Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Robot boys, chair nazis, and holy rollers: day three volunteer monologues of Calgary Folk Festival 2010

It was my own damn fault, not buying any Avett Brothers CDs while there were still a few hundred in stock. And if I hadn't been racing off to catch a show, I would have done so at the end of Friday's shift. Because at 9:00 on Saturday morning, there weren't even any crumbs left in the Avett Brothers' section.

As it happened, Saturday's shift was decidedly slower paced than previously (to the point where I found myself buzzing about looking for things that needed attention), so I snuck in some personal time to buy my first batch of music for the weekend - Frank Turner, Shakura S'Aida, and an early Dan Mangan. Looking back, I regret not getting those Burning Hell, St Vincent and Po' Girl CDs as well.

The Lullabies for Little Subliminals workshop, with Ohbijou, Jordan Klassen, Po' Girl, and Timber Timbre, was nearing its finish as I squeezed into the final sliver of shade with my plate piled high with chicken sausage and greek salad. The remainder of the afternoon was a bit of a departure for a normal Saturday festival afternoon, with concerts taking precedence over my usual diet of workshops.

Saturday was a blisteringly hot, brutally sunny day and Stage 4, where I headed to catch the Dan Mangan concert, is notorious for its lack of shade. It's really the only stage without adequate trees and one that I generally try to avoid during the afternoon. But hey, it's Dan Mangan!

Somehow the Zombie clan managed to find each other in the crush of sweaty shade-seeking hippies and we parked ourselves in the one shaded area that the stage afforded, an area across the path and off to the side. It was rapidly filling up with humanity, as was the massive sun-baked open area directly in front of the stage, when I noticed that neither I nor the throngs of people behind me could see any of the stage thanks to two large camping chairs, legs well above the six inch regulation height, blocking our view.

Calling upon the power of the volunteer badge and my sworn oath to serve and protect festival patrons from a variety of infractions, including not being able to see the stage on account of towering chairs, I used my best hostage negotiation skills to convince the slightly hostile occupants that the folk fest way would be to fold up their chairs. I was only slightly disappointed that nobody in the crowd behind me threw me a victory parade. But ultimately
a mostly unencumbered view of the stage was victory enough.

When Dan ended his set with Robots, that wonderful audience singalong song that fans have so wholeheartedly embraced, the entire audience, including those perishing in the sun-baked open area, rose and began to dance and clap and sing along for an extended chorus. It was a glorious spontaneous moment, that I saw repeated a number of times throughout the festival.

Timber Timbre were playing their afternoon show at Stage 1, which, by contrast, is the most deeply shaded stage, and the one which I thought would be most suited to their dark and eerie music. And it was better suited than the main stage had been the night before, but the normal chatting and the constant movement of people from stage to stage still impeded upon the hushed atmosphere that their music really requires.

Laura Marling, the young British musician who has been nominated for a Mercury award, ran into sound problems during her concert, as she kicked off the Evening Stage which served as an alternate to the main stage offerings, but she gamely made her way to the edge of the stage with her guitar, completely off mic, and led the audience in a singalong. We were too far back, in the deep shade, to be able to actually hear anything and I saw quite a few puzzled looks from passersby as they viewed the small figure on stage singing and strumming in complete silence, except for the sounds of Ian Tyson drifting over from main stage.

I was really disappointed that Laura did not bring any CDs to the festival, as I would certainly have bought one. I never did have a chance to find out what the situation was with her merchandise, but it seemed to be a hugely wasted opportunity.

Tarp blind! We've all gone tarp blind!

Despite my panicked notes, I eventually reached our oasis amongst the trees near the back of the main stage area with my plate of steak and the best damn corn-black bean-cilantro salad I have ever had, just in time to settle down comfortably for Naomi Shelton and the Gospel Queens. Trouble was, I almost immediately wanted to jump up and start dancing, or at least do a little rolling in the aisles, because damn those Queens were fierce! I wanted to testify or get baptised or something. Instead I raced over to the satellite record tent set up by main stage to grab a CD, but sadly, nobody thought to put one aside for me. Now how I am going to save my soul?

