KMA2979 SLCR #342: Regina Folk Festival (August 8-11, 2019)
This was the 50th Regina Folk Festival. Or 50th anniversary, maybe. We skipped most of it.
I get inordinately high hopes for the folk festival lineup every year. The festival is a rare opportunity to get bands who’d never normally play Regina to come to town, but I need to remember, it’s not a whole lineup of them. This year, they got Jason Isbell, which is pretty cool, but most of the lineup read like a SLCR reunion show – Colter Wall, The Dead South, A Tribe Called Red, Bahamas, Rae Spoon, Blue Rodeo – and I like all those folks! Which is why I’ve seen them all before. Ultimately, we settled on just getting Friday night passes, but when Charlotte Day Wilson backed out and was replaced by personal favourite (and another SLCR alum) Kathleen Edwards, we made plans to pop downtown on Sunday night too.
THURSDAY, AUGUST 8
If I was in charge here, this whole thing would be its own review – different venue, separate ticket – but this was put on by the Folk Festival and was covered in the Folk Festival program and it’s been over a month and sure, I’ll take the opportunity to condense these into one.
The important thing is that we paid money to listen to music through headphones in a grocery store.
Touring in support of their new album, Saskatoon’s Close Talker held a “3D-360 silent headphone concert,” which they named “Immersion.” The idea is that the band would play their entire new album How Do We Stay Here? from front to back, and everyone in the crowd would hear the music through headphones. This isn’t an entirely new idea, but they got some slick tech worked in that allows them to move the music around in real time, so the bass can move from left to right, or the drums can sound really far away, or the guitar can move towards you. I can’t explain the grocery store part, other than a local market named Local Market YQR has a small attached space that actually worked really well for this. It’s your proverbial “intimate venue,” which allowed the band to sell out two shows in one evening.
Being Olds, we opted for the early show. We were briefed about what was going on upon entering, and we took seats at the back of the room. One of Close Talker (or would you just say a Talker?) invited us to move up, which was nice, but we’re tall and the back works fine for us. Besides, every seat wound up filled.
They told us the show would start promptly at 8:00, but there was a lengthy introduction explaining how the show would work, the technology behind it, all that fun stuff. I thought it ran a bit long but it became apparent that this was intentional; one issue with the venue is there was nothing covering the windows, and some of us (most importantly, me) were getting the setting sun right in the eyes. The opening chatter was dragged out a bit until the sun was just low enough to not impact the show.
This was a really neat experience, an excellent introduction to a local band, and a fun way to kick off the folk festival weekend. The performance itself ran around 50 minutes of kinda folky, kinda artsy, kinda dreamy pop rock. The movement effects I mentioned above were there but never overused, complementing the music rather than overshadowing it. The band made a point of not talking much, especially early on, to help people focus on the music. To that end, the headphones worked really well; nobody talked, and people mostly kept their phones in their pockets. I wouldn’t want every show to be like this, but in the right cases, it could be really effective. I did think individual volume controls might be a nice addition, though I can see where that could add one more thing to possibly mess up in what had to be an already complicated technical setup.
At one point I slipped off my headphones for a second to see what it sounded like in the room. Mostly it was drums.
FRIDAY, AUGUST 9
This brings us to our one full night at the 2019 Regina Folk Festival. With gates opening at 5:00, I’d have had to come downtown early and wait in line with folding chairs to get a good spot where Mika could eventually join me. Instead, we took our time getting down there and skipped the chairs entirely. This was a controversial decision, given that we spent way too much money on those chairs and they’re very comfy and ridiculously strong. Seemed a shame to not get as much use out of them as we could.
We got to the park a little after 6:00. Once we made it through the usual organized chaos, the whole chair thing seemed like a bad move on our part. There were noticeably fewer people there than in previous years and we wouldn’t have had a problem taking our traditional spots. This was Garth Brooks’ fault. His two sold-out stadium shows on the Friday and Saturday nights surely siphoned off Festival attendees. I didn’t mind the extra space, as the park has felt a little crowded during recent Festivals, but I was concerned that too much of his noise would carry over to the park and drown out our noise. Luckily, that was never an issue.
