Monday, July 28, 2008

The Volunteer Monologues 2.0: A perfect night, listening

Friday, July 25
Great Lake Swimmers have a quietly spiritual edge to their music. Their heartbreakingly gorgeous and deceptively simple songs evoke the feeling that you are a tiny but integral piece of some glorious spectral puzzle.

I decided to forego the bluegrass banjos of the Carolina Chocolate Drops and the crazy harmonica of Charlie Musselwhite over at the main stage to lounge instead on the grass in front of the more intimate alternative evening stage, luxuriating in a performance by Great Lake Swimmers. Although a tabletop home cloning machine would certainly come in handy for times like this, I have no regrets. With Tony Dekker's fragile but timbered voice drifting out over the crowd and out above the treeline to be carried off into the cosmos, I couldn't help but feel a connection with the others who were gathered. Sometimes there is peace to be found in quiet listening.

But you can only be peaceful for so long, and all too soon we were again on the move, this time foregoing what I was later told was a great set by Bill Callahan at the evening stage to join the throngs at mainstage. We just missed perennial festival favourite, Wendy McNeill's, mini set, but were able to get comfortably settled with a gigantic bag of kettle corn on our blanket in our top secret location to catch the start of The Be Good Tanyas' sweetly lyrical set. I have been listening to their addictive form of new grass for years, but have never had the chance before to see them perform. They were charming and elegant and a little bit sassy.

And then after listening to the evening's MC, Shane Koyczan, recite poetry for far too long (an occurrence which was inexplicably repeated on Sunday night), we were finally treated to a performance by the musically enigmatic Andrew Bird. I do enjoy listening to some of Andrew Bird's vast back catalogue when I am in a particular mood, but I was not quite prepared for the mind-blowing experience of watching him perform his music. As is always true, it is better to see the music performed live, but with Andrew Bird this truth goes one step further; watching him play violin, guitar, and mandolin, and listening to that unbelievable whistling, while he weaves his intricate and looping sonic landscapes, takes the experience to an entirely new level. Many of us stood for an ovation at the end of his set (and at the folk festival, this is not a meaningless and overdone cliche as it is too often in the real world) and he graced us with a short encore.

The lovely Basia Bulat, she of the powerhouse voice and the voice that is somewhat reminiscent of Tracy Chapman but so much more than that, performed a short solo set, whilst accompanying herself on autoharp, and then the highly anticipated Calexico took the stage. They are another band of musical chameleons, primarily focusing on mariachi sounds, but drawing from a much broader base than just another mariachi band. As is so true of that area of the world, the musical influences are broad and varied, and Calexico has a vast background of musical influence to call upon.

It was dark by the time Calexico hit the stage, and the lights of the various tents lining the grassy area had already flickered to life, imparting upon Prince's Island the almost magical feel of small village - a hobbit village perhaps - nestled amongst the trees and shielded from the world by the fast-flowing river on either side. On Friday night, Calexico were at their best with horns swirling and latin rhythms flowing. I though perhaps they played a few too many slower, more contemplative pieces that would have been better suited for a spot earlier in the evening. By now the field of tarps and blankets were ready to dance under the stars. You could just feel it in the vibes.

Gurf Morlix followed up with a mini-set, and although his laid-back Texan drawl may not have exactly suited the mood of folkies ready to dance, there is no denying that he bears the best name at the folk festival, perhaps even in music today. I think it will be a very long time before we stop using his name as an expression of surprise in the Zombie household. "Gurf Morlix, that's a big spider!" Stuff like that.

Bedouin Soundclash, returning for a second year, had the honour of closing off Friday night of the festival. Their appearance was met with a roar of approval, and a good quarter of the field got up to dance. Somewhat surprisingly, they played a rather more soulful set than you might expect for a band that, for me anyway, conjures up a nouveau reggae feel. They played a heartfelt and personal set, calling out tributes to Joe Strummer and to grandparents who had passed.

Bedouin Soundclash benefited from having top billing by virtue of the fact that during their set the Lamplighter Parade, which is a nightly folk festival tradition consisting of a meandering line of lighted lanterns of varying fantastical lighted shapes (flying pigs, watering cans, peace symbols), ambled their way throughout the audience, ultimately lighting the way for festival goers to traipse their way home from the park. It truly was a magical sight, that imparted a slightly surrealistic atmosphere to the festival, and by extension, to the final performance.

After a glorious evening (and the last of the reliable weather, we were soon to discover) we had a quick walk to our hotel, where we had no responsibilities and a breakfast awaiting us the next morning for a very long full Saturday of workshops and record tent duties and mainstage performances that prevailed over inclement weather.

Details of all this, and of some great encounters, to follow.


phlegmfatale said...

*envy mode*

mister anchovy said...

I'd love to see Charlie Musselwhite perform!

Allison said...

I figured Andrew Bird would be amazing in concert, just from the few YouTube clips I have watched.

Did you see Conor Oberst as well?

Barbara Bruederlin said...

It's the best part of the summer, Phlegmfatale! I can't believe it's already over for another year.

The Spousal Unit did see Charlie Musselwhite, Mister Anchovy, and was pretty much blown away by his harmonica virtuosity.

Andrew Bird was incredible, Al, much more so than I expected. I DID see Conor Oberst and he was absolutely not what I expected. Details, of course, upcoming, but here's a tip - buy the new album coming out this week.

Allison said...

I already (cough) have it. ;) I meant to offer it to you before you went to see him. Alas, I forgot. Quite enjoying it.


When are you getting to the wild hail, rain, thunder and lightning part of the festival? I'm on pins and needles!

Barbara Bruederlin said...

If it is half as good as the show they put on Sunday night, Al, it is worth having in your collection.

Wild weather report coming up shortly, Urban Blonde! Of course we die-hards hippies were not too daunted by same.