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Edmonton Folk Music Festival Redux

:: What follows are my observations from attending and volunteering at the 24th Edmonton Folk Music Festival this past weekend. I apologize for continuing confusion regarding previous posts on PBD.


:: Tonight was the first night of the 24th annual Edmonton Folk Music Festival. I work backstage on the Performer Hospitality Crew. Tonight I was assigned to Mariza, a fado singer from Portugal. It was a pleasure to work with her before and after her performance on the main stage. Mariza is graceful and charming, and has a sweet sense of humour. She and her band appreciated our efforts to make them feel welcome and at home at the EFMF, and working with them as such was very rewarding.


:: This is the time during the festival when my body gets angry: trying to move on 6 hours of sleep after partying until 2:30 am. Yesterday was a rewarding day again at the EFMF: I was on site in early evening to establish contact with Norah Jones and her band and crew, and watch legendary musicians make incredible music.

Last night saw The Funk Brothers take the main stage late in the evening, and they rocked the hill like nothing we’ve seen before. Featuring the remaining members from the 60s, and augmented with a number of additional musicians, including two local horn players, three singers, a drummer, and two guitarists, the band played many legendary Motown hits from the 60s, including My Girl, Ain’t No Mountain High Enough, I’ll Be There, and Stop! In The Name of Love. One of the best shows I’ve ever seen at the festival.

Earlier in the evening, I met and visited with Bob Babbit, the bass player, and said hello to a number of other members as well. As with Norah Jones’ entourage, they were all friendly and happy to be here. At one point, one of the them asked us, “Is the entire city of Edmonton as friendly as everyone is here at the festival”? Of course we said yes, but noted that it’s in our constitution to be nice!

BTW, anyone, and I mean ANYONE, who suggests this festival is too expensive for the product it offers is completely insane. A weekend pass is a mere $99 – try to find such a bargain anywhere else, one where you can watch 60+ acts in a four-day period. Not going to happen. Many acts of the calibre brought to this festival might charge between $50-$100 for a solo show anywhere else. Kudos to Terry Wickham and the Board for keeping the costs to the public beyond reasonable, and easily affordable.


:: The final 48 hours of the Edmonton Folk Music Festival as I experienced it are, at this point, somewhat blurry! Call it lack of sleep. But the festival for me was one of the most rewarding ever. I’ve volunteered on the Performer Hospitality Crew since 1992, and performed at the festival in 1991 and 1994, and the 2003 festival ranks as one of the best, and one of my all-time favorites.

One of the highlights on Saturday was spending some time discussing guitar work on the Norah Jones album with guitarist Adam Levy. I asked him whether there were any different tunings or capo settings on some of the songs, and he mentioned Capo 6 for her big hit, Don’t Know Why. We exchanged contact info, and he said he would send me further chord and tab details.

The Saturday evening lineup at the festival this year was one of the most diverse and powerful: Dar Williams, Ricky Skaggs and Kentucky Thunder, Taj Mahal & The Trio, Norah Jones, and Solomon Burke. Add Kathleen Edwards’ 2:00 pm performance, and it evolved into one of those days of musical memories for the ages.

But because I worked from 6:00 pm until closing that night, I was not able to watch most of the acts, but instead, heard them from backstage. I was able to catch bits of Norah’s performance as she offered her brand of soothing, bittersweet music for the very appreciative crowd. Afterwards, I spoke to Adam Levy again, and asked about his thoughts on the band’s performance. He told me it was the best show, for him, on the tour.

I can’t forget the parties, and on Saturday night at The Ramada Inn, I stayed until about 2:30 am.

:: On Sunday, I made it down to the site by 11:30 am, wasted from lack of sleep, but eager to watch Kelsey Fry and 4-Life perform at Stage 7. I met Kelsey on Thursday, and learned that she was a young, upcoming performer from Edmonton. I caught the final four songs of her show, and was duly impressed. This is a 16-year old with much confidence in her abilities, and eager to further herself as a musician. She surrounds herself with – how shall I say it? – older musicians, at least twice her age, with years of experience. The tunes I heard were straighforward pop, but solid and nicely arranged songs, and sung with power and conviction by Kelsey.

Ciarán and Fiona McGillivary of The Cottars (photo posted with permission of the Cottars)

Following her performance, I made my way to Stage 1 to watch The Cottars, an incredible band of (even younger than Kelsey) teenagers from Cape Breton, who embrace the celtic tradition of the island. The night before, I’d met Fiona MacGillivary during the main stage shows. The Cottars are two brother-and-sister duos who formed a band together approximately three years ago. Fiona sings lead, her brother Ciarán plays keyboards. Jimmy MacKenzie plays guitar, and his younger sister Roseanne plays a very mean and lively fiddle. On stage, they weave together a mix of celtic tunes, some with step dancing, and an occasional tune sung alone by Fiona. An outstanding, enthusiastic group of young musicians. I was saddened to learn that Jimmy is home, recovering from an operation to fight Crohn’s disease – Jimmy, we wish you a speedy recovery!

My shift on Sunday began in the early evening – preparing for Caitlin Cary and her bandmates. (NOTE: This is what we do at the Edmonton Folk Music Festival: make the performers feel welcome, comfortable and appreciated. More than ever, I found myself happy to work hard on the Festival’s behalf when dealing with the performers. After all, when we work one-on-one with a performer, we are representing the Festival to them at that moment. But I digress…)

Many performers expressed how impressed they were with the event. While driving her from one stage to another, Kathleen Edwards opined that it was the best festival at which she’d played, and Jay Davidson of the Funk Brothers echoed her sentiments.

On Sunday afternoon, Julia Cunningham, the harpist for Solomon Burke, whom I had seen about the site earlier but hadn’t met, was backstage, and we started discussing Steely Dan (I was wearing my Steely Dan Tour 2K shirt). We talked for quite a while about her work as a harpist, and she autographed a stunning picture of herself for me (it’s on her website). Julia will return to Alberta with Solomon at the Calgary Blues & Roots Festival on August 23, 2003.

The festival ended with a bit of rain falling during the Bruce Cockburn set, but no one’s spirit was dampened. Traditionally, many volunteers come on stage at the end to sing Four Strong Winds, by Alberta legend Ian Tyson. Following that, the crowd disperses, and many of us head home, or leave for parties at the hotel.

Around 3:00 am, as I was set to leave, I met Andrea England, a singer/songwriter from Toronto. We decided to pull our our guitars, and we jammed until 4:20 in the morning! I had a great time playing with her, and it was a fitting and very satisfying way to end this year’s festival.

:: The 25th EFMF will be 5-8 August 2004. Mark your calendars now. Tickets should go on sale on Tuesday, June 1st, 2004. Miss this event at your own peril. It’s one of the reasons that living in Edmonton is so rewarding.

:: Images from the 2003 festival have begun to appear on the FF site.

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