The Edmonton Folk Music Festival law of averages works like this: If you don’t like what you’re hearing on Stage 1, try Stage 2 instead. If the second stage doesn’t sound right, cycle through stages three to six until the main stage opens. If that stinks too, there’s always the beer garden (sadly, I am too big for the balloon castle).
While the folk fest has increasingly attempted to diversify its lineup, there were a few misses this year, artistic bombs by anyone’s definition. One that sent me packing on Friday night was Raul Malo’s trite medley of Guantanamera and Twist and Shout. I don’t want to hear that transition from the second-rate keyboard player at my local pub, let alone from a headlining act at an internationally regarded music festival.
Similarly disappointing was Boz Scaggs on Thursday. If Jimmy Buffett wore a turtleneck, he’d probably sound an awful lot like Scaggs. The Wailers? Solid if not by the numbers, at the risk of alienating all you “reggae” fans who have a copy of Bob Marley’s Legend on your iPod.
There were triumphs this weekend, though.
Arrested Development and the scintillating Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings, to name but two.
On Sunday afternoon, I also managed to hear Linda Tillery & the Cultural Heritage Choir laying down a mean version of Mustang Sally on a workshop stage. Edmonton funk fest? Sign me up.
Other festival winners include Nova Scotia charmer Joel Plaskett who, along with his dad, Bill, managed to take issues with sound levels and funnily make them become part of his set’s narrative. Equally winning were the duo of Gurf Morlix and Sam Baker, who, between singing dusty old songs about Texas, told some of the worst knee-slappers imaginable. Rousing stuff.
Like beer-weary trips on the Gallagher Park hillside, the 30th-annual folk fest had its ups and downs. And with it ending, I’m a little saddened — and already looking forward to next year.