The third day of Block Heater Festival featured Alberta gems sparkling amongst international stars. Kicking off the evening on the free Festival Hall stage was local rapscallion Lorrie Matheson in his first live appearance in ages. Looking at times like the calmest mad professor ever seen, surrounded by guitars, keys and mixers, Matheson invited us into his warm looking, green studio which seemed like a hideaway where you’d wile away pleasant hours oblivious to the outside world.
He dedicated opening song Hand Me Down Town, to Calgary’s undersung heroes the DOAP (Downtown Outreach Addictions Partnership) Team, playing extremely warbly keys sounding just as dystopian as the days we’re living through.
Prefacing You Should Know By Now, the title track of his first solo album, the songwriter told a story about how the legendary Billy Cowsill, who died 15 years ago to the day of this concert, helped with the song. Cowsill came to see Matheson and friend Tim Leacock playing, pulled the songwriter aside, and gave sage advice: “You gotta learn some chords, man,” and told him to put in a C minor. Matheson then delivered a low-key version, almost like a threat. The sunshine set on this song, and no moon rose to shed light.
Classic Matheson included Calgary Folk Music Festival Songwriting Contest award winner Oh Isabella, Lamp of the Poor, and the old school Mission to Inglewood. He also slipped in a newer, as yet unrecorded song, Head to Shins, a cool cover of Forest Tate Fraser’s The Fall, and became emotional while playing Hot Little Rocket’s It’s Not the Worst Thing You Heard All Day (which is also the title of his forthcoming album.)
“This lockdown has been super weird. Sometimes I don’t know if I’m going to get through just the existential dread of it,” the singer said at one point, articulating what many of us are feeling. He ended up, aptly, with Don’t Let This Living Kill You Now.
Edmonton’s Lucette (Lauren Gillis) was next, presenting an intimate, impactful set on an upright piano surrounded by keyboards. Dressed in black and topped by a black beret, the singer delivered a set that was the highlight of the night. Opening with Angel from 2019’s Sturgill Simpson-produced Deluxe Hotel Room, Lucette stopped the clock’s hands for a while, sweeping us away and making us forget ourselves.
The following song, Bobby Reid, offered a luscious sound transcending the version captured on her 2014 album Black is the Color. Lucette’s clear, rich voice was whipped cream crowning her simple, stripped-down songs as she delivered lines like, “I’ve been feeling so unkind, but mostly when it comes to myself.”
She doesn’t fall into the oversinging trap that hamstrings so many good vocalists, but instead rides the moments without artifice. If you hadn’t fallen in love with Lucette already, you just did.
Meanwhile, over on the ATB stage, Seattle indie sensation Damien Jurado appeared from Utah, where he dipped into his ample catalogue to create a mellow set that, again, invited one to lay down their burdens and dream along as songs and their picture-book imagery eased worries away. In all his lo-fi majesty, it almost seemed like Jurado finding an audience outside the surreal cocoon woven by his music was a bit of a delightful surprise, but also one to take in stride.
While delivering numbers like Beacon Hill and Percy Faith, he mentioned that he needed his lyric book to remember, having released his first album in 1997 and with over a dozen more following it up. “There’s quite a bit; my lyric book just showed up.”
One could picture the songwriter sitting around on any other night, playing the same songs, and enjoying them whether anyone was present or not. In classic festival fashion, the set made one wish for a clone to be in two places at once and still take it all in.
In her white furry hat with antlers protruding from either side, Montreal songwriter ANACHNID was serene as she and three musicians delivered regal, surreal techno moments while playing together from three different locations and including both of Canada’s official languages. The songs were often mesmerizing, but just when you were lulled, she changed things up so that delightfully, you never knew where the music would go next.
Sure, it’s a bit strange to be enjoying these musicians from miles away, but, look at the bright side. We didn’t need to be hiking up and down the library and NMC stairs getting all sweaty in our outdoor wear as we tromp between there and the King Eddy. And if you have dogs and kids and find it hard to get out, at least the music is coming right into your living room. Maybe in future years we will have both options.
Block Heater continues tonight and tomorrow night. For information, go to https://www.calgaryfolkfest.com/blockheater/schedule
Mary-Lynn Wardle is a Bragg Creek writer.