Monday, August 30, 2010

Ottawa Folk Festival (and hangin' out with Ramblin' Jack Elliott)

It’s been two weeks, but I finally have a chance to make a couple of comments about the Ottawa Folk Festival (it’s been a very busy two weeks at work).

As I noted in my preview post earlier this month, this was a transitional year for the festival with a new artistic director, Dylan Griffith, and a new management team headed up by Ana Miura. Overall, I think, they did a very admirable job. Although some of the music was a departure from the standard folk festival fare, the festival managed to retain the all-important folk festival spirit – particularly during the daytime and most particularly during heavy rains that wiped much of Sunday’s programming (and most of Sunday’s crowd).

I quite liked Arrested Development, the hip hop group that headlined Friday night’s main stage concert. Their collaborative arrangements, their lyrics and their messages did not seem at all out of place at a folk festival. And seeing them interact with other artists on Saturday workshop stages confirmed that for me.

I don’t think, though, that Arrested Development brought in the hip hop audience to the festival. Looking around, it seemed like the kind of mostly middle aged and older folk who have been going to folk festivals for decades. If there was an increased number of young people this year at the festival, I think it was on Saturday.

To me, the heart and soul of a folk festival is the daytime workshop stages and there was something I wanted to see on at least one stage at just about every hour on Saturday (and scheduled on Sunday). At the last minute, I was asked to sit in as host of the Canadian Spaces session on Saturday afternoon because Chopper McKinnon, the long-time host of CKCU’s Canadian Spaces show was having cataract surgery. I had a great time with Lynn Miles, Chris MacLean, Jon Brooks and Meredith Luce.

I was really looking forward to spending some time with Ramblin’ Jack Elliott at the festival – off stage and on. I was scheduled to host an hour-long “conversation” with Jack on Sunday afternoon.

Jack was only scheduled at the festival on Sunday, so it was a pleasant surprise to meet up with him at lunch time on Saturday and spend a half-hour or so reminiscing. I was also happy to see Jack looking fit and strong as he had triple-bypass surgery a few months back and had just turned 79.

I mentioned the rain on Sunday. Well, the indoor stage was pretty much the only daytime stage that was viable on Sunday, so the schedule was re-jigged so that some of the highlights from the day’s workshop sessions could happen. My “conversation” with Ramblin’ Jack Elliott, originally scheduled for noon to 1:00 pm was rescheduled for 1:00-2:00, so I got to spend an extra hour catching up with Jack in the green room.

Our actual on-stage time flew by. It was meant to be an oral history session looking at Jack’s long career. We covered a lot of ground, but I almost felt like we were just getting started when the time was up. Jack and I both had a great time doing it and the feedback from the hundreds of people packed into the indoor hall was tremendous.

The Sunday night main stage concerts were rescheduled for either the indoor stage or the dance tent. Ramblin’ Jack Elliott’s took place in the dance tent and was one of the best shows I’ve seen him do in decades.

Rather than the thousands that would have been expected, Sunday’s crowd was probably in the hundreds thanks to the day’s steady rain and heavy showers. But the festival staff and volunteers did a great job of making what could happen, happen; and the audience pulled together beautifully. There was great stuff going on all day on the indoor stage, and in the food court tent, and all the artists scheduled for a Sunday main stage concert got to go on.

In addition to the artists I’ve already mentioned, some of the many others I really enjoyed included Clarksdale Moan, Carolyn Mark, Jenny Whiteley, Kim Beggs, Lau and the Old Sod Band (who were incredible troopers in the food court tent during the Sunday rain; as was Arthur MacGregor leading singalongs).

I also really enjoyed seeing Harvey Glatt receive the Helen Verger Award in recognition of his many decades of leadership on the Ottawa folk music scene (not to mention many other musical genres). The award was exceptionally well deserved.

Dylan Griffith pulled the 2010 festival together in about half a year. I’m looking forward to seeing what he can do with a full year.

Pictured: Mike Regenstreif in conversation with Ramblin' Jack Elliott, Sunday, August 15, 2010, at the Ottawa Folk Festival; Canadian Spaces with Lynn Miles, Meredith Luce, Chris McLean, Jon Brooks and Mike Regenstreif, Saturday, August 14, 2010 at the Ottawa Folk Festival. 

--Mike Regenstreif

No comments:

Post a Comment