Friday, July 27, 2007

The Volunteer Monologues: Calgary Folk Music Festival 2007

Day One - the work shift
My first shift as a newly-minted volunteer at the Calgary Folk Festival has me hooked on doing this for as long as humanly possible. This stuff is more addictive than crack cocaine.

I worked set up in the record tent on Thursday morning, so this was hours before the festival actually opens and the excitement and the can-do attitude in the park was palpable. It was a gorgeous summer morning as I strode onto Prince's Island, which was already a hive of activity, people hanging signs, golf carts transporting equipment, trucks unloading ATMs, and the crackle of two-way radios setting the background music. At 10:45 am, the die-hard tarpies were already lined up along the fence awaiting the 4:30 pm Running of the Folkies, that highly-competitive, yet somehow good-natured, rush for the best tarp location at the mainstage.
We worked pretty hard all day, and it was physical work - hauling and unpacking boxes of cds, hanging signs (which included the added challenge of hanging said signs from the side of a tent), moving panels, setting up a merch table, erecting a bag-check tent, plus we had to remember our alphabet as we set out the cds (which involved quite a lot more shuffling around than you would first imagine). All the while I completely enjoyed the comradery of the nicest bunch of people I could ever hope to be thrown in with.

A few of the perks included having lunch by the river with some of the crew, listening to Rufus Wainwright's soundcheck (and Hilary's shift ended in time for her to actually be one of the three people at the soundcheck itself - lucky girl), and the exclusive use of the still virginal port-a-potties. The aromas of the curry place just around the corner did manage to drive us bonkers, but in a good way.

I'm really looking forward to working my next shift on Saturday with my new best friend, Kris. I was all prepared to hate Kris; also a newbie volunteer, Kris had taken the initiative to design a spreadsheet of a complete back catalogue for all the artists at the festival, chronologically and with notes on each cd - extremely useful for the record tent staff. I figured someone that keen was bound to be a self-important blowhard, but he turned out to be the nicest person you could hope to meet, and a lot of fun to boot. Damn you anyway, Kris!

Day One - the show
Lubo Alexandrov
Clinton St John
The Sadies
Mary Flower
City and Colour
Rufus Wainwright
Our tarp was on the south side of the mainstage area and we had a problem hearing the musicians. I understand that the residents in the neighbourhood just south of the river had asked that the volume be turned down, so I am assuming that this was the reason. Whilst wandering, we did notice that the sound was much better elsewhere, so I assume it was being directed more northeastward. For the remainder of the weekend we'll just park ourselves on the other side. We'll be in the trees near the back on the north side, if you want to drop by.
Jerry is pretty sure he spotted Neko Case coming out of the beer gardens, and now has an even bigger crush on her than previously.
The show itself was pretty sublime. Lubo Alexandrov opened the evening with a tantalizing gypsy jazz set. The Sadies put on a lively show of rollicking blue-grassy, quick picking, punk-laced goodness. Mary Flower is an extraordinary guitarist, but I think it would be better to see her perform in a more intimate workshop setting. I am rather neutral about City and Colour, but was pleasantly surprised by his set, a nice acousticky offering that showed more range than I had realized. Nathan showcased their lovely sweeping harmonies and intimate stories and demonstrated once again why Winnipeg is such a hotbed of astonishing musicians.
And then there was Rufus Wainwright. Looking resplendantly fey in his fedex shorts with knee-high white socks, Rufus owned the stage with his drama and his wonderfully soaring voice, head thrown back as he poured out his soul at the piano. This is when I really found myself wishing that I could hear better, as many of his more introspective songs were almost inaudible from our vantage point. And forget about hearing any of the between songs banter.
But when Rufus encored with Hallelujah, all these trivial annoyances were forgotten, and we all stood and listened with our hands on our hearts. Figuratively, at least.
Day Two
I have no volunteer shift today, so I will be free to take in all the shows.
Tonight's line up:
Jim Byrnes
Crooked Jades
Los Munequitos de Matanzos
Adrienne Young
Squirrel Nuts Zippers
Hawksley Workman
Eleni Mandell
Neko Case
I will be skipping the first part of the mainstage in favour of heading over to my favourite sidestage, the Sunterra stage, where an evening show will feature:
Jon-Rae and the River
Final Fantasy
Jamaica to Toronto
I love the Sunterra stage. It's set in a beautiful little natural amphitheatre, well-treed so that it is deliciously cool on the most scorching day, and it offers that wonderful intimacy of the small stage. And as I have been panting to see Jon-Rae and the River and Final Fantasy for a long time, this will be a highlight of the festival.
Tonight the family is treating itself and we are staying at a hotel just steps away from the folk festival, so I'm going to head to the volunteers' after party and see if I can arm wrestle a few musicians.
Saturday and Sunday will be full days of workshops and volunteering and mainstage concerts. I learned my lesson last year and am wisely taking Monday off work, which is when I will report back with the rest of the highlights and some fabulous photos by the resident offspring photographer.
Till then, have a wonderful weekend, you gorgeous creatures!


