Thursday, August 20, 2009

I've Been To The Folk Festival

The Rev. Peyton & his lovely wife, Breezy
Vancouver Folk Music Festival, 16 July 2009
Picture nicked from bswift

Dearest Friends, you won’t believe what happened to me! There I was, minding my own business, when all of a sudden I was abducted by a gang of hippies and folkies! It’s true!! I was held captive for three days during which I was fed nothing but patchouli, quinoa, and Pete Seeger. But that was just the beginning! After they had their wicked way with my innocence, they sold me into the slavery of Real Life!! Oh, the horror!! For a brief while I escaped on holiday, but as I was beginning to recuperate, Real Life found me hiding on an island and once again shackled me to a grindstone. Not the least comfortable grindstone I’ve ever been shackled to, but a grindstone nonetheless. Now I’ve been given a ten-minute loo break, which I’ve chosen to share with you, my lovelies!!

Right, I promised last time to tell you all about the Folk Festival, didn’t I? Well, I had a fantastic time - but not really for all the same reasons as previous years. You see, when I first started going to the Fest, it was purely for the music. Then I started volunteering, and my motivation became 80% music and 20% the volunteer “experience.” Well, this year I was surprised to find that I was equally rewarded by both aspects. Upon reflection, this was partly due to the fact that I wasn’t as galvanized by the music as in previous years; some of it left me unmoved, most of it I enjoyed mildly, and almost nothing triggered an epiphany.

Probably what surprised me the most was Arrested Development, who put on a series of intelligent, uplifting, and storming performances. I had long thought that gangsta and corporate bling had exterminated the Daisy Age in the hip hop wars, but I was inspired to see that there is still a guerrilla campaign of positivity being waged. In addition to their stonking headline on Friday’s main stage, AD’s core participated in a soulful Saturday morning session with Jamaican word warrior d’bi young (whose raw, defiant broadside against sexual violence both chilled and inspired), reggae poet Mutabaruka (righteous, if occasionally heavy-handed), and lyrical activist / mother Lisa Garza (who nearly made me cry).

I had wanted to catch Basia Bulat, but scheduling meant I only saw her perform a couple of songs. However, I later bumped into her eating an ice cream (she likes vanilla, BTW) and had a sweet little chat with her about our common Polish heritage. You see, the Fest is like that: you just run into artists, moreso if you're volunteering. In the kitchen tent I had another nice conversation with veteran Glaswegian firebrand folkie Dick Gaughan (reference: he sings with Billy Bragg on 'The Red Flag' off of BB's 'Internationale' EP). I asked him if he was going to play 'Stand Up For Judas,' which a friend of mine gave me in high school on a compilation tape that was one of my earliest exposures to Billy Bragg. He replied that he no longer played it live after discovering years ago that fans were bringing their religious friends to his gigs to shock them with the song. Though he was critical of religion, Dick didn't want to insult for the sake of insulting, even inadvertently, so he dropped the song from his set. Alas, shift timing meant I couldn't listen to what is in his set these days.

Still in Scotland, The Proclaimers put in an appropriately energetic set on Saturday night's Main Stage. Yes, all the songs you'd expect at one of their gigs were performed, including (natch) 'I'm Gonna Be,' which set the folkie crowd dancing in a sorta gawky pogo-helicopter stylee. A big, crowd-pleasing performance it was, and one that I found pleasant, if largely for reasons of nostalgia.

So, what moved me? Well, I was seriously impressed by Matt Andersen, a mountainous bluesman from New Brunswick whose voice he summons up from somewhere elemental Down South. I only saw him for a few songs, but they were something else. I also enjoyed Kate Reid, but not for the reasons you might expect. Kate does a good line in dyke-folk, in a sorta Ferron-meets-Indigo-Girls-meets-Ani-DiFranco-on-the-edge stylee. Which isn't admittedly my favourite idiom. But what got me was that she has soul. By which I mean she was earnest, righteous, determined, vulnerable, uncertain, honest, funny, witty, direct, unabashed, and celebratory, all at once. After seeing her I wanted to go out, right some wrongs , and hug people along the way.

My one moment of pure epiphany came, appropriately enough, on Sunday morning when I attended the hootin' & hollerin' service of Reverend Peyton & His Big Damn Band. Oh yeeeeeaaahhhhh!! With Reverend P pickin' on gee-tarr, his brother Jayme on drums and pickle barrel, and his wife Breezy on washboard, the Big Damn Band pumped out an electrifying mixture of punk, bluegrass, delta blues, country, and moonshine. This was a stompin' revival meeting at which the Holy Spirit Of Music descended and whacked you upside the head until you spoke in tongues and became a true believer! And just to make the point, Breezy set fire to her washboard during the last song. Phew!!

But enough about the music. At least half of the reason I enjoyed the Festival so truly, madly, deeply was that I had a blast hanging out with, and basking in the glory of, all the wild, weird, and wonderful people I met while volunteering. I once heard the Festival described as a sort of Brigadoon: a magical community that appears once every while out of seeming nothingness, then disappears suddenly, leaving you wondering if you ever really had been there. Now, with few exceptions (i.a. Sweeney Todd, Threepenny Opera, Little Shop of Horrors) I despise musicals, but I think the comparison is entirely appropriate. So a big shout-out to the Chess Nut, Frank the Prof, Magnificent Mairghread and her Team Z Commandos (who came to my aid as I shouted for backup chasing a crazed rogue cyclist through the crowd), Jennifer the Space Station Tracker, Mike the Dipsomaniac, Wistaria, Pascal, all of Team G, and the rest of the exotic fauna I omitted to mention. Slumber well until next year.

Right, loo break over - back to the grindstone. But here, have a few of these:

The Rev. Peyton's Big Damn Band - DTs Or The Devil (buy here or e-here)
Are DTs AND the Devil an option? Cuz I think it's both...

Matt Andersen - Tell Me (buy here)
He deserves to be huge.

Arrested Development - Revolution (buy here)
Get on up!

Kate Reid - Uncharted Territory (buy here)
This is the song that sold me on Kate.

Dick Gaughan - Stand Up For Judas (buy here or e-here)
One of those songs that takes what you know and tilts it on it's end for a different view.

Liza Garza - My Everything (cannae find anything of hers for sale!!)
This is the song that choked me up at the Festival. She sang it acapella, and quite frankly I think the backing music lessens the power. Here, look at this instead - this is much more like it. And yes, she choked up at the Fest as well: