There is and that something is folk music. Not that I have any idea how to define folk music. A while ago, if you asked me, I would have imagined something with fiddles. Fiddles = folk music, right? Folk can be a bit of a general category but, after attending 2 days of festivities, I have no idea what folk music is. In fact, I’m not even sure what it isn’t except maybe pure rock/metal nor top 40 pop hits nor classical music. I had ruled out hiphop until the last main stage act Saturday night.
Perhaps the point of folkfest isn’t music that fits the right definition but music that brings people together and promotes a sense of community. This definition I found online seems to most closely encompass the four days of music togetherness in Edmonton: “Folk artists today are experimentalists who dabble in different genres, integrating various musical influences into their narrative songs.”
The festival itself is 4 days of music from Thurs-Sunday. During the day there are 7 stages with various artists and groups of artists playing 1 or 1.5 hour shows and in the evening everyone gathers at the main stage for the “big” names. This year’s headliners were Corb Lund (Thurs), Arlo Guthrie + Family (Fri), Emmylou Harris (Fri), Mary Chapin Carpenter (Sat), Bonnie Rait (Sun). I made it to Friday and Saturday.
It really is an incredible community. A huge park packed with tens of thousands of people and everything just worked. The lines were long, the spaces were crowded, children whined/cried but everyone everyone just respected each other and enjoyed music together. You just squish in and listen. The way the festival works is that someone in the group (Thanks, ShanWow!) shows up an a terrible hour, often before 7am, and gets in a giant corral. Those in the corral are given tickets and a lottery is drawn allowing groups of 50 or so at a time to enter the festival grounds and place a tarp “in front of” in main stage. By the end of this there are about 4000 tarps bumping up against each other covering all but a few square inches of grass. The first lucky few groups get the flat land in front of the stage and the rest spill gradually up the hill. Perceptibly sliding down the tarp is a constant foe during the main stage event. We’re considering velcro pants next year.
People bring various kooky puppets, flags and home made crafts posted on ski and garden poles throughout the tarp grounds to help one locate their blue tarp in a sea of blue tarps. Then everyone leaves all of their things on their tarp for hours and hours and nomadically wander from stage to stage. I never heard of anything going missing.
The two best things about folkfest: friends and discovering new music (at least, new to me!).
Royal Wood – a Peterborough native, I saw him twice…partially because he’s not too hard to look at. Plus his music is catchy. His LP is rotating on my telefunken right now.
The Dunwells – a band that is big in their UK homeland but had yet to set foot on Canadian soil. They are all very genuine people on stage and played along when Bahamas whipped out an American classic that they didn’t know but tried to sing along (the class was “You Don’t Know How it Feels” by Tom Petty).
Bahamas – another Ontarioite, this time from Barrie, but with a fabulous mustache. This guy was the most regular-guy of everyone I saw. He was more interested in jamming with the two other bands (mentioned above) during the workshop* that promoting his own music.
Andrea House – a local singer-songwriter that couldn’t be found on youtube. She has a very mellow vibe but didn’t truly stand out until she pulled out something a little more 50s and upbeat. Very kindly but perhaps a bit mistakenly, was overshadowed when she opened the stage to her keyboard player to play one of her own original tunes. Too bad I missed her name because I’d like to see her on her own stage next year.
Valdy – an apparent Canadian treasure that I was unaware I should be treasuring. It was like Fred Penner but a little nuttier. But you could tell the over 50 crowd knew the words to his songs.
A few other notable artists were Jayme Stone and his recreation of folk tunes from all eras and areas of earth from 1700s eastern Europe to African folk. New Country Rehab. The Barr Brothers. Lindi Ortega who did a strong rendition of Dolly’s song pleading for a a colour TV.
*Workshop is what they call it when they jam 3+ bands on stage together and then let things take their course.