Tuesday, July 30, 2013

sight of sounds


Tequila Mockingbird Orchestra making hipsters dance

Heartless Bastards

Hoedown Throwdown


Alabama Shakes

Danny Michel & the Garifuna Collective

hipster group sway

Lamplighter Parade

dance me, daddy

Friday, July 26, 2013

hippie hippie shake

Heading on-island
in closed-toed working shoes 
for the remainder of the Calgary Folk Music Festival

Catch up with you next week!

Sunday, July 21, 2013

from ten, nine

The countdown begins. Two more sleeps till the OFKAR returns to the nest, four more till the island fires up for folk fest. And a metric poop tonne of writing to get submitted before then.

The folk festival will have a rather different flavour this year, with part of the island being declared a no-fly zone. But considering that a month ago the entire island was submerged in the raging Bow river, the recovery has been nothing short of remarkable. 

The loss of two stages, as well as the arts market and playground areas, has necessitated some rejigging of workshops, of course, with one of the stages, as well as the market and kids' area, being moved off-island to nearby Eau Claire. It could make for a bit of a challenge at the gates, as people move back and forth between sites, but it does open up some of the festival to the general public, which is a nice touch. I suspect there will be rather more congestion in traffic flow around the island, though, as the less-travelled back route, which I often favoured, will be closed off.

Behind the scenes, hospitality will no longer be located in its idyllic spot along the river, but for me that's pretty minor, as I usually load up my plate and head to a stage to eat anyway. The benefits of being an obsessive multi-tasker continue to pay off.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

connecting the north

Coming Home: Stories from the Northwest Territories

I always get a little nervous when a friend sends me a book, especially if it's one that they really loved or worse, that they've personally had a hand in. I can't help thinking, what if it's awful?

So you can imagine the mixture of fear, appreciation and curiosity with which I approached Coming Home: Stories from the Northwest Territories, an anthology of contemporary northern writing sent to me by my friend (and beacon of all things literary) John Mutford. The fact that John was one of the two people who selected these stories for the anthology only added to the apprehension. It actually took me a half year to crack the cover.

Happily, the writing in Coming Home is fresh and vibrant. For many of the authors included in this collection, it is the first time any of their work has been published. Theirs are important new voices in the Canadian literary landscape.

With a few exceptions, most of my experience with northern writing has been of the historical Farley Mowat/Jack London variety, tales of hardy men who moil for gold and all that. So I was particularly intrigued by the stories in this collection that showcased contemporary life in Canada's north. I have often pondered the realities of isolation, in this age of uber-connectivity, in those small pockets of community scattered throughout the vast north. These stories, most of them admittedly works of fiction, have gone a long way to filling in the blanks of my understanding of northern life. Particularly refreshing to me were the stories told from the perspective of teenagers, women and aboriginal people.

Not unexpected in a collection that contains many new writers, I did come across the occasional phrasing that felt forced, that jolted me temporarily out of the story. But these lapses, these reminders of the author's inexperience, were surprisingly rare. For the most part, the stories in Coming Home were skillfully wrought, and I look forward to hearing more from these authors.

Coming Home: Stories from the Northwest Territories is split into two sections: eleven works of fiction and six of non-fiction. Each piece is post-scripted with a brief author bio, which I really appreciated. In fact, I found myself anticipating the bio as I read each story, curious to learn more about the person who penned the words. 

This anthology is highly recommended for anyone with an appetite for stories that you don't hear very often, stories of contemporary life in the Canadian arctic. Thanks, John!

Thursday, July 11, 2013

save an artist

Oh look, it's the appropriately named

25+ Calgary Bands, 25+ Arts & Culture Organizations

With funds raised from BIG going to support the Calgary Arts Flood Rebuild, administered by Calgary Arts Development and partners, why on earth wouldn't you go?

Monday, July 08, 2013

banjos in the forest

If wishes come true, the island will dry out. The trees will shake off the shock, unfurl their leaves and breathe out pure oxygen in a massive sigh of relief. The river silt coating the land after the waters receded will become fertile ground for a lush carpet of new lawn. The kind that repels mosquitoes, of course, while we are wishing. 

And the music will play.

Saturday, July 06, 2013

forward motion

That indomitable spirit has been tested again. 

