SLCR #191: Regina Folk Festival (August 9-11, 2013)
I should start by saying that if you’re at all interested in what happened at the Regina Folk Festival this year, you should definitely check out soundsalvationarmy.com. I know nothing about the person or persons behind it, but he/she/they did a fine job of reporting on the festival using such cutting-edge journalism techniques as “knowing things” and “looking up things you don’t know” and “writing things down while they’re fresh in your memories” and “caring about things other than food and stupidities.” I don’t know if this style of writing will catch on, but it makes for an interesting change of pace.
After last year’s festival, I wasn’t really excited about this year, even passing on the cheap pre-Christmas tickets. Then they announced the line-up and I was in. I knew that would happen. That pretty much always happens. You’d think I’d learn. I suspect I won’t.
We showed up on Friday night, hauling our nifty new lawn chairs and fleece blankets that Mika picked up for us. These are some solid chairs and they’re pretty cumbersome to tote around. This bothered me right up until the point that we got to our usual spot and I actually sat in one of the chairs. These are better than most chairs I have ever owned and made for some fiiiiiiiine sittin’.
The Friday night host was a kids’ entertainer (and – coincidentally? – Feist’s high school classmate) named Bubba B The MC. Now, a few years ago, Fred Penner was one of the hosts and everybody loved him. Ever since then, there seems to have been a preponderance of kids’ entertainers as main stage hosts. It makes sense, I suppose. You bring them in to work the daytime kids’ stages, so they’re there anyway. The thing is, Fred Penner is a beloved icon for people of a certain age (namely, people a few years younger than me). Bubba B The MC is not. “You’re either gonna love me or you’re gonna hate me,” he said as he took the stage. Between repeatedly shilling his CD and hollering “PHOTO OP, PHOTO OP, PHOTO OP” the second that every act finished up, I don’t think I heard a single person with anything positive to say about his hosting performance. I’ve possibly been spoiled by having Carolyn Mark as the main stage host on the first night of the first festival I ever went to.
The happiest and saddest moment of the festival occurred right as it began. You may remember that a few years ago, we sat near a guy who yelled HO! HO! HO! HO! instead of applauding and this guy was awesome. Well. When Bubba B said something to welcome us to the festival, a guy sitting near us yelled HO! and Mika and I turned to each other in pure delight. He was back!! And… then he never said HO! again all weekend. So sad. But at least we got one.
I won’t go into detail about all 15 main stage performances from the weekend because there’s only so many times I can type “I knew nothing about this artist, but they were good! I couldn’t tell you what they played, though.” Maybe I will just copy and paste.
I knew nothing about Elisapie, but she was good! I couldn’t tell you what she played, though. She was born in northern Québec and sang lovely songs in multiple languages, including English, French, and… okay, I’m going to guess Inuktitut but the internet is not confirming this and so I might be very wrong. Regardless, this was a fine opener and I’d go see her again. One lady who was sitting ahead of us on the Saturday night felt more strongly about the subject, judging by the amount of Elisapie records she bought.
I saw Hayden once before, in 1998. I was tired, declared him to be “not my thing,” and left early. But I’m nothing if not about second chances, and hey, it turns out this guy is really good after all. Maybe 21-year-old me just sucked? (yes) Mika said Hayden’s set was one of the best all weekend and was delighted that he played all the hits (it might be notable that she put “hits” in quotation marks). She specifically mentioned Bad As They Seem, The Hazards Of Sitting Beneath Palm Trees, Tree’s Lounge, and Home By Saturday. Now she is lost in Wikipedia, reading about Hayden. I’ll miss her.
Somewhere in here, I got some vegetable pad thai and fresh rolls. Anyone looking to buy my love (or at least my lunch), take note: fresh rolls might be my secret weakness. No shrimp, please.
For me, the idea of finally seeing Man Man was what sold me on this year’s festival. The short version is that they were in Regina a while ago opening for Modest Mouse. I went to the show and was even there in time to see Man Man, but wound up hanging out in the lobby with Colin and some of his friends instead. This was deemed to be the wise course of action because opening acts are often not very good. Of course, what happened was everyone left saying that Modest Mouse was okay but Man Man was crazy and great and the best. I had to live with my regret for six years and I am so delighted to get that one off the must-see checklist.
After all this time, they didn’t seem as crazy as I expected them to be, though it’s worth noting that we were sitting pretty far back and someone who was close up might have seen all kinds of things that I did not. There was a point where it appeared that a giant puppet was dancing with the band and I had no idea if the band brought it with them or if someone in the crowd was all “hey, you know what we should bring? Giant puppet.”
I expected Man Man to be good, and they were. I did not expect them to be immediately bested by the very next band. Nomadic Massive is a hip-hop group from Montréal. I went into the evening being so familiar with their work that I complained about the lack of hip-hop at this year’s festival. Oops. Maybe I should quit exposing my ignorance and talk about things I know about instead.
