Tuesday, July 29, 2008

The Volunteer Monologues 2.0: Voices in the rain

Saturday, July 26
After learning the hard way that your rain gear and tarp do you absolutely no good when they are in the back of the urban assault vehicle that’s parked several blocks away, we have accepted that there is no such thing as over-preparing for the possibility of inclement weather on Prince’s Island, and we schlep everything with us. This philosophy served us well on both Saturday and Sunday of the Calgary Folk Festival this year.

Saturday morning dawned with perfect festival weather and, because I was scheduled to work an early shift at the record tent, I strolled right past the lineups waiting to enter the park, tapping into the vast powers imparted to me by my volunteer badge and shirt. It was disturbingly empowering, this fast-track status, and I vowed to only use that incredible power for the purposes of good.

Volunteering at the record tent from 10-5 meant that I was only able to partake of one workshop during my break that day, so I had to choose prudently. Would I listen to concerts by Martyn Joseph, Wendy McNeill, or no luck club? Or would I catch one of the three workshops that were running simultaneously? Ultimately, I decided on the Wicked and Weird workshop, featuring the Weakerthans (my only chance to see them this festival), Calexico, the Handsome Family, and Torngat. It was under the shady canopy of trees surrounding the Mercury Stage that I chanced upon my first online to real-life encounter of the weekend and then met up with the entire Zombie family as well. Eventually you will see everybody at the Folk Festival.

Volunteering in the record tent continued to be the best thing in the history of best things. Talking to people about the incredible lineup of musicians at the festival, making cd recommendations, helping them find out who was that band I just saw anyway? You know the one, they played at that stage and they had that guy who played that instrument? It’s times like this that you are really able to put all those years of research training to good use. I was thrilled to meet Stephanie and add another notch onto my blogger meet-up belt, and I really hope we have the chance to see each other again at the Radiohead concert in Seattle next month.

I was even able to sneak out for five minutes to have Basia Bulat sign her Polaris Prize short-listed cd for me. Don’t fear, I stood in line like a civilian and did not abuse the power of the yellow shirt. Basia is incredibly friendly and welcoming, and later at the hospitality tent, we got into a “you first, no you first” scrap when we ended up at the plate pickup at the same time. She is the furthest thing imaginable from a prima donna.

I had arranged to meet the Spousal Unit and Resident Offspring at our tarp after my shift, but made a detour to the hospitality tent first to pick up a plate of grilled portabello mushroom, three salads, a slice of hearty bread and a chocolate chip cookie. Good healthy festival grub. The skies had been looking increasingly threatening on the way into the tent, with mutterings of thunder being distantly audible, and by the time I left with my plateful, the rain had begun. I briefly considered heading back into the tent to eat in comfort, but the main stage show was about to start, I had seen only one workshop that day, and I was at a folk festival damn it, a little rain was not going to kill me.

The rain was coming down in earnest when I got back to the main stage, and, as everyone had now pulled an identical blue tarp over themselves and all their goods, and as I had not yet been to this area that day, I wasn’t entirely sure where my zombies were located, so I pulled up the hood on my windbreaker and stood on the periphery, tucking into my meal before it got too soaked.

There could not have been a better opener for the night, given the circumstances, than Josh Ritter and his band of gingers. (Okay, they weren’t all gingers, but they certainly did represent.) We didn’t even care that we were getting soaked when Josh Ritter started playing. Smart and socially conscious lyrics, criminally catchy tunes, and choruses that make you sing along even when you don’t know the words, this is the sort of music that will get you through the rain. I am ashamed to admit that I did not know his infectious music prior to the festival.

And the man himself is absolutely adorable. When the sun broke through the rain and the rainbows started appearing, they could not compete with the big grin on Josh Ritter’s face. We loved him and I consider him to be one of my big discoveries of the weekend. My only regret is that I did not run over to the record tent to buy his cds right away, because they were sold out by the time I did get there.

It had temporarily stopped raining when the Duhks took the stage next. They are a young band from Winnipeg who draw upon that city’s multicultural roots to bring a jaw-dropping and high energy mix of zydeco, gypsy, celtic, and Franco-Manitoban influences. Sarah Dugas belts out the songs with such obvious joy that the Duhks are nearly impossible to resist.

After an Arabic fusion miniset by Maryem Toller and the Toronto Cairo Collective, A Hawk and a Hacksaw took over and seduced us with their strange but oddly compelling Turkish remixes on accordion and violin. You could hear the Neutral Milk Hotel pedigree in the accordion playing of Jeremy Barnes. And I believe the sun was back out by this point.

James Blood Ulmer then laid down some pretty funky grooves on his guitar, but from his banter, which sounded more like a directive, I got the impression that perhaps he was the prima donna the festival had been missing thus far.

