Thursday July 7, 2005, Winnipeg Folk Festival. My report on weather, site, music and whatever else I want to blog about.
The grounds were not bad at the start of the day. Some areas were dry, but any turf of soil was still saturated, even after a few sunny windy days. There were patches of standing water, and mud including a large area at stage right. Some soggy areas had been roped off to prevent people churning the fragile turf into gumbo. Through the afternoon (I was there at 3:45 before the gates opened to work a security shift, 4-8 at Site West) and the early evening, a strong wind worked to break the heat and humidity. It was a lovely sunny hot day, until a big thunderstorm at the end of the evening.
The forecasters had predicted a sytem of thundershowers crossing southern Manitoba and they were right – it hit around 10:45. There was heavy rain. The crowd was leaving so I don’t know if the field was trampled hard after the rain started. I think some areas of the main stage field will have been flooded. I wonder if they are going to try to pump off the standing water. The forecast for the next three days is hot and sunny. If they can get rid of the standing water, the ground may dry out fast.
On opening day, the music is presented from the main stage in an evening concert. The new artistic director Chris Frayer experimented a bit, and his programming seemed to have been received well.
The mainstage hosts were local actor and comedian Al Simmons, and Philly Markewitz of CBC Roots and Wings. Simmons is familiar and concentrates on entertaining with little tricks and stunts. Markewitz was more of a commentator and critic – not what I want from a host.
There was a problem getting the Kawa Brass Band, scheduled as the opening act, into action. Local alt-country band Nathan, scheduled second, were pressed into service, set up fast, and playing by about 6:15 PM. They played their country-swing songs, stayed away from their more darkly comical material, entertained and impressed. Valdy played a short set. He is still a polished professional performer, still annoying in his peace, love and granola rhetoric. This year the ” ‘tweener” have been picked in advance and listed in the program, and they are getting to play 20 minutes, enough time for 3-5 songs each.
The Kawa Brass Band were interesting – an ensemble from Jaipur, India, playing a combination of instruments. The back story of their tradition is the adoption of brass wind instruments, brought to India by the British, into an Indian tradition. The result has the complex rhythms of Indian percussion with an almost jazzy brass sound.
Ba Cissoko, a group of young men from Guinea, featuring virtuoso kora player, impressed the crowd and moved the dancers. They have taken rock and roll instruments inside some of the traditional songs of Guinea, and developed a danceable, accessible sound.
Jessie DeNatale played a shorter set. Markewitz hailed him as the next great thing – too much hype. He plays and acoutic, bluesy folk. His voice is expressive, but raw with a sound a bit like Dylan, Van Morrison or Springsteen. His songs have strong melodies, a good sound. I am undecided on the power of his lyrics. I may see him again if I can steer myself into fence patrol near the Big Bluestem stage this afternoon.
Chris Frayer’s last gig was programming the Winnipeg Jazz festival. I don’t know how deeply he immersed himself in jazz culture, but he seems to like to throw a jazz sound into the festival. The next big act on the mainstage was Bill Frisell, who played a largely instrumental, bluegrass/roots/jazz fusion. The audience were puzzled at first but appreciative, and ultimately caught in the music. It was an impressive moment.
Local artist Alana Levandoski had a tweener. I have heard of her but I hadn’t heard her live. Quite good. A voice and vocal style that reminds me of Iris DeMent – a real heartbreaker. She doesn’t seem to be quite as terribly depressed about life as DeMent manages to sound. I didn’t really get a clear sense of her lyrics.
The closing act was supposed to be Ricky Skaggs and Kentucky Thunder but when real live Manitoba thunder started to roll in, I knew the lightning flashes in the cloudline were getting close and the rain was coming – and I bailed.