The Edmonton Folk Music Festival has a great site. The valley of the North Saskatchewan is deeply cut into the prairie, leaving a deep slope which forms a great natural ampitheatre in the park. The festival patrons have a view of the whole festival grounds, and the Edmonton sky-line.
The weather was good. After a rainy Wednesday, sunshine and wind had left the ground pretty dry. The weather stayed clear until well into the last set of the evening, when a thunderstorm hit.
The first set were the Madagascar group Jaojoby, who were received with enthusiasm.
The second set were the Dixie Hummingbirds, and they were one of the surprize treats that Edmonton offers. This group is a living lesson in developing and holding a musical tradition. Their tradition is gospel – real religious gospel music that is equally fitting for the Church or the concert stage. The group has a continuous history of 75 years. It is possible, in listening to them, to glimpse a part of the history of the blues and R & B and the Motown sound, within their own pure line of interpretation and their own message.
The gap between the Hummingbirds and the next act was filled by Serena Ryder, who presented an interesting contrast. In what was likely a calculated display of ingenuous enthusiasm, she greeted the crowd with a breathy “Look at all you fucking people”. She is about 20 years old, with a great voice, who likes to sing the blues, and to rock and punk it up too.
Hawksley Workman and his band – with Ryder as guest guitarist and vocalist – gave an entertaining concert. They were poised, polished. Workman doesn’t sing clearly – lots of his lyrics were lost in the mix – but he is a witty and literate writer. That’s a little incongruous for a near punk indie act, and it was interesting and novel. He has been building a following and he pleased his fans and earned some new ones.
Canadian singer-songwriter Garnet Rogers performed solo. He has become a fixture on the Canadian folk circuit, and is perpetually doomed to face unfair comparisons to his late revered brother Stan Rogers, who died in an airline fire in 1983. Garnet has toured as a solo act since 1985, and is a fine singer with a voice like Greg Brown, a great guitarist and a witty and sensitive writer. He looks like a middle-age biker, but he is probably shy and seems to have a hard time performing. He sang some humourous songs and some of his old songs, and reminisced about his many drives across the prairies, dating back to his days with his late brother Stan (a legendary performer and writer who died in aviation disaster in 1983) and their appearance at the inauguraul Edmonton Festival in 1980.
This led into a rare cover of one of Stan’s tunes, “The Field Behind the Plow” – with considerable choral support from the hillside, and then a full or unhurried version of “Night Drive”.
The last act of the night was Rodney Crowell, and I was impressed. I haven’t paid much attention to alt-country and I hadn’t followed his work. His lyrics are spare, edgy and elegant and his band plays with energy and passion.
And that’s the first night. I made it to the buses before the rain hit. We got wet dashing from the bus to the car at the Park and Ride site, but otherwise spend a comfortable evening.