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David Byrne at the Edmonton Folk Music Festival

:: I spent last weekend volunteering, for the 13th year, at the Edmonton Folk Music Festival. The lineup this year was very strong, in support of the 25th anniversary, and included Bonnie Bramlett, Rodney Crowell, Ani DiFranco, The Dixie Hummingbirds, Jerry Douglas, Lucky Dube, Michael Franti and Spearhead, Dick Gaughan, The Handsome Family, Wanda Jackson, Natalie Merchant, Earl Scruggs, Martin Simpson, The Strawbs, Chip Taylor and Carrie Rodriguez, and Hawksley Workman. I am on the Performer Hospitality crew, and had possibly the most enjoyable festival ever, working with my friends on the team, and assisting and working with amazing, friendly performers.

I tend to be restless at the festival, and generally don’t like sitting for long periods of time. As a result, I see little of the music, but hear a lot of it, as my work area is backstage.

On Sunday night, August 8th, David Byrne and the Tosca Strings closed out the 25th annual EFMF in grand style. Byrne is in the midst of his My Backwards Life Tour, in support of his new album, Grown Backwards.

Byrne’s set featured a number of classic Talking Heads tunes, intermingled with songs from his recent releases. He sang at least one song in Spanish, and accompanied himself on guitar a few times. His percussionist, Mauro Refosco, played many diverse and intriguing beats, and his rhythm section of Graham Hawthorne on drums and Paul Frazier on bass was flawless. Tour photos of the band are here.

The show began with “Road to Nowhere“, which Byrne described afterwards as a song he wrote for the Republican National Convention. Despite playing in Canada, the quip drew considerable laughter – it’s not like we don’t know what’s happening below our border! While not familiar with his newer work, I felt the songs he performed from his recent catalogue to be interesting and compelling – I wanted to hear more even though I wasn’t familiar with the music

Byrne knows his fans want to hear a selection from the TH catalogue, and while he can’t play them all (Burning Down the House, my favorite, wasn’t offered), he delivered the aforementioned Road to Nowhere along with And She Was, Izimbra, Life During Wartime, This Must Be The Place, Once In A Lifetime, and of course, Psycho Killer. 27 years later, he made it sound new. As for Once In A Lifetime, I still ask myself, “how do I work this?” I don’t have an answer yet.

I enjoy performers who engage themselves with the audience, and Byrne works in this way. He introduced each band member at one point, injected a few comments throughout the set, and thanked the audience, some 10-12,000 strong on the hill, for their support. He seemed to be genuinely enjoying himself. The mix was very, very good, thanks to vigilant preparation by his production team and the festival front-of-house team. The sharp and well-defined sounds created by the Toscans often left me with goosebumps.

When a band has many members, the placement of each is a critical component, contributing to the show’s success. I have seen many stage arrangements, in which a percussionist or supporting musicians were virtually hidden from site. I appreciated Byrne’s choice of layout (as seen here in a picture from the Rome, Italy, performance): he take centre stage, of course, surrounded by his rhythm section, with the strings at stage left, and the cellists on a riser. There is an intangible excitement experienced when watching a string section play in unison, and the audience is given the opportunity to do so here without sacrificing quality or presentation.

The tour continues, with at least 28 more dates in the USA. If it makes it to your town, I hope you get to see it. I would also highly recommend the Edmonton Folk Music Festival to anyone with diverse music interests. The festival, now entering its 26th year, continues to bring to Edmonton each August, musicians who offer a wide selection of styles and genres. Tickets for the next festival should be on sale on June 1, 2005. See you there!

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One Response to “David Byrne at the Edmonton Folk Music Festival”

  1. jenB Says:

    but there are people at the festival. people scare me. glad you had a nice time tho, you are such a good involved in your community.

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