Home 2024 festivals Dispatches from the Mariposa Folk Festival – Day 2 (Saturday) evening concerts

Dispatches from the Mariposa Folk Festival – Day 2 (Saturday) evening concerts

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Mattmac. Photo by Howard Druckman.

When we caught up with Colin Linden at the Boho Stage, he was telling a long, great story about the first time he met legendary bluesman Howlin’ Wolf, when Colin was just a precocious 11-year-old guitarist and already a lover of the blues.

“He told me that you had to play the same for three people or 3,000 people,” said Colin, “and to carry on the tradition. He meant it for my generation, but I took it like he was talking only about me.”

Then he tore into a fantastic version of “Just Like I Treat You,” proving himself once again, after 40 years on stage, one of the greatest slide guitarists Canada has ever produced, and a rightful heir to the Chicago blues tradition from whence his mentor came.

With veteran drummer Gary Craig backing him on snare, cymbal, and percussion, Colin slowed it down with a ballad, “Sugar Mine,” in which “mine” refers to both “belonging to me,” and “an excavation” (but in this case, one where love, not minerals, is extracted). “Angel at the Gate” included a nice reference to Toronto’s home of local folk music, the Free Times Café. It also showed the influence of his friend and sometime musical colleague Bruce Cockburn, with the minor-key folk-blues melody recalling that of “If I Had a Rocket Launcher.” He shouted out Cockburn – who was playing a set and receiving a Hall of Fame Award Sunday at Mariposa – and also the late member of The Band, Rick Danko, with whom Colin had worked. He played their co-write “Remedy,” a bluesy shuffle very much in the vein of Rick’s songs with The Band. After a standing ovation, Colin’s encore, “Life is Beautiful” – a co-write with Keb’Mo – showed off some lovely fingerpicking technique. Colin, like one of the song’s lyrics says, “keeps on gettin’ better all the time.”

Colin Linden. Photo by Richard Barry.

Some artists play live only to present the music they’ve recorded; others record their music just to capture what they play live. PEI-based quartet Gordie MacKeeman and His Rhythm Boys definitely falls into the latter camp. In fact, at the Pub Stage, they put on a live show so impressive, exhilarating, and explosive that it marked them as live entertainers of the highest order. Playing high-energy music encompassing everything from country to rockabilly to bluegrass, the band immediately captivated the crowd and never let ‘em go. The fact that every one of them plays like a fiend is only the beginning. Frontperson and fiddler Gordy has truly earned his nickname, “crazylegs,” and lives up to it by dancing like some wild offspring of Michael Flatley and David Byrne. He mounts the standup bass and starts shimmying like a stripper; he tap-dances up a storm on his stomp-board; he does some wobbly, bowlegged moves I’ve never seen before. Even on the fiddle, at one point he played it behind his back – a little gimmicky, but still fun.

Okkervil River frontperson and chief singer-songwriter Will Sheff has gone from leading an early-2000s indie rock band out of Austin to being a solo indie-folk artist. Bearded and bespectacled, looking like John Lennon or Warren Zevon, he makes music that tends toward a strummy acoustic guitar and a shouty, straining voice, with a little harmonica, piano, and drum machine thrown in occasionally. The content is clever; “Plus Ones” is a song that takes various numerical song titles and one-ups them, making references to 97 tears, the 100th luftballon, eight Chinese brothers, nine miles high, the 51st way to leave your lover, and so on; “Famous Tracheotomies,” which Will wrote for a compilation album of songs about body parts, details his own operation as a baby, as well as the ones of former member of The Supremes Mary Wells, the Welsh poet Dylan Thomas, and Kinks frontperson and singer-songwriter Ray Davies. The song tells the story of the moment when Ray saw his hometown of London from the hospital balcony, and how, in recalling that moment, he wrote the great classic song “Waterloo Sunset” – which Will then quotes, switching from guitar to piano in mid-song.

Okkervil River. Photo by Howard Druckman.

Still, after a while, the material he was playing on the Pub Stage started to feel a little slow and ponderous, and it was kind of making me depressed. Which is still something. But it also got a little boring, because as smart as the music is, none of it emotionally engaged me.

Later at the Pub Stage, blind Indigenous singer-songwriter, keyboardist, and rapper Mattmac of Garden Hill First Nation was a one-person cheering section for “Mary-posah,” which he name-checked often. To be fair, it’s his first time at the fest, and he was working hard to engage the audience. Introducing his backing group of musicians by first names only – Rob on drums, Cole on guitar, Dan on bass – Mattmac played a captivating set of melodic, anthemic live-band rap. Highlights included “Isolation,” a song about coming from the rez, “Let’s Go for a Ride,” and “Income,” which offered some nice three-part harmonies. His flow is a little like Drake, and his melodies make you want to lean in and listen. And he’s very big on inspiring others to live their best lives. As he said, “If a blind Indigenous man can make it to here, anybody can get to where they want to go. It just takes a lot of time, a lot of patience, a lot of effort.” Gotta love that.

Noah Cyrus. Photo by Howard Druckman.

Finally got to the mainstage, in time to see Noah Cyrus, who exudes a total pop-star vibe, but still harbours the kind of legitimate country roots that make her comfortable at a folk festival. Backed by a band of studio pros, she played “Liar,” a slow ballad that opens with just voice and piano, slowly builds up a head of steam, offers a short-but-pungent electric guitar solo, then peaks with a final chorus. Noah covered Bob Seger’s “Against the Wind,” but it seemed a little low for her voice and might have benefitted from moving it up a full tone. Toward the end of the next song, she actually fell down, got picked up by her guitarist, and said, “That’s the first time I’ve ever fallen down onstage!” Perhaps fittingly, the next song was the gospelish “I Got So High That I Saw Jesus” (the next line of the chorus is “He said it’s all gonna be okay”). As the set wore on, Noah’s vocals got increasingly pitchy, and even noticeably off-key at some points, particularly on the sexy, sultry “Again,” and another gospelish song, “Lonely.” Near the end of the set, she played her monster hit song “July,” which as of today has achieved one billion streams on Spotify alone.

A side note about the onstage flies, mosquitoes, moths, midges, and other bugs; they were back tonight, though not as severe as usual, so maybe Mariposa hasn’t yet solved the problem of how to deal with ‘em, as I had suggested in my Day One story. Poor Noah Cyrus said, “I hate all kinds of bugs! Anything that crawls. This is freaking me out up here!”

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