justacoolcat said...

Wow, I am jealous.

Beth said...

Did you hug Rufus for me? Isn't he an amazing performer? I'm going to see him — with Neko! — in a couple of weeks.

Wish I could get to the festival!!!!

hilary m. said...

I still can't get over that soundcheck!! Wow!!
I'll tell you about my Mary Flower experience sometime.
And we all snuck up to the front of the dancefloor as soon as Rufus got on. We were all leaning over the fence, I don't think I've ever been so close in a concert before.
But he kept looking our way and smiling. Okay, I better stop gushing now.

Karen said...

I have to admit that I actually enjoyed it when I heard Rufus's "Chocolate and ..." something or other on the radio the other day. Darn the CBC and you for trying to influence me. Now I actually like him. Radiohead? Never...

Allison said...

Enjoy yourself this weekend, sounds like you are all going to have a great time. We will miss you however, so take good notes :)

Anonymous said...

Have you learned to play the spoons yet? Enjoy!

BeckEye said...

Lucky Duck.

But you still haven't talked about the guitar playing cow. You know how I love him.

mellowlee said...

I bet you are having a fabulous time! Can't wait to hear all about it!

Deb said...

Sounds like such a great experience Barb.

I noticed a name on there...Jim Byrnes. Many years ago, when he was little known around town, I spent an evening at my friend's aunt's cafe where Jim was playing. We had the pleasure of sitting with him afterward....such a great storyteller. Although it's little more than a blur now, as it was probably 30 years ago.

Barbara Bruederlin said...

You should be, Just A! It's way too much fun for one person.

I did not get to hug Rufus, Beth, thereby cementing the fact that you are the reigning Queen of the rock star huggers. But of course we already knew that. I did shake Hawskley Workman's hand and have a lovely conversation with him, however.

You did more than your share of rock star meeting, Hilary! Being the recipient of Rufus smiles and then meeting Owen Pallett, you don't get experiences like that every day.

hahaha Karen, it's all part of an insidious plot! Cigarettes and Chocolate Milk is a lovely song and Rufus Wainwright has many many more if you just give him a chance. Radiohead will be waiting.

I wish you could have been here to enjoy it for yourself, Al. It was pretty amazing. It will probably take me a week to fully process the experience. And then of course I will be blogging about it ad naseum.

I'm decent, but not a master, of the spoons by any means, Leazwell. I am however, a world class wooter and clapper and exhibited my skills consistently during the festival.

I didn't see the guitar-playing cow so much, Beckeye (and since you are a big city girl, I will forgive you for not knowing that all cows are girls), but I do have an accordian-playing cow on my volunteer shirt, which I think is even cooler! Accordians rock the casbah!

It was magical, Mel, and Eva took tonnes of pictures, which we'll be processing a bit later. Wish you could have been here.

Deb, yesterday I went to a workshop that Jim Byrnes was hosting and it was mindblowing. He has such a powerful and rich voice, perfect for the gospelly-bluesy theme of the workshop. He ddi tell some great stories too, so he hasn't lost the touch.