Did this really all happen in the span of one single day? I remember reflecting back, when I finally rolled into bed on Saturday night for my 4 hours sleep, how the day had been so incredibly full and seemed impossibly long, but at the same time passed so quickly and was over in a heartbeat. To me, that is the sign of a perfect day, and if Saturday of the Calgary Folk Festival was not perfect, at least you could see it from there.
I had requested interviews with Carolyn Mark, the Sojourners, and Ferron for late morning on Saturday, so the day started at a civilized hour and I had time for breakfast and everything. Carolyn had already confirmed and I met her at the media tent, which at 11:00AM was already nauseatingly sweltering. She gave me a hearty handshake and when I suggested we park under a tree instead of the sweat lodge, she instead invited me into the artists' lounge, the inner sanctum. A lovely tree-shaded retreat, which you pass on your way to the hospitality area but which you cannot peak into past the fence, with round tables decked with tablecloths and flowers. "And ashtrays!" Carolyn pointed out triumphantly.
Although she had danced until 3:00AM to Bellowhead at the volunteer after party, Carolyn still looked great and was as sharp and sassy as one would expect from someone who was asked to emcee not one, but two, nights of the Folk Fest. Dirty laugh intact, razor sharp ability to draw a laugh not dulled by the late night, she was a joy to chat to, and it felt more like a conversation between two BC Musician Magazine compadres than an "Interview". I even got some goodies and a kiss on the cheek when we parted.
Since it was evident that the interview with Ferron was not going to happen, I had a bit of time to catch some workshops and on my way to the one I planned to hear (Bell Orchestre, John Langford and Sally Timms from Mekons, Bellowhead, and Dick Gaughan), I heard the Sojourners and Umalali making some glorious noise, and stopped to hear the end of their workshop before making my way to my intended spot. That's one of the joys of workshops, the serendipity of stumbling across something quite sublime.
When I returned to the media tent, I found that the Sojourners had agreed to my interview request, so I set up four chairs in a shady spot by the river for our talk, as it was oppressively hot by this point. Marcus Mosely, Will Sanders, and Ron Small proved to be exceedingly gracious and lovely gentlemen and we spent a good twenty minutes or so discussing how a beautiful natural setting like Prince's Island Park brings out the true spirituality of gospel music. Even though I knew I had to start work on Sunday evening close to the time of their main stage performance, I left determined to see as much of it as I possibly could.
Even though the day was exceedingly hot and the sun blazed mercilessly, causing those workshops that offered the most shade to be absolutely jam-packed, I managed to squeeze into a sliver of shade to hear a couple of workshops before starting my volunteer shift. The Spousal Unit somehow spotted me as I arrived late to add to the crush of people at the workshop with the Acorn, Pacifika, Apostle of Hustle, and Tarhana, and let me wedge myself into the meager shade of a tiny sapling with him. Amazingly, there were eventually six of us under those few branches.
We were then able to move down into deeper shade, which actually had a great view of the side stage, for the afternoon concert by Deep Dark Woods, which I had been really jonesing to see. Not a lot of chatter in those lads from Saskatoon, but they made up for it with a beautiful set of haunting and dreamy songs of murder and betrayal. Perfect foil to the sweltering day.
I then abused my volunteer status to gain access to the shady pathway along the river which looked out onto the workshop featuring Justin Rutledge, Stephen Page, Sarah Harmer, and the Good Lovelies. I would have gone into the workshop area with the civilians but there was not a spot to be had. I even noticed people in the neighbouring beer garden, reclining on a small hill about 4 feet from the back of a row of beer garden porti-potties (aka hell on earth), listening to the concert. That's hard core, man.
The shift at the Record Tent was lively and I convinced people to buy way too many cds. For some reason, I find it really easy to convince people that their lives would be infinitely better if they also bought this one. I was asked to take over autograph table duties about halfway through my session, which happily coincided with the arrival of Chad VanGaalen to do a session.
I chatted with Ian Russell, head of Flemish Eye Records, while Chad overjoyed fans with his highly personalized autographs, and as they were getting ready to leave, I thanked them and then played my ace card. "I brought you a cookie, Chad," I offered and held out a fudgy chocolate chip cookie which I had liberated from the the hospitality tent. After Chad had a couple of bites, I went for the kill and asked for my own autograph. "I don't really do signatures," Chad told me, and instead drew a few of his incredible sketches. I was utterly gobsmacked by his generosity, and I positively floated back to the Record Tent where I bragged incessantly to absolutely everyone who would listen about my awesome score.
Still on a rock star encounter high, I finished my shift and followed my curiosity across the road to the Twilight stage from whence I had been hearing some highly infectious sounds drifting into the Record Tent. There I found indie oddities Akron/Family holding the audience in a hypnotic rhythmic trance. It's hard to put your finger on the type of music you can expect to hear from Akron/Family. Just as you think oh, they're sort of electronic experimental, all of a sudden they will floor you with a lovely three-part harmony old country feeling song.
I have never before experienced such a melting of the boundary between band and audience as I did at that Akron/Family set. The audience was completely engaged in the music, undulating as a single entity to the pounding drums and the droning rhythms. But it wasn't simply a matter of the audience responding to the music, it was an actual synergy among all the elements at play. In a truly organic moment during an long extended drone, a complex clap arose from the audience and grew into an integral part of the song itself, such that the music from the stage ultimately morphed into an entirely new form to encompass the music that the audience was making.
It was an utterly amazing moment.
Afterward, I dashed back to the main stage where I caught most of Bellowhead's insanely lively set. Sure, they play English folk songs, but you have never heard them played like this before. Bellowhead is a huge band, complete with horns and fiddles, and they dance jigs and just wail away in the most glorious mult-instrumental multi-age mashup you can imagine. Knowing that Bellowhead had played at the volunteer after party the night before, I then understood why so many of my fellow volunteers had looked bagged that morning, and I no longer doubted the word of my new little best friend in the Record Tent who claimed to have danced Irish jigs until 3:00AM.
The Spousal Unit was completely done in by the time Bellowhead finished playing to uproarious applause, and since the Resident Offspring and I fully intended to take advantage of the fact that we were staying overnight at the Sheraton, mere steps away from the festival, by heading to the volunteer after party at midnight, we all decided that Sarah Harmer, who was closing the night, would have to get by without our presence.
We had already packed up and started walking away when Bellowhead came back for a spirited encore. We knew there would be hell to pay from some members of our party if we suggested going back to the concert, so instead the remaining members of our party dance-walked our way off the island and into the night, ready to get down and boogie a bit at the after party.
And everyody knows what happens at the after party stays at the after party.