Saturday, August 27, 2011

Ottawa Folk Festival -- Friday night

On its second night, the Ottawa Folk Festival felt more like Bluesfest and less like a “folk” festival: big crowds drawn by specific artists – in particular a very loud rock band called City and Colour and Steve Earle, who seemed to be equally loud at times.

How loud were they?

Loud enough that it put dampers on other artists valiantly playing on other stages.

City and Colour didn’t interest me – but singer-songwriter Garland Jeffreys and banjo player extraordinaire Jayme Stone playing simultaneously on other stages did. My plan was to catch some of Garland’s set then dash over and catch some of Jayme’s. I was so charmed with Garland Jeffreys – who I’d never seen live before – that I stayed put and missed Jayme.

Playing acoustic guitar and accompanied by just another guitarist Garland’s long set drew on his rich catalogue of classic material like the epic “Spanish Town” and “Wild in the Streets” and new songs from the recently released CD, The King of In Between, his first  album in a decade, and a great version of Bob Dylan’s “Pledging My Time.”

The only problem with the set – which took place on the RavenLaw Stage, a beautiful, natural amphitheatre, was the overwhelming sound bleed from City and Colour on the main-stage.

My plan for the second half of the evening was to catch the first half of Steve Earle’s set starting at 9:00 pm, then scoot over and catch Vance Gilbert who was starting at 9:30. Getting to the main-stage area where City and Colour was just finishing and Earle was following changed my mind. The area was just too crowded for comfort. It was a stand-up crowd from front-to-back. Forget about folk festival etiquette of low chairs on one side, high chairs on the other and no-smoking in the middle of the crowd.

So I headed over to the Falls Stage to wait for Vance Gilbert’s set. That area slowly filled with an audience of “folk festival” types that built to a nice crowd by the time Vance came on at 9:30. Waiting for Vance, Steve Earle was loud enough that we could hear the first 30 minutes of his set just fine from across the festival site.

Vance was in fine form, he sang great, despite complaining of allergies, his guitar playing was as sophisticated as a schooled jazz musician, and he was funnier than almost any comedian I’ve seen in a comedy club.

Among the highlights were such songs as “Icarus By Night” and “Unfamiliar Moon.”

He was even in good humour about his recent nightmare with United Airlines and made light of the overbearing sound of Steve Earle’s set that continually flooded in.

I think there may be two Ottawa Folk Festivals happening this weekend: a variation on the Bluesfest scene at the main-stage and a variation on the traditional Ottawa Folk Festival scene at other stages.

Today I’m looking forward to the three daytime workshop stages kicking in. To me, that’s what a real folk festival is all about.

Among today’s workshops is an on-stage interview I’m conducting with Colin Hay at 4:00-4:45 pm on the Heron Stage.
--Mike Regenstreif

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for sharing your experiences and opinions on this first year of the revamped - retooled Ottawa Folk Festival. So far, I have the Ravenlaw Stage, and the workshop stages to be the best showcases as far as sight lines, and talent. I have to say there are a lot of improvements at the Festival, but sound bleed has been excruciating.