Home Feature Dispatches from the Mariposa Folk Festival – Night 1 (Friday)

Dispatches from the Mariposa Folk Festival – Night 1 (Friday)

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William Prince. Photo by Howard Druckman.

I started off the evening at the Pub Stage, where Blue Moon Marquee were knocking out the full-house crowd with their greasy, high-energy brands of swing, jump and bar-band blues. The focal point of the trio at centre stage is Jasmine Colette, a.k.a. Badlands Jass, who plays upright bass, kick drum, hi-hat and cymbal simultaneously while seated. Impressive!

“We were tired of playing as a duo, and [we were] broke, so we couldn’t afford a drummer,” Colette joked.

As the band paid homage to Memphis Minnie with a cover of one of her songs, then played a tribute song to Billie Holiday — a swampy, dark, minor-key number — guitarist A.W. Cardinal emerged as a second focal point. He and Colette traded lead vocals, with his sounding gruff and growly. While A.W. played electric guitar licks that can only be described as “tasty,” their touring keyboardist — whose name I didn’t catch — played some pretty sweet electric piano and a little organ. Highlights included the title track of their new album “Scream, Holler & Howl,” and “Saddle Sore Saloon,” which A.W. introduced as a song about a strip club in small-town Alberta — “the kind where you might find a one-eyed, one-eared exotic dancer.” He dedicated it to his mother! A.W. closed with a power move by going off-mike to howl the lyrics of the final song to a tent full of about 300 people, blowing them away in the process. Blue Moon Marquee won the 2024 JUNO for Blues Album of the Year, and judging from their performance, it’s well deserved.

Jasmine Collette. Photo by Howard Druckman.

On to the mainstage, re-named The Lightfoot Stage this year to honour the late, great Gordon Lightfoot, Orillia’s most renowned native son (who used to play a song at the fest every year). Tweener Hussy Hicks, a ballsy Australian duo of singer/percussionist Leesa Gentz and guitarist Julz Parker (backed here with an electric bassist), are stopping over in Canada for two gigs on their way from Oz to Europe. Leesa is a live wire onstage, and a real power vocalist, while Julz is a hot-shit guitarist – never more so than with her super-fast, super-precise, finger-lickin’ pickin’ on “Texas.” Another standout was “Pirate Flag,” a heartfelt song about sailing away to leave the ills of the world behind. It had a a gorgeous a cappella ending.

Cat Clyde has a wide and appealing vocal range — one minute soaring, the next growling, and occasionally yipping with energy. She knows how to play the jazzy chords on her guitar, but you can hear the influence of Patsy Cline and Bobbie Gentry in her voice. There are way too many songs in the world about rivers, but when Cat closed with her simple, piercing, eternal original, “The River,” she staked her claim to have written one of the best.

Blue Moon Marquee. Photo by Howard Druckman.

This was my first time seeing William Prince with a full band, and having seen him many times as a solo artist, I’m just not used to it. Personally, I think it sort of dilutes the warmth and intimacy of his performance, and especially of his deep, all-encompassing voice. The backing band were nonetheless great accompanists – including his fiancé on backing vocals – and did justice to his tremendous songs, like “Peace of Mind” (a newer one), “The Spark,” “Breathless,” and “When You Miss Someone.” William allowed that “I was in a George Jones kind of mood when I wrote this,” and then delivered one of his best-ever songs, “Broken Heart of Mine,” about having to deal with your issues sooner or later.

I headed off for a brief sojourn to the Pub Stage again to catch veteran Toronto rapper Shad – the first time I’ve ever seen him play live, and the first time he’s ever played Mariposa. He hit the stage running and never let up, starting with “Out of Touch,” riding a bold beat to ask urgent questions like “Who’s speakin’ Canada’s truth? Who’s standin’ for peace?” Relentlessly prowling the stage and working the crowd like the seasoned onstage professional that he is, he got a full singalong going to the excellent “The Fool Pt. 1 (Get It Got It Good).” He impressed them even further with “Fam Jam (Fe Sum Immigrins),” a thoughtful acknowledgement of his family’s immigrant experience in Canada, and “Slot Machines.” It was music to make you think and dance at the same time – I loved it.

Shad. Photo by Howard Druckman.

Playing a tweener set on the Lightfoot Stage, Ben Doerksen played timeless folk songs on an apoen-tuned acoustic guitar, and sang them in a strong, commanding voice. He spoke about experiencing kidney failure, meeting a woman, getting married to her, and then her donating a kidney to him. “So, remember all the things that matter,” he said. “Music, food, family, people. We’re doing it, right here.” He sang a beautiful song about people you know passing on, “The Funny Thing About Leaving,” and another with the line, “God bless high and lonesome sounds.” At one point, as a tweener playing in between two big-name acts, Ben said he was “honoured to be the pickle in the William Prince / Bahamas sandwich.” Charming.

Friday night Lightfoot stage headliner Bahamas was very effective as a live act, which was a little surprising because of the pristine, focused nature of his recordings. His short, sharp, funky songs are buoyed by excellent, catchy electric guitar parts, and overflowing with clever lyrical ideas. He straddles and unifies the worlds of vintage R&B and modern pop, and it’s compelling as hell. He’s also a brilliant guitarist and arranger of guitar parts, with electric six-string riffs ranging from soul filigree to chicken-pickin’ country to Nigerian juju music. “I Can’t Keep Up with the Jones” was a lyrically adept take on mortgage default as liberation, with the line “I’m broke and I’m finally free” encapsulating the story. The favourites all sounded great: “Opening Act (The Shooby Dooby Song),” “Half Your Love,” “Way With Words,” and “Already Yours.” Background singer Felicity Williams deserves special mention; she served as a perfect vocal foil for Bahamas’ more soulful vocal stylings. He also brought up the Secret Sisters for a tune, adding gorgeous harmonies.

Bahamas. Photo by Howard Druckman.

It’s worth noting that Mariposa has finally found a solution to the sea of gnats, moths, and midges that used to plague all the mainstage performers coming on after darkness fell. They now flood the stage with insect-repellent smoke (hopefully not toxic) so the artists only suffer only a few mosquitoes. Yay! Unfortunately, the tweeners, on a stage to the side of the main one, still have to deal with the bugs. Mabe next year they can solve that one, too.

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