Emilie Kahn had already started playing by the time we arrived and we saw a few of her songs in between checking out the Stuff Tent and the food trucks and whatnot. It was perfectly pleasant harp playing that we honestly didn’t pay a ton of attention to.
Between sets, Ila Barker played a few songs, just her and her guitar, and there was a spoken performance from the night’s emcee, Stella from Queer Songbook Orchestra (they used a number of names throughout the night, but Stella is the most fun to yell, so here we are).
We picked the Friday night to attend in part because Weaves was playing and Mika really wanted to see them. And so they took the stage, and then everything went to hell. After half a song – just enough time for me to admire the airbrushed picture of Dolly Parton on the singer’s pants – someone from the Folk Festival ran out on the stage holding arms aloft in the dreaded X. It had been cool and drizzling off and on thus far, but now lightning was in the area. Luckily, the guitarist for Weaves had trained for this situation and knew exactly what to do – play the opening riff of Thunderstruck before flipping the double bird to the heavens.
With everything on hold, we waited around the park for a while to see what would happen, before the rain picked up and we headed to the car.
And the car was where we’d spend the next 90 minutes, with rain pouring down and lightning all around us. We played games on our phones, lamented the lack of nearby bathrooms, regretted not having picked up dinner as soon as we’d arrived, and intermittently ran the air conditioner when it all got too suffocating. The Festival kept people up to date via Twitter, or at least as up to date as they could given that everything was really contingent on the lightning going away. At one point, Mika tried to tell me facts about thunder, but she started it with “somebody once told me” and I jumped in exuberantly with “the world is gonna roll me” and she got mad and now I still don’t know what she knows about thunder.
This was all great fun but it could have been worse – we could have tried to go see Garth Brooks. The lightning hit before his show began, and they quit letting people into the stadium (it’s open-air and there’s only so many places they can hide people), so the busses quit running. Thousands of people took shelter in the nearby arena, where (according to a video that was on my social media hundreds of times but which I never actually bothered to watch) they all cheered for a zamboni, I guess because they had nothing else to do. Couldn’t watch the Rider game on your phone – they were on a lightning delay too. And they were in Montréal.
Finally, the storm passed and the Festival announced that the show was going to resume. We ran into Rheanne on the way back, because we have to run into Rheanne at every Folk Festival, even if we’re only there for an hour. It always works out.
With a few minutes to spare before the show was to resume, we hit the food trucks, only to find that most of the vendors had packed up and left. Can’t blame them, really. I wound up getting a burger from the bannock truck, and it turns out that replacing the bun with fried dough is an excellent decision. Mika, however, was stuck getting the sole gluten-free option, popcorn with literal ladles of melted butter. And, for some reason, a lemon wedge. Until this day, “too much butter” only lived in the realm of the hypothetical, but no more. The lemon worked surprisingly well, though.
The Festival is scheduled like so: a main act plays for anywhere from 40-90 minutes (depending on where they are in the set), and then there’s a teaser who plays for about 10 minutes while the next main act gets set up. It repeats that way all night – main act, teaser, main act, teaser, main act. So when the Festival tweeted that the last three acts were still going to play, people didn’t know if that meant the last three main acts, or main/teaser/main. If it was the latter, that would mean The Dead South would lose their spot. On Twitter, on Facebook, people were SO upset at this idea.
And then Stella came out to introduce the next band. They got three words in – “The Dead South” – and I have never heard a reaction like this for anyone at the Folk Festival. Or nearly any concert ever. Folk Festival concerts always have these long, scripted, artist-bio introductions – I’ve heard more than one musician describe them as “awkward” – and Stella got through the whole thing, eventually – but really, the best move would have been to just skip it when the crowd was already so hot.
The Dead South are a bluegrass band from around these parts who’ve started to make it big elsewhere, and this was their triumphant return. They had their time cut, as did the next two bands, but they tore it up and in front of a most appreciative audience, they could do no wrong. This was a high energy performance and was a blast.