We got some more Gurf Morlix (the man with the coolest name in music) when he joined Sam Baker for a mini set, and then it was the highly anticipated The Men They Couldn’t Hang. In an era of olde punks relocating the keys to their tour buses and regaling us with their signature sounds, The Men They Couldn’t Hang are a welcome addition to the likes of Wire, Butthole Surfers, and The Feelies. And in a nod to the fact that olde punks are indeed getting older, I did notice that the MTCH t-shirts that we were selling in the record tent were available in some pretty generous sizes.

Despite the fact that the miners’ strikes in Britain are long over, and Margaret Thatcher no longer rules with an iron fist, the celtic punk songs of social justice still bear relevance today, and The Men They Couldn’t Hang had people up dancing and they had me singing along with The Green Fields of France.

When Mark Erelli started his short set prior to the final act of the night – Blue Rodeo – the rain started in again for the third time. Despite having just been energized by a group of punks who refuse to get old, some of our group were reminded by our yawns and shivering that we were in fact no longer twenty. And once the Spousal Unit and I both admitted that there was no way we had it in us to stay for even the start of the volunteer after party at midnight, we thankfully called it a night.

I was determined to have lots of energy for a full day of workshops the next day, followed by much coveted shift at the main stage record tent, where I would be able to see the evening’s performances while flogging cds. Best of both worlds.


Allison said...

I am glad to hear you did not use your powers for evil.

I've heard rumblings of this Josh Ritter you speak of, I will have to check him out. He certainly looks adorable.

Funny you should mention the 80s clime of Britain. I was just having this discussion with a few friends yesterday, as we were remarking how still, the smaller villages in the North are devoid of any infrastructure, everything crushed under Thatcher. Its really depressing to drive through the towns.

Tangent aside, nice review. Look forward to hearing about Sunday. :)

Teddy said...

You know Josh Ritter... I know you do.

He wrote "Girl in the War", which Matt covers.

"Peter said to Paul you know all those words we wrote?

Are just the rules and the rules are the first to go..."

Where's Teddy Now? - he went to Pemberton instead.

Barbara Bruederlin said...

Maybe that's part of the reason that these old British protest bands still denounce the Thatcher era so passionately, Al - the influence is still being felt.
Yes, you must look for Josh Ritter - worth the effort!
And it was relatively easy to beat down the evil superpowers that could so easily have come with the yellow tee; it was a folk festival, after all.

Ah yes! That was Josh Ritter? Well there you go then. Thanks for setting the record straight, Teddy.
The Pemberton lineup sounds pretty fun, you'll have to fill us in on all the musical action therein.

mellowlee said...

Hi Barb! I really enjoyed your festival posts! It must have been difficult to decide what to see with so much going on. I think I would be like a puppy chasing her tail trying to decide what to do! So much to see/hear! :O)


I'm intrigued by the Duhk's and The Men they couldn't hang (great name!), must check them out.

Looks like you escaped the worst of it down there, we experienced marble sized hail here in the 'hood.

Your festival grub sounds delicious! What a great musical weekend you guys had!

Barbara Bruederlin said...

I was that puppy, Mel! Sometimes it was hard not to fall into the "what else is on?" trap, but it was a folk festival and a certain laid-back attitude is required.

The Duhks and the Men They Couldn't Hang were both great, Urban Blonde. We got wet a few times on Saturday, but the crazy weather didn't actually start till Sunday. And then as we arrived home soaking wet Sunday night, we found the sidewalks dry here.

Barbara Bruederlin said...

btw the Duhks are playing SAIT on November 21.

Dr. Monkey Von Monkerstein said...

I feel like I'm right there with you when I read these. Thanks for all your hard work.

bloody awful poetry said...

You had a "you first no you first" scrap with Basia Bulat?? That. Is. So. Awesome!

Oooh Josh Ritter! I'm surprised you haven't heard him before. Listen to "Thin Blue Flame". Absolutely killer 9 minute epic.

Barbara Bruederlin said...

It was my pleasure, Dr M. To be truthful, writing about the festival is as much for my benefit in reliving the experience as anything, but I'm very happy to have you along for the ride.

It's true, BAP, volunteering at the festival affords you many opportunities to rub shoulders with musicians (especially in the record tent).
Thanks for the Josh Ritter tip, I will be looking for his music later this week, to hide my shame at the gap in my education.

Gifted Typist said...

ah, the power of the volunteer

I always love talking to he volunteers in the music selling tent. So keen, so willing to talk.

Bet you were fabby.

Anonymous said...

Interesting Blog.

I heard that The Men They Couldn't Hang were the highlight of the weekend which just goes to make me even more gutted that I could only get there for the Sunday.

Barbara Bruederlin said...

You bet I was flabby? Oh, fabby! I was both actually, Gifted. And I was indeed one of those keener record tent volunteers who will talk the ear off anyone who doesn't run away fast enough. Sold lots of cds though!

Not only did you miss the Men They Couldn't Hang, you got there for the day of the worst weather, Anony! That is a real shame, although you did get to hear Conor Oberst who surprised me with how great he and his band sounded.