After two weeks of almost unbelievable community rallying and super-human efforts to reopen the city, the rains struck again. Last night's deluge brought flash floods through some of the hardest hit neighbourhoods, which had only just finished cleaning up from the rivers spilling their banks two weeks earlier. The saturated ground simply cannot handle any excess.

It's a cruel blow, but knowing the resilience of Calgarians, it's a temporary setback.

The past fortnight has been nothing short of mind-boggling. Two weeks after the floods left the heavily used south line of the LRT a twisted mess of steel running through a flooded tunnel beside a destroyed bridge, the trains were running again. Commuters into downtown were welcomed back by a sign proclaiming downtown Calgary open for business.

Of course this has always been a volunteer city, but this past fortnight has seen volunteerism gone wild. When the Calgary Folk Festival asked for 250 volunteers for what they described as hard hazardous labour restoring Prince's Island Park in time for this year's festival, the event registration page was full in under four hours. Rubber boots, work gloves and masks have become the new black.

The filthy back-breaking work continues, but the focus is moving toward rebuilding. In countless creative ways, people are making a difference. Not everybody can shovel sludge out of basements for days on end, but they can make welcome home cards for displaced seniors, or buy  - euphemism alert - hygienic products for the Drop In Centre, that were lost in the evacuation. They can hand out lunches and they can take in laundry. And hooboy, can they raise money. 

Kids are selling lemonade and corporations are cutting cheques for millions of dollars. You cannot walk down the street without tripping over a flood relief concert and community fundraiser days are legion. The Spousal Unit is about to have a whole new wardrobe with all the flood relief tee-shirts I have been buying from artists who are capturing the zeitgeist on cotton.

Rain storm set-back aside, Calgarians are now looking outward toward other communities that have been hit even harder. Buses of volunteers are being dispatched to High River, where the entire town is decimated, where there really are no untouched neighbourhoods like there are in Calgary. Relief efforts are turning toward the Morley, Siksika, and Stoney Nakoda First Nations communities who need help rebuilding. And still somehow, there is time to Stampede. Forget the city that never sleeps, these are the volunteers who never sleep.

Monday, July 01, 2013

complicated road

In honour of Canada Day, I'll set aside the flood talk, in order to review a fine Canadian book I recently read.

The Flying Troutmans 
- Miriam Toews

Full disclosure - I am a huge Miriam Toews fan. From the moment I first cracked the cover of  A Complicated Kindness way back in 2004, she has enchanted me with tales of complex and quirky female protagonists dealing with the world through small acts of rebellion. So I fully expected to be completely absorbed in The Fying Troutmans. I was not disappointed.

In Paris, newly dumped by her boyfriend, Hattie receives a phone call from her adolescent niece that her mother (Hattie's sister) has spiraled into depressive catatonia and that the eleven-year-old is not capable of looking after her anymore. Hattie arrives to find hyper-talking Thebes and her silent and morose fifteen year-old brother Logan dealing with a house that is crumbling around down around them, while screening calls from school.

With no other family members she can turn to, and with her sister dispatched to a psych ward, Hattie quickly realizes that she is in far over her head. In desperation, she hatches an ill-advised scheme to take the kids on a road-trip in their battered old Aerostar van to track down their long-lost father.

It's a long shot at best, the only lead being his last known address - a small town in South Dakota.

The road trip that ensues is fraught with mishaps and dumb luck. It's an adventure that is held together with hope, duct tape and desperation and peopled by (in vintage Toews fashion) some of the most loveable, damaged and quirky characters you could hope to spend 274 pages with. These are people whose only resources are resilience, pluck and determination to carry on because what other options do they have. 

Thebes is totally irrepressible. She seems completely unaware of just how weird she is and while, at eleven, she can still get away with her weirdness being cute, your heart breaks for her a little at the thought of the pain she is going to go through in a few years. Logan, expelled from school and non-communicative, shows himself to be surprisingly insightful and kind, as the miles peel away his layers of armour. Hattie, who punctuates the miles rolling by with reflections of the troubled relationship she shares with her sister, is a terrible role-model to the kids. And yet, she is exactly what they need right now.

The Flying Troutmans is, at its heart, the story of a family who is doing the best they can with what life has thrown at them. You will remember them for a long time.