Bahamas was up next and he and his band played a delightful set, though of the three that came after the storm, it was probably the weakest. And I love Bahamas! Being shorted on time hurt, because they crammed in as many songs as possible with little talking, and I greatly enjoy his talking. I shouldn’t complain; they played Lost in the Light and that’s my favourite of his. And at least we got to hear about how they’re not the best band, and don’t get the longest sets, but they’re the most chill. And we thank them for stimulating our economy by dining at Famoso.
Near us, an increasingly drunk girl grew tired of listening to some guy tell her about his degrees and made plans to scale a fence, sneak into the back stage area, and get it on with Bahamas. Not sure I’d have put money on her climbing ability at that point in time but I hope her evening ended well, however it ended.
Between sets, we went to sit down by the remaining food trucks. After resting our tired old people legs, I ran into a Dave on our way back in and we stopped for a chat. Mika wandered off, but promptly returned telling us how she was hit on by a guy asking what she was doing with her phone. When she said she was checking the score of the football game, the guy said something like “more like checking the score of the porn game.” I’d like to think I’m a good husband, but I don’t think I can honestly take any credit for the failure of this gambit. Mika did give me one free pass to try using this line on someone should the opportunity ever present itself; if I can pull it off, I’ll be sure let you all know.
I first saw A Tribe Called Red five years ago, and if you’d asked me, I’d have guessed two years ago, and I’m feeling some existential dread right now. At least I enjoyed the show a lot more this time around. I think it was the setting – the crowd was really into it, and the larger stage had room for Indigenous dancers, including a ridiculously impressive hoop dancer, and an adorable little jingle dress dancer who would sneak waves at friends and family in the crowd while waiting in the wings. That the band decorated part of their gear with stinky old LJN rubber toy wrestlers and had wrestling footage as part of their video effects didn’t hurt. I did see some old people in the crowd who looked decidedly not into the music, but I also saw a dude in a T-Rex mask who was really into it, so that all evens out.
SATURDAY, AUGUST 10
I had good intentions to check out some of the free daytime stages, but no.
SUNDAY, AUGUST 11
I had good intentions to check out some of the free daytime stages, but no.
We did make it down for Kathleen Edwards, though, if only so Mika could get the falafel she had hoped for on Friday. With no tickets and no real agenda beyond “let’s get there in time for Rae Spoon’s teaser set maybe,” it was a pretty casual evening.
Everything worked according to plan. Mika got her falafel and enjoyed it until feeling the effects of being glutened later that night. I got my first ever bánh mì, and I can’t speak for its authenticity nor its quality compared to other bánh mì, but it was super tasty. I kind of hope it was a terrible example of bánh mì, because if so, a good one would be mindblowing.
We ate and listened to a short set by Rae Spoon. Only a few songs, including There is a LIght (But it’s Not For Everyone) and the family-friendly version of a song I’ve seen them play before, Do Whatever the Heck You Want. Enough of a reminder that I need to catch a full show the next time they come through town.
Finally, it was time for Kathleen Edwards. She’s great. Of course. Played a bunch of songs I like; “all the hits,” as Mika put it. There was some new stuff. I think at least one song was the same new stuff as we heard in Bengough. Now, it’s important to note that as freeloaders, we couldn’t actually see the stage. Which is fine, we were there to listen, but it does mean that my descriptions of what was going on could be very wrong. For example, she had one musician with her, and was later joined by a member of Blue Rodeo. Or maybe several? Or maybe was just making jokes at Blue Rodeo’s expense? I’m pretty sure my initial description was right but I could be making it up entirely. But does that matter? You weren’t there and I won’t remember.
In here, I did make a tactical error. Remember the bannock truck from Friday night? I’d been told they made a mean bear paw (think beaver tail, or elephant ear, or your regional term for big fried dough with sugar on it) and went to get one. Which I did, but it was not what one would call a smooth experience. It had to take at least 20 minutes, maybe 30, and that’s with all of four people in line in front of me. And while the truck was closer to the stage than where we were sitting, it was also a lot noisier over there, so to be honest, I really didn’t get to hear most of this. At least the bear paw was exactly as good as you’d think fresh fried sugared dough would be, but I could have bought one at the farmer’s market sometime when Kathleen Edwards wasn’t concurrently singing.