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Canmore Folk Festival

Saturday was cold. We huddled under our insufficient number of blankets to watch Vinok Worlddance and their many costume changes, then some other group that was also reasonably entertaining, and then 2 that weren’t quite so great. I think one of the not so great ones might have been Fred Eaglesmith. His stories were pretty funny and he had a really good band but it was really cold.

Sunday started out quite nice. Vinok did a workshop so I got to try an Israeli dance, a Greek dance, and some Balkan dances. The last dance they did was called All-American Promenade, except it was exactly the same dance as what SCA dance groups call the Gay Gordons, which is a dance I quite like. Then the Arrogant Worms did a set that was supposed to be a children’s concert, except that at least half the audience were adults (notice I’m not saying grownups). They sang a song about “My Crazy Stalker Girl” and the group of people in front of us were laughing and pointing at their friend, indicating that she was the one the song was about. Then we saw a way whole bunch more workshops with much enthusiastic guitar, mandolin, and banjo picking.

Now I remember what other group I liked so much on Saturday night. They were called the Codependents and they were like a cover band for every 50s and 60s group imaginable, like Roy Orbison, the Beatles, Elvis, etc. I wasn’t quite sure their music counted as folk music, but it was really fun to see all those classic old songs live.

Back to Sunday night. It started with a singer named Holly Arntzen from somewhere in BC, possibly Salt Spring Island, who is a “cause” singer and a real flake (also she butchers Stan Rogers songs in front of Stan Rogers’ son, but that’s another story). Her “cause” is the environment. This leads to her singing a song about how there is going to be world war because of a worldwide water shortage, and then two songs later a song about how all the water that was around during the time of the dinosaurs is all the same water that is around now because due to the conservation law of water water is neither created nor destroyed.

We also saw Christine Lavin, who is usually extremely funny. Among other songs, she sang a song that was a recipe for an extremely involved bread recipe (“It only takes 16 hours from start to finish!”), a new song about wind chimes driving her nuts in Hawaii, and “Sensitive New Age Guys”, in which she gets members of the audience and usually members of other bands to come up and sing the chorus with her. For her finale she did her famous baton-twirling act. Another singer we saw on Sunday was Janis Ian. I have never heard of Janis Ian but apparently she is some kind of singer-songwriter legend. She sang some songs about September 11. Then we saw the Waifs, from Australia, who we had seen last year at the Calgary folk festival, they were pretty good, and James Keelaghan, whose backup musicians were all dressed in orange. That was pretty much the most exciting thing about James Keelaghan. I guess he has a pretty good voice, but I just don’t like the guy-with-a-guitar style of folk music. I’m pretty sure everyone in the entire audience was disappointed that he’s no longer performing with Oscar Lopez.

My favorite band of the evening was the Waybacks, who are kind of like an old-timey country band from San Francisco, except that they throw in bits of Purple Haze in the middle of their songs and play their mandolins, fiddles, and guitars behind their backs. They were funny, high-energy, and extremely talented, except that by this time it was raining so hard that we were in standard Canmore Folk Festival position with the tarp in front of us pulled right up to our noses and the tarp behind us pulled way up over our heads and theoretically far enough forward that any drips would drip directly onto the tarp in front of us, except that in practice all drips dumped periodically right onto my face. We went home after that, even though there was one more act to come, but my parents stayed and afterwards said they wished they hadn’t.

Monday was actually reasonably nice, which was good because if it had been rainy and miserable like Sunday I probably wouldn’t have been motivated to stay the entire day. We started the day off with a workshop of all of the really good guitar pickers from the various bands, and then just parked in front of the mainstage for all of the workshops that happened there. The first show of the evening was a group of First Nations women who sang various of their cultural songs, which I think were mostly Iroquois or Mohawk or something like that. I was trying to be open-minded and accepting of other cultures, I really was, but their songs really all sounded the same to me because they don’t use words, they just use the same nonsense syllables again and again for every song, and they sing in unison, and they have drums and rattles and stuff but they just beat those in unison too and it all just starts to sound the same. Oh, and even though three of the women really did appear to be of First Nations heritage, the fourth one was maybe like 1/16 Metis but really in touch with her First Nations ancestry.

I really don’t want to come across too much like I’m slagging this particular group, but when they were contrasted with Linda Tillery and the Cultural Heritage Choir, the other all-female cultural group that was there, you could really see why the First Nations women were on during the dinner hour and Linda Tillery and the CHC were the headliners. Linda Tillery’s group has an amazing range in their repertoire, from spirituals to Yoruba praise songs to Rockin’ Robin to this song where each of them imitated a different instrument in a jazz band. They have complex rhythms on a wide variety of percussion instruments including the box that Linda Tillery sits on, they get up and dance, and their vocal harmonies are to die for.

Other groups that we saw on Monday were the Arrogant Worms (they sang a very funny song about being a boy band), this woman called Karen Savoca who played the hippie drums and sang irritating and weird jazz, and the Bill Hilly Band, a group of six guys from Victoria who play old-timey music, klezmer, Shostakovich, and pretty much everything else in between.

At the very end they brought out all of the musicians on the stage for the traditional finale, which consisted of Will the Circle Be Unbroken, something else in the middle that I don’t remember but that might have been a Stan Rogers song, and Rise Again, which is definitely a Stan Rogers song. I should mention that Stan Rogers’s son Nathan, who is a young man with bullets through his ears, a ring in his tongue, a degree in religious studies, and a very good voice, was at the festival all weekend doing in-betweeners, which is where a guy or a girl with a guitar gets up and sings at the emcee microphone while the sound crew sets up the stage for the next band. So you might think that they would have Nathan sing Rise Again during the finale. But oh no, they had Holly Arntzen instead, and we’ve already established how she butchers Stan Rogers songs by having this sort of wispy, flaky voice, swaying back and forth with her hippie coat and her masses of grey curls, and taking liberties with the tune and the rhythm. So that was kind of uncool, but overall I guess the festival gets three and a half pints.

Score: Three and a Half Pints

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