Thursday, August 02, 2007

The Volunteer Monologues: Weekends are for workshops

Already the individual events of the Calgary Folk Festival are starting to blur into one big mass of hazy feel-good memories. You know what they say, if you remember it, you weren't there.

But what I do recall, is that Saturday and Sunday of the festival are consistently my favourite days, because of the workshops. And just having a short walk from the hotel to Prince's Island Park was an added bonus on Saturday morning. We all decided on Love, Lust, Liquor, Knives for our inaugural workshop, featuring Rembetika Hipsters, Geoff Berner, and Lubo Alexandrov and Kaba Horo. You know you are in for that sort of a day when Geoff Berner is regaling you with tales of blasphemy and debauchery at 10:30 in the morning.

Saturday was also the first day in which I was actually scheduled to work with festival patrons at the Record Tent (as opposed to setting up), and I was looking forward to talking music with people. But as I was scheduled to work from 5-10pm, I had the luxury of an entire day of workshopping first. And I put every second to good use, if I do say so myself. The uninitated might think that a folk festival would be all about laise faire and whatever will be will be, and perhaps for some people it is, but I like to plan my musical attacks. I took in Chirgilchin's Tuvan throat singing concert, followed by an absolutely crazy workshop featuring the bad-ass hip-hop cowboy from Nova Scotia - Ridley Bent, along with the band I was now firmly in love with - John-Rae and the River, and Polaris prize winner and crowd favourite - Final Fantasy. Jeremy Fisher was a no-show. Then it was over to the Dreamscapes workshop for my first encounter with the Calgary band with the lovely dark and dreamy sound - the Cape May, along with the surprisingly sassy Eleni Mandell, and once again Final Fantasy, who seemed to be increasingly comfortable with actually being out in the fresh air. Eva even spotted him in the back of a golf cart later (which is how musicians are transported around the site) and he was obviously loving the thrill of going over hills at high speeds.

Then it was off to my shift in the record tent. Holy mother of god it was hot in there, but at least we were out of the sun. I spent the first hour or so helping people find cds, answering questions and making recommendations. It's an exercise which makes one feel disturbingly omnipotent, and it is probably a very good thing that I am not a financial advisor or something. Or a physician. The highlight of the day of course was meeting with and discussing the fleeting nature of life itself with Hawksley Workman.

I then tried my hand at working the t-shirt area where I discovered that I am useless at folding t-shirts. Frankly, I'm surprised anybody bought anything the way I mucked up those piles. It was with great relief that I was then transferred to door duty, where I made sure that people checked their bags and didn't steal anything. The security fellow I worked with happened to be a long-time counselor from the camp Eva has been attending for years, so he told me nice things about her, which was gratifying.

The last rotation was to the mandatory bag check, where I stabbed myself with pins uncountable times and got yelled at by some irate people who were ironically trying to assure me that they had never stolen anything in their lives. But generally people were really laid back and I did not lose one bag. Yay me! I did however, smash up my reading glasses (which I had forgotten I had tucked into my shirt) when I dragged a big pallet over top of them whilst hauling everything in for the night.

But there was no time to worry about that, as I raced off to the mainstage to catch the last part of the concert. While working, I missed Ollabelle, Bettye LaVette (my biggest regret, as I understand she was absolutely gobsmacking), Brett Dennen, Edie Brickell and the New Bohemians, New Orleans Social Club, and Chris Smither. I caught the final ten minutes of Bela Fleck and the Flecktones - a band whom a lot of people had been raving about - and they did rock pretty hard; they even had a pirate. Then we came down a bit and went a bit country with Slaid Cleaves (whom a number of the women were enamoured with). And I have to admit we didn't stay for the final act - Great Big Sea - because we were all pooped, hadn't been home since the previous afternoon and was the cat ever going to be pissed, and we had another early start the next day.

And the next day came very early indeed. Sunday was another +30C day with no clouds and no breeze. I was actually rather grateful that my shift was 2-7 as it would ensure that I would be out of the sun for a while. Again, we all took in the first workshop as a family - Spared Change, featuring the Battlefield Band from Scotland (they had bagpipes!), Chumbawamba (whom I was very curious to see - what do you do post-Tubthumping?), Crooked Still from Boston (who had a gorgeous haunting new-grass sound), and the Nashville duo of Darrell Scott and Gabe Dixon. This workshop really hit all the high points - all the bands joining in and playing so well together, making for a sound and an experience which will never be replicated. The woman who plays the horn in Chumbawamba had assumed the hosting role and we loved her. In fact, she has since become a regular in a game we play called Who Would Win in a Fight, where she is one of the highest ranking players, due to her fierceness.

I then luxuriated in the shade at the Long Story Short workshop (the Sadies, the Cape May, PF Sloan, and Oh Susanna). I heard Secret Agent Man (PF Sloan's big hit) a few too many times over the weekend, but the oldsters sure seemed to dig it. And for my final workshop of the festival, I found redemption in a shady grove with Jim Byrnes, John-Rae and the River, and Crooked Still, which was a glorious sendoff for my workshopping.
I had about 40 minutes to grab some food before my shift, and the rest of the family were off doing their own thing, so I headed over to the hospitality area again where I shared lunch and conversation with a dispatcher and a security guy in a kilt. It wasn't the security guy in a kilt with the awesome red mohawk whom I had noticed earlier, but an equally cool guy. They ran out of turkey so I had tofu again and even got an extra piece of baklava to make up for it. Score!

