The Vancouver Folk Festival returned last weekend (July 15, 16, 17) and it was great fun, some outstanding performances and some maybe not to my taste (a Korean folk ensemble with an interest in improvisational jazz sharing the stage with a Finnish folk group and an Ethiopian group was challenging). There was an absence of artists from England, Scotland and Ireland this year, and more emphasis on North American roots music and country and western, so at times it seemed a bit like The Grand Ol’ Oprey. That aside , it was good to be listening to live music again.
Highlights (for me)
Allison Russell, Robben Ford and the workshop “We are the Family”.
Allison Russell is a Grammy nominated song writer, has a great voice, plays electric banjo and alto sax and had a tight all female band with her (electric violin, acoustic guitar and electric guitar). They could play the soft stuff and then have head banging sonic meltdowns. She appeared on the Saturday night, in between Asleep at the Wheel and The New Pornographers and also shared the stage the following day with Frazey Ford and Clarel.
Robben Ford is an American blues , rock and jazz guitarist who has played with almost everyone including Miles Davis, Joni Mitchell and George Harrison. He looks like an older Jack White – dressed all in black with long jet black hair- and he can really play. His set was mostly electric blues and he had a great band with him but what I liked most about him is he knew when to stop. Yes he could do the long solos but mostly he chose to keep it tight and when the other band members were taking solos he was doing all this chording and inventive rhythm bits. Not folk, but hey variety is the spice.
The best part of the festival is often the afternoon workshops. These take place on smaller stages , this year there were three of them located on the east, west and south of the festival grounds. The idea is that three acts with some thematic connection share a stage; each act gets to sing three songs in a song by song rotation. The hope is that some synergy will occur and they will join in on each other’s songs. This does not always occur but when it does, it’s magic.
The We are the Family workshop was hosted by Joey Landreth of the The Bros. Landreth. Joining the brothers on stage were Haley Henderickx and a South Carolina duo, Shovels and Rope. It was all fairly low key until the band rehearsing on the main stage began to drown out Joey Landreth’s introduction to one of their songs. At which point he decided to change to an uptempo song, upped the volume and got the other perfomers to join in. That was it, they collaborated on the next three songs, Haley Henderickx’s Oom Sha La La was a standout. The video below doesn’t really do the live performance justice.
On the Saturday night, Asleep at the Wheel – a bunch of good ‘ol boys from Texas who are really good musicians but sang songs that were old chestnuts or more exactly, fossilized chestnuts – opened their set with a song about falling in love with a Cherokee maiden. The site of the festival, Jericho Beach Park, is located on the west side of Vancouver in the unceded traditional territories of the Musqueam Indian Band, Squamish Nation and Tsleil-Waututh Nation. I dont know…….is it just me….
A shout out to those 2 guys in the audience who danced solo all Friday evening to a different tune and yes, the bearded guy wearing a straw boater, a white business shirt and a pleated lime green dress.