Concert review

Flohil recaps Day 3 of the Edmonton Folk Music Festival

If you’ve been following our festival coverage here at Roots Music Canada, you might be thinking to yourself, “Wait.  Did Flohil review day one and two of the Edmonton Folk Fest and then disappear?  Is Flo ok?  Should we send out a search party?”  Fear not, friends!  The hiccup in reportage can be blamed on a failure of the cyberspace mail delivery service, and the challenges of an editor (Heather) trying to edit a web site from a picnic table in the middle of nowhere whilst covering a music festival herself.  Better late than never, we are please to bring you the final two installments of Richard’s EFMF coverage starting today with day 3.

The weather — such a key component of the success or failure of any festival — has been overcast but, so far, not a drop of rain. Nobody who was there will forget last year’s downpour that began during the Saturday evening show and continued unabated throughout the next day. (I confess that my friend Stephanie Crothers and I chickened out and went to a movie and then spent the rest of the day in the local pub with a revolving cast of wet, muddy people staggering out of the festival.)

So while the weather on the Saturday of the Edmonton Folk Music Festival was grey and, later in the day, rather chilly, the music was bright and sunny, and alternately thoughtful and cheerful.

Thoughtful is one way to describe Bruce Cockburn’s late concert set. He is one of Canada’s most iconic songwriters, and his songs, as one expects, were about war, depression, and the sobering sides of the human condition. His guitar playing, of course, is superb, and a three-man rhythm section offered respectful, reliable support. And most of the songs are familiar to the sold out audience which greets them with respectful applause.

Wearing a camo jacket and pants, Cockburn played sitting down; he seemed dour and not particularly happy to be on stage. He confessed to a four-year songwriting hiatus. “I was writing a book,” he said. “It seemed to take all my creativity.” Book now published, he’s in songwriting mode again, and offered a couple of new ones.

Blue Rodeo, who followed, were in fine form — Greg Keelor, Santa Clause-bearded, alternated songs with his partner, Jim Cuddy — and the band rocked out. Rose Cousins came out to sing a song with Cuddy, and guest Jimmy Bowskill (on leave from the Sheepdogs) played superb mandolin obligatos and, later in the hit-driven set, pedal steel.

One personal reservation: the self indulgent keyboard solos from Mike Boguski — but that’s been a part of Rodeo’s live shows ever since the days when Bob Wiseman and James Gray followed each other in the band.

The big hits — “Try,” “It Hasn’t Hit Me Yet” and others — came during the encores. A better way to end a Saturday full of music would be hard to imagine.

Daytime programs at major festivals are almost always ridiculously frustrating. At Edmonton, there are six stages — so however energetic you are, you’ll miss five-sixths of what’s going on. What my pal and I caught was a couple of songs from Irish Mythen, more powerful music from Mary Gauthier — including her song about the death of a hobo. That one, incidentally, had a line that stood out: “You can tell the state of the nation by the length of the cigarette butts on the sidewalk.”

Noted, too, were songs by Kevin Welch (who must be tremendously proud of his son Dustin, who is shaping up to be as good a songwriter and singer as his dad). It was good to see Jim Cuddy on a workshop with Pieta Brown, Bahamas founder and singer Afie Jurvanen (who sang a witty song about depression). Con Brio is a horn-driven funk band from California who had everyone dancing at Stage 4, and at the opposite end of the musical scale, sweet-voiced Kate Rusby singing very English-sounding folk ballads. The Irish band Dervish got the key afternoon mainstage slot — pipes, whistles, flutes and roaring vocals were the traditional sound of the day.

“Oh, that sounds cool,” you say, but here’s what my friend and I missed: Ani DiFranco, The Hamiltones, The Small Glories, Tim O’Brien, Darlingside, Donovan Woods, The Waifs and many others.

Time to try again, tomorrow.

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