FolkFest Day 3: Danceable Indie Jangle Dominates

On its third night, Folk Fest took a journey of multicultural exploration. The main stage brought together great Americana folkster Levon Helm, Polish-Ontarian singer songwriter Basia Bulat, Inuit throat singing cousins Tanya Tagaq and Celina Kulyak, bicultural brass-fueled Calexico and Mali's Bassekou Kouyate & Ngoni Ba.

Helm and his current band may never compare to his old one, The Band, but nonetheless pleased the hard core folkies eager to take in some down-home dirt farmer ditties. At 70, Helm is still a commanding presence on stage, anchoring his band as drummer and principle singer. A small army of supporting musicians, from tuba players, to guitarists to fiddlers, were there to help fill out the neatly orchestral set.

Jangly indie rock has become as much of a folk fest fixture as septegenarians festooned with lawn chairs and sensible shoes (Helm excluded). While other folk fests have completely capitulated to scenesters and their love of Polaris nominees, Edmonton's FolkFest provides very limited doses of these crossover acts, opting instead to feature up and coming singer/songwriters, eclectic international musicians and, yes, dyed-in-the-free-range-lambs' wool folk superstars.

Genre-bending bands often sneak through, like tonight, when Southwestern melancholy mariachos Calexico found themselves onstage.

The Arizona band delivererd an unusually upbeat and danceable set, far sunnier than the brooding cross-border ballads that dominate their deep catalogue. Though Calexico received second billing, they never seemed to notice and delivered the type of big, lumbering set expected of a headliner. Songs were cracked wide open, laid bare by lingering instrumentals, soft peddled vocals and inspired arrangements. Their crisply deconstructed sound sprawled into the crowd like a thunder cloud rolling across the prairie sky.

Fortunately, there was only metaphorical rain this evening. But that still couldn't keep crowds glued to their seats forever.

Headliner Bassekou Kouyate was never able to recover from an unfortunate and condescending pan-African introduction by the emcee, and crowds rifled out halfway through his excellent set. Perhaps the Malian answer to the banjo is an acquired taste, or perhaps Calexico provided an early climax for the evening.  But perhaps folkies were saving themselves for two more days of this musical marathon.

more in Music Review     |     posted Aug 7th, 2010 at 5:49pm     

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