Claire and I stayed in Canmore on Tuesday after the Canmore Folk Festival, and drove to Edmonton on Wednesday.
We had planned to try some hiking and camping those days but we adapted to necessity. We had the car in a garage in Canmore to look at a transmission fluid leak, and managed to get it looked at very inexpensively, but we had to wait for the work. We spent the time with camping stuff – taking care of camp, cooking meals, walking, reading. We went directly to my friend Randy’s house in Edmonton and I had the car looked at again to deal with a problem I had noticed in Canmore which had not been addressed at the garage in Canmore.
We arrived at the Edmonton Folk Festival site in Gallagher Park in time to exchange our tickets for the weekend wristband passes and to pitch a tarp halfway up the hill.
The Edmonton Festival has a great site. The valley of the North Saskatchewan is deeply cut into the prairie, leaving a deep slope which forms a great natural ampitheatre in the park. The festival patrons have a view of the whole festival grounds, and the Edmonton sky-line.
The weather was good. After a rainy Wednesday, sunshine and wind had left the ground pretty dry. The weather stayed clear until well into the last set of the evening, when a thunderstorm hit.
The first set were the Madagascar group Jaojoby, who were received with enthusiasm.
The second set were the Dixie Hummingbirds, and they were one of the surprize treats that Edmonton offers. This group is a living lesson in developing and holding a musical tradition. Their tradition is gospel – real religious gospel music that is equally fitting for the Church or the concert stage. The group has a continuous history of 75 years. It is possible, in listening to them, to glimpse a part of the history of the blues and R & B and the Mo town sound, within their own pure line of interpretation and their own message.
The gap between the Hummingbirds and the next act was filled by Serena Ryder, who presented an interesting contrast. She is a young independent artist, and she greeted the audience with an exclamation – look at all those fucking people – which was probably calculated to get some attention and to build her reputation for being edgy and exciting.
Hawksley Workman and his band – with Ryder as guest guitarist and vocalist – gave an entertaining concert. They were poised, polished. Workman doesn’t sing clearly – lots of his lyrics were lost in the mix – but he is a witty and literate writer. That’s a little incongruous for an indie act, and it was interesting and novel. He has been building a following and he pleased his fans and earned some new ones.
Garnet Rogers performed solo, and he did much better than he had done at Canmore. I think there is a combination of confidence and familiarity with the material with a self-effacing shyness that sometimes drains the energy from his performance. This time he sang some humourous songs and some of his old songs, and reminisced about his many drives across the prairies, dating back to this days with his late brother Stan and their appearance at the inauguraul Edmonton Festival in 1980.
This led into a rare cover of one of Stan’s tunes, “The Field Behind the Plow” – with considerable choral support from the hillside, and then a full or unhurried version of “Night Drive”.
The last act of the night was Rodney Crowell, and I was impressed. I haven’t paid much attention to alt-country and I hadn’t followed his work. His lyrics are spare, edgy and elegant and his band plays with energy and passion.
And that’s the first night. Claire and I made it to the buses before the rain hit. We got wet dashing from the bus to the car at the Park and Ride site, but otherwise spend a comfortable evening.
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