The Spousal Unit and I nipped into the beer garden to use my free beer ticket before his most anticipated act - the Hill Country Revue. According to my festival notes, it was too fucking crowded even for a free beer. I drank that Grasshopper so fast I am still burping up bubbles.

The Hill Country Revue served up a rocking nasty southern blues. Once I got over my initial discomfort with the frontman's disturbingly Axl Rose-esque head band, I dug deep into that groove, especially when that one guy started wailing on the washboard.

I was really curious to hear the tweener set by Romantica, the Minneapolis-Belfast band whose literary bent has been compared musically to Belle and Sebastian. Les Siemieniuk, the Calgary Folk Festival's General Manager, had been telling me that Romantica was the band he was most excited to see, and with Les' impressive musical pedigree, who am I to argue? The songs they played were sweetly lyrical and peopled with curious characters and observations.

The Cat Empire from Australia filled the stage with their hundred some odd band members and filled the island (and likely a good portion of downtown Calgary) with their bright and energetic fusion of ska, jazz, and funk. With lots of swinging saxophone and a tag-team of front men, they were a really great festival band, following in the footsteps of previous folk festivallers like Bellowhead, who got the whole crowd jumping. I doubt that the experience would translate to listening to them on CD, but on stage they were a force of nature.

I remember thinking that Dan Mangan had a brutal spot for a tweener set, sandwiched between the exuberantly-received Cat Empire and the highly anticipated Corb Lund. But although he only played two songs - the lively clappy Sold and the trusty singalong Robots - he managed to charm the crowd with his charisma and his enthusiasm. One of the media tent people told me the next day that they have never before had so many media requests for a tweener act as they did following Dan's performance. Can't say I was overly surprised.

Kris Demeanor and Chantal Vitalis, the evening's emcee tag-team, had been quite delightful to that point, playing nicely off each other with Kris' storytelling prowess and Chantal's quirky humour. But when they introduced the headliner performance by covering Geoff Berner's Don't Play Cards for Money with Corby Lund, well that was inspired.

Being a lame excuse for an Albertan myself, I had never before seen Corb Lund and the Hurtin' Albertans perform,and I was pretty excited to see this rural Alberta ambassador with the punk pedigree. The cowboys behind us were pretty excited too, judging from the yeehaws emanating from their tarp, yeehaws being something you don't hear a lot of at the folk festival. I believe they engaged in some two-stepping as well.

At this point of the evening, the lamplighter parade traditionally weaves its way through the audience, bearing whimsical lighted torches, adding a touch of magic to the evening. By now, a rather wide space had opened up in front of our tarp and it became a natural pathway for the dreamlike procession. Toes tapping to the infectious tunes of the hipster cowboy on stage, we marveled at the quirky assortment of lanterns - the watering can, the goldfish, the peace symbol - as they swayed gently past us. It was an odd, yet charming, juxtaposition, and a magical way to end the night.


Missy said...

Oh I enjoy Romantica. And now so many more to check out. Loe the light parade.

Anonymous said...

wow, what a great time!

Allison said...

Glad you could assert your volunteer badge to unblock the stage.

That's one of things I don't like about festivals; the heat and lack of shade. I'm too pale for that. ;)

Love that there was impromptu dancing!

Barbara Bruederlin said...

I didn't know Romantica before the festival, Missy - they were lovely! You sure have some talent in your fair city.
The lamplighter parade really is magical, and then at the end of the evening, they line up on either side of the pathway leading out of the park, so you pass through an archway of lanterns on the way out.

It was a good one this year, Mr Anchovy!

I also wanted to warn the chair height violators that they were going to have a hard time at main stage later too, Al, but they were not pleased to hear it.
The lovely thing about the folk festival is that it is in a well-treed park and most of the stages are in heavily shaded areas. Quite glorious for us shade-seekers!

S.M. Elliott said...

LMAO @ "the crush of sweaty shade-seeking hippies". Now if that doesn't describe every summer folk fest that ever happened, what does? ;D

Srsly, though, sounds like pure delight aside from the heat.

Barbara Bruederlin said...

As long as there is gelato to be had, the hippie crowds are justifiable, SME. It's what makes summer, summer.