Ron Kavana, and a Canadian singer Dennis Lakusta. This was the political workshop with a strong old left emphasis on class politics (while I don’t agree with it, I find the politics of peace and social justice easier to take than the post-modern politics of gender, gender choice and personal identity). Lakusta had a song with the funny chorus about current US administration’s “Bone on for Baghdad.” McNeill sang his song about the unjust conviction of the so-called Birmingham bombers (as in the movie “Sins of the Father”) “Any Mick’l Do.” This workshop showed a different side of McNeill. In the morning he played traditional music, and in the afternoon he sang as political singer-songwriter. Kavana, his voice failing at the end of the day, sang a cover of Cockburn’s “If I had a Rocket Launcher.”
I wandered into another stage to hear the last song of the session by Rachel Davis, who has a great voice. She was performing the folk ballad “Shady Grove” (the same tune and story at Mattie Groves but a different set of lyrics) and she was able to make that old standard sound fresh, dramatic and interesting, which is quite a feat.
The first act in the evening mainstage concert was Wanda Jackson, who belted out rockabilly tunes and early rock and roll. She started singing in the 1950’s. the program notes and discography indicate that she has performed and recorded pretty much continuously since then. She mentioned dating Elvis Presley, and she also made reference to her religious convictions. She performed with energy and showmanship.
The second act was Lhasa, whose whole act sounded like background music for the Cirque du Soleil. It was quite boring, in my opinion.
The third act was the ever popular Ani Di Franco, who performed with energy. Her material seemed to more personal than political, but I don’t know her work and the lyrics of her songs generally don’t reveal themselves to me without liner notes. I can see and hear that she is doing interesting things with her guitar, and that she deserves her reputation for being innovative and edgy but overall I don’t really get it.
The big celebrity act of the festival was David Byrne, who delivered a very polished piece of progressive rock – which I hated. I had an argument with my friend Randy who thought it was brilliant. I thought the act was a musical Seinfeld show – all about the characters and their own attitude – which is basically about nothing.
Randy works backstage in Performer Hospitality as a Festival Volunteer. He reported that Byrne treated the Festival Staff and volunteers well, and did not bring any attitude. Byrne also is reported to have acquired a bike and to have gone off on his bike during the day to see Edmonton – and I endorse the bike riding and visiting Edmonton. I just didn’t get what his act was about.