Mika bought me kettle corn and it was good!
Nomadic Massive. Yes. I knew nothing about this artist, but they were good! I couldn’t tell you what they played, though. The crowd was already pretty pumped from Man Man, and Nomadic Massive played an energetic set that won everyone over. Great musicianship, too, which is not something you can say about every rap artist. Fine stuff. Another bilingual act that I’d gladly see again. Fine work on this evening, Québec.
After four great sets, I was thinking this was on pace to be the best single night of the folk festival that I’ve seen. And I’d seen Feist before and was confident that she would deliver a fine capper. Unfortunately, I just didn’t think this measured up to what came before it. The momentum of the evening came to a dead stop as the crew took a half-hour to set up the most complicated stage I’ve seen at the Regina Folk Festival. It still didn’t compare to an arena rock show, but there were big screens, a riser, and more complex lighting effects. It all looked good, mind you, but seemed unnecessary. It especially left a bad taste in my mouth when Feist mentioned having to cut her set short. This is an outdoor event and there are noise curfews; maybe spending a half-hour on the stage setup isn’t the best use of your limited time.
I also found big sections of Feist’s set to be pretty dull. I shouldn’t have been surprised by this, as I didn’t much care for her newest album for the same reason (I believe the Sound Salvation Army folks described it as “challenging” and it is fair to say that I never gave it much of a chance to grow on me). The set wasn’t BAD by any stretch – Sea Lion Woman and My Moon My Man in particular were fantastic, and I wished we could have had more of that.
Saturday! Our main stage host was another children’s’ entertainer, Al Simmons. Al hosted last year and I wasn’t a fan. But was he worse than Bubba B The MC? Luckily (?), having back-to-back performances allowed for some degree of folk festival science and our jury of peer reviewers (me and Mika, pretty much) agree that Al Simmons is, in fact, better than Bubba B The MC. Sure, he talked way too much about the importance of cleaning up after yourself, but a) so did Fred Penner and I didn’t give HIM grief over it, b) on Sunday, we were told that the festival grounds were left cleaner than they’d ever been, and c) it beats PHOTO OP, PHOTO OP by a mile. So one point for you, Al Simmons.
I knew nothing about H’Sao, but they were good! I couldn’t tell you what they played, though. I know that while they currently live in Montréal (I’m sensing a theme), they’re originally from Chad. I know this because I felt the immediate need to text Chad (the person) and tell him about this band from Chad (the country). He declared them to be obviously great and who am I to argue?
I think I got some poutine around this point because I hate myself.
Despite having lived in Regina for what feels like forever, this was actually my first time seeing Rah Rah. Sort of. They played the Folk Festival a few years ago as one of the “teaser” acts between main stage performers, and the whole band wasn’t there and it was only okay. But this, this was pretty great. The hometown stars played a fun set with a lot of songs from their newest album, but stretched all the way back to Tentacles, which the first song of theirs that I ever heard (I think it was a freebie on iTunes one week, maybe?). One complaint: finally seeing them left “The Poet’s Dead” stuck in my head for about three days – but not the whole song, just two lines. Over and over. I forget what Mika finally played to dislodge it from my brain, but whatever it was couldn’t have been an upgrade.
Is it a surprise that Calypso Rose sang calypso music? I knew nothing about Calypso Rose, but she was good! And I can tell you one song that she played, Senior Citizens’ Day. I have no idea why I would remember this song in particular but hey, that’s what happens when I don’t take notes. This was very energetic and fun, which was a(nother) recurring theme for the festival this year. I don’t know if it’s particularly folky, but I approve; last year’s festival felt like it was lacking energy and you couldn’t say the same for this year’s edition. Was it the selection of artists? Better audio quality? Just happened that way? Was I just in a better headspace to begin with? Probably some combination thereof.
The Saturday night headliner, as far as I was concerned, was Bahamas. Short version: I had always avoided seeing him (not intentionally; it just worked out that way) until Junos weekend where I discovered that he was great. And he was great here too.
“Are you ready to rock?” (yay!) “Well… we’re not that kind of band.”
You wouldn’t expect songs so sweet and sincere from someone so funny (or vice-versa), but the combination makes Bahamas a great performer. He played a full set of his originals (can I remember what? of course not), sarcastically endorsed the SaskTel network (they really should hire Bahamas as a spokesperson in place of the Little Red commercials), and closed with fun covers of Hey Ya and Wonderful Tonight.
Loreena McKennit was up next, but we didn’t stick around for her. Not our thing.
Sunday! The hosts for the evening were local troupe FadaDance. They’re not exclusively kids’ entertainers, but they do seem to be around to work the children’s stage every year. They kicked off the night’s festivities with this prolonged marching band entrance that grabbed attention, and then they largely stayed out of the way. I approve.
