Folk Fest 2010 : Top Grade Hay

 Since the Folk Fest folks were kind enough to let me into their festival this weekend I figured I would offer a brief synopsis of the wonderful time I had on the island yesterday.

My day started off with the swell Insider Trading workshop featuring Sunparlour Players Timber Timbre St. Vincent and Library Voices. This was a great example of how workshops can bring out the best in people in very different ways. Sunparlour Players who kicked things off with their most jam-worthy song. I have no idea what it was called but it had about three chords total and it inspired play-alongs across the board. St. Vincent took a sharp left turn to play a gorgeous cover of Nico’s cover of Jackson Browne’s These Days —exactly the sort of thing you love to see at workshops! Later Timber Timbre proposed a 2-minute jam “of all the wrong notes.” This made for a delightful dose of dissonance turning the heads of passers by and shaking the attention of some of the sleepier revelers. Among other things St. Vincent’s bank of pedals and the two amped violins on stage made this a real cacophony.

Of course in the true spirit of the Folk Fest I ducked out half-way through to check out Ghostkeeper split-headlining with Samantha Savage-Smith. Frankly I was there for the former and he was every bit as super-good as I expected but the real discovery was the latter a local singer-songwriter type just clear of her teens with blues chops on the guitar beyond her years and an aboslutely show-stopping set of pipes. What a voice! I am trying to do an interview with her today so keep an eye on this site for more information.

The second big workshop that caught my eye was Gravel Road Travellers which assembled a remarkable gang of heavy hitters: Corb Lund Geoff Muldaur Tom Russell and Ian Tyson. This was much more a songwriters’ circle than a no-holds bar jam: these world-weary cowboys took turns plying the audience with tales of their interwoven paths before launching into jarring individual performances. Some might complain that the relative lack of all-out collaboration was a bit of a disappointment but I found the storytelling and song-sharing aspect to be an even more intimate experience.

Tyson revelled in the beautiful weather and said that if it kept up he would be able to sell us all “top grade hay” at very reasonable prices come harvest time. He also mentioned that he was “honoured to be with these giants of the psycho-billy genre” reminding everyone that he is way cooler than any of us could ever hope to be.

Later Corb played a brand new song for the second time (the first was at an earlier workshop) called “Antique Pistol Kills Owner” which inspired laughter from the crowd and a subsequent Corb Deadpan ™ scowl: “Do you find that funny?” It still lacks a chorus but his yodelling more than sufficed for the delighted crowd. He also told a story about waking up at the Tyson ranch one morning having “slept in” until 7:30 to find a note reading “Russell’s in town get your metaphors in order.”

Speaking of Tom Russell he and Tyson wowed the crowd into a rousing singalong with the first song they ever co-wrote Navajo Rug. This kicked off something of a collaboration kick: Tyson and Corb traded verses on M.C. Horses while Russell invited Corb to join him on Blue Wing which resulted in some absolutely jaw-dropping harmonies. Muldaur as you may have noticed was something of an odd man out in all this having less shared history but he had no problem holding his own delivering everything from shattering blues to the day’s only children’s sing-along a lesson on how to spell “C-H-I-C-K-E-N.”

So yeah did I mention this workshop was magical?

The next time my pen hit paper was later in the afternoon when Timber Timbre took to the stage for a solo set. Front-man Taylor Kirk emerged in a dark cowl that concealed his face completely and burned through a funereal set of sparse riveting songs that had the crowd mesmerized from word go. I can only speculate about rationale behind the head-gear; fortunately I’ve got an interview lined up at 2:45 today so with any luck we will all soon know the truth behind this peculiar wardrobe choice. Stay tuned!

There were a few more quick highlights as afternoon gave way to evening (and glorious shade!): Mauvais Sort led a hugely successful stomp with Bette & Wallet Asani and Ghostkeeper. The Last 10 lbs. workshop set off my world-renowned Distortion Pedal Sensor with of all things a high-octane Bob Marley cover. Hill Country Revue provided the perfect soundtrack to my afternoon pit stop in the beer gardens whooping it up with their southern-fried rawk. Ian Tyson delivered a pulverising set on the main stage even if rumours that Neil Young (in town for his own show last night) was going to join him on stage for the encore performance of Four Strong Winds turned out to be just as far-fetched as they seemed. And let’s be honest Tyson doesn’t need any help in the musical titan department!

Last but not least in this (already surprisingly lengthy) round-up: Philadelphia’s Man Man. Maaaaaan oh maaaaaan you guys was this ever a good show. I have to hand it to the Folk Fest crowd the Twilight Stage headliner slot is quickly turning into one of the most eagerly-anticipated musical events of the year. In recent years we’ve had Kid Koala Akron/Family and Bill Callahan… This year’s selection did not disappoint inspiring spastic dance moves and not just from the predictable demographics. From several dancing babies (I’m serious) to my mom and dozens of people her senior from press types like me to the Sunparlour Players who were spotted grooving along at the sound stage the entire spectrum of Folk Fest fan was into this.

Honus Honus and company delivered a non-stop carnival of delightfully broken tunes. Costume changes speaker-destroying shrieks creative use of percussion confetti and feathers thrown into the crowd… this show had it all. And at least half of the set consisted of surpringly polished versions of songs from their new album which is still months away from release! If there’s one thing I worry about (other than the mental health of the sound guy and the hearing loss of the front-row fans) it’s how the hell these guys are going to shoe-horn themselves into a workshop. Speaking of which it’s 12:45 and their first workshop starts at 12:55. I think it’s time for me to sign off!