The record tent was just buzzing with people anxious to spend all their money before the weekend ran out and I had a blast on the floor. Somehow I became known as the resident subject matter expert on Neko Case. While working the baggage check later in the afternoon, I was able to hear music from the Out of the Frying Pan workshop, featuring the Squirrel Nut Zippers with snippets of the Final Fantasy concert coming from the other direction during the lulls. It was a strange and oddly lovely cacophony. I'm rather sad I missed seeing the amazing tailed shirt that Owen Pallett was sporting during the concert, but boy did I hear about it.

When the mainstage concert began, I was shifted over to the little satellite stand we had by the mainstage which featured only cds from musicians playing that night. I got to act upon a Code 8 (ie, bring me an icecream) which made me feel rather like a paramedic, and I had a boffo view of the mainstage itself. I spent the majority of time during Sarah Slean's performance apologizing for selling out of her cds, but did manage to listen to Chumbawamba's mainstage set, which is when I decided that I needed to buy one more cd for myself. My volunteer gig wrapped up just as John-Rae and the River were finishing their short set and Leo Kottke took over the stage.

Nobody in the family was particularly interested in staying for Don McLean, who was the final act of the night, but Eva and I were quite keen to hear Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings. However, Jerry was so overwhelmed by this point, by the sun and the long days of sitting in a festival chair, and really needed to get home, so we packed up and dragged our tired bodies and our blissful memories back home to the burbs, saying a whistful adieu to the beautiful island.
Now if you have made it all the way through this gargantuan post, you are truly hardcore, and you have what it takes to survive a folk festival. Consider coming to Calgary next July for the best one in the world.

If you have made it through this post, you also deserve a reward. Please come back tomorrow to accept your prize.


mellowlee said...

Aye Karumba!! That was amazing! You must have been exhausted just writing it all down! I can't wait to experience the festival myself one day!

Barbara Bruederlin said...

You made it all the way through that post, Mel? You are a trooper. You've got the right stuff for the folk festival. Come visit in July and I will take you there.

mellowlee said...

Yes, and I enjoyed it very much!Did Eva take all of those photos? They are great! It gives the feeling of being there. I hope I can come next summer...soon anyways!

Allison said...

Phew, that was a post! But a good one, I must say. I had to read it in installments, sorry :)

Were you asked any interesting questions 'bout music at the record tent?

I love how the women who plays horn in Chumbawamba has now been inducted into your game, which sounds quite fun.

There seems to be so many highlights, it honestly sounds like a kick ass festival. I hope one day I'll be able to see for myself!

Allison said...

Oh, and I was happy to here Owen seem to come out of his shell a bit. He does seem like the indoor type :)

Becky said...

I was lucky and got first row seats for the Love Lust and Liquor workshop... it was fun :)
Sounds like the record tent was a pretty volunteer gig! At our fest it's pretty much trash pick-up. You're lucky to be able to deal with all music, you must be a bit of an expert!

Barbara Bruederlin said...

Eva did take all the photos; I thought those concert ones taken from the screens were surprisingly good. You really should come next summer.

I think I'm done being verbose now, Al, so it is safe for people to come back here hahaha. You've got the right stuff if you made it through that, installment readings are not only allowed, they are encouraged.
A lot of the questions were ones I was expecting, which album should I buy, which songs did they play last night, which is their newest album. Some questions were tougher, like did the banjo player from such and such have a cd here (because sometimes they did), plus questions about cds of artists who had never been to the folk festival, which were easy enough to find out, but the compilation cd questions were trickier.
My favourite though was the young fellow who asked about the Six String Nation guitar cd, which I am still not sure exists.
You really must join us at the festival some day and we will teach you all our games, like Who Would Win in a Fight and Scenester Bingo and such.

Oh nice score on the seats for that workshop, Becky! Did Geoff Berner spill his drink on you?
We were under the trees to the left as you faced the stage, because we were shade seeking.
Picking up trash would be fun too, as you would get to see a lot, but yes record tent is so satisfying.

Johnny Yen said...

My first wife was friends with the folks in Chumbawumba-- she'd met them somehow on a trip to England, and would stay with them in their big house whenever she went over there. When she and I were separated, they had their big hit. She and I were talking one night and she laughed, and joked that they probably hired a servant to make tea; whenever she visited, there were constant arguments over whose turn it was to get up and make the big communal urn of tea for the house.

Barbara Bruederlin said...

You have the best stories, Johnny! I will forever picture them arguing over the tea-making now. And I'll bet the horn-player usually wins.

Danny Tagalog said...

Hey - that was very readable, but poor old Don - he might have surprised you. Didn't know those Leeds anarchists were still going either.

Envious man in Tokyo

justacoolcat said...

What an event! Anytime I need someone to protect me from ironic pen thieves you are top of the list.

Joe said...

I'll pay the shipping if you want to send the prize to me here in Chicago. I'm not sure I can make it up there for the pickup.

I love the Squirrel Nut Zippers and Neko Case. The whole thing sounds like a big load o' fun.

Evelyne said...

It seems that you really enjoy the Festival, despite the heat. But just reading that I can't figure how you managed to do all that without being way too tired.

Barbara Bruederlin said...

By that point, we were immune to surprises, Danny, so unless Don was standing on his head playing guitar with his feet, we wouldn't have noticed. Chumbawamba is indeed still at it - they were grand!

Just A, if you had the need to leave your valuable disappearing bathing suit pen in my care whilst you shopped, you could be assured that not only would you get all your goods back, but that the lady on the pen would still be wearing her bathing suit when you returned.

The Squirrel Nut Zippers really surprised me, Bubs, they were a blast. And thanks to the wonders of this fancy internetz thing, your prize is coming to you cybernetically.

It did take me almost a week to stop feeling tired afterward, Evelyne. It's probably a good thing it only comes once a year.