Don, my coworker, had told me that Carolina Chocolate Drops were great, and he was right. For my money, this was the top act of the whole festival. The short version is that they explore the history of African-Americans in bluegrass music, but that only scratches the surface. One song was sung in Haitian Creole, while another was Gaelic, and they traded instruments as they went. Incredible talent on display here. If you get the chance, go see them.
Niyaz was really the only main stage act I saw that just didn’t click with me. They sang very pretty Persian-influenced songs and the twirling dancer was hypnotic, but a lot of this all sounded the same to me and I kind of lost interest. Maybe it’s just me; Other James and Mark were there all weekend, and I think this might have been Other James’ favourite act of the weekend. I think he was in love with the dancer.
I can’t say that I didn’t know anything about Rosanne Cash. Next-to-nothing, maybe. I really had no idea just how impressive her career has been.
She has a new album coming out soon, but her most recent album was a collection of covers. Her dad had made her a list of 100 country songs that she needed to know (do you need me to tell you that her dad was Johnny Cash? because I will, but I feel kind of stupid doing so) and she covered 12 of those songs on an album (appropriately titled The List). As such, we got about 50% originals and 50% country classics, and both were great. There was no band; just Cash on guitar with another guitarist for accompaniment. Clean, clear performances of some wonderful songs.
A good chunk of the crowd left after Cash was done, which meant they missed out on Charles Bradley. Bradley’s story is becoming well-known, thanks to a documentary about his life called “Charles Bradley: Soul of America.” The gist of it is that he had a really hard life, worked as a James Brown impersonator for a time, and finally released his first solo record in 2011, when he was already in his 60s. The preceding sentence may include lies or half-truths, seeing as how I haven’t actually watched said documentary (it’s not on Canadian Netflix yet), but that’s what I was going on.
The band came out and played an instrumental number, then one of them introduced Bradley in dramatic fashion (is there any other way when you’re “the Screaming Eagle of Soul?”). Bradley sang, he danced, he did the splits. He left the stage and was re-introduced wearing a different outfit. I believe he wore a cape at one point. He sang his own original songs, but the James Brown influence was strong, to say the least. Almost a bit much at times, really.
Before Neko Case took the stage to close down the evening, the festival’s Artistic Director, Sandra Butel, addressed the crowd. She polled the crowd as to who the best acts were, and… okay, you know how if someone on stage asks the crowd a question, they just get unintelligible yelling in response? When she asked about the best act Saturday night, it seemed like everyone there yelled “Bahamas!” in unison. It was as clear as can be. I had to laugh; I have never heard such consensus from the masses before.
For the record, when she asked about Friday night, most people yelled for Nomadic Massive, but there was a small but VERY vocal contingent of Man Man supporters.
Neko Case’s new album came out yesterday. This sentence will only be true if I finally get off (on?) my ass and finish this review and post it today, but whatever. If I don’t, let’s just assume I can bend time to my will. Maybe I will sit on this review for five years and keep Case’s record in limbo for that long. Take THAT, Neko Case and Neko Case fans. That’s for probably wronging me somehow.
Point being, I pre-ordered said album (“The Worse Things Get, the Harder I Fight, the Harder I Fight, the More I Love You”) (Deluxe Edition) on iTunes, and as such, it downloaded to my PC today, but I haven’t listened to it yet. And yet… I have. Kind of. Case’s show-closing set was comprised mainly of songs from the new record. The two songs I’d heard online, Man and Night Still Comes, were great live, as was the rest of the new tunes. We also got a few songs that she co-wrote with the Sadies (they got a nice cheer every time their name was mentioned), a few singles (including Hold On, Hold On and People Got a Lotta Nerve), and one song that she wrote for her dad, but “got turned into a vampire fuck theme for TV.”
“Oh, the world and the things it does,” she said.
THIS I made note of to share with you later. Did I write down what song it actually was? No, but I was 99% sure that it was “I Wish I Was the Moon Tonight.” I am now 100% sure after Googling “neko case true blood.” Time to clear my search history. Again.
Point being, if my imaginary band ever releases an imaginary album, “Vampire Fuck Themes for TV” is likely to be the imaginary album title.
I will say that between all the new songs and all the time Case spent tuning her guitar, this felt almost like a tune-up for the “real” tour that will surely be coming. This kept her set from being among my favourites of the weekend, but it was still a mighty fine time.
With that, we packed up our lawn chairs and headed home. As we were leaving, the show-closing finale was taking place. This included Rah Rah returning to cover the Traveling Wilburys’ Handle With Care, because why not? From what we saw, the finale was not quite as raucous as in previous years, but we didn’t stick around to the bitter end. We’re old, you know. And comfy chairs were proving to be no substitute for a comfy bed.
As we walked to the car, another group of festival goers were gathered around a statue, posing for a picture. One of them hollered “PHOTO OP, PHOTO OP, PHOTO OP!” We laughed, as did everyone else nearby. Bubba B The MC may